Photos by Sumio Yamada
AXEL SCHULZ vs BRIAN MINTO
Never underestimate the drawing power of a popular, big-name fighter. As Axel Schulzs comeback bout against Brian Minto draws closer the arena at Halle in Westphalia, Germany looked like being packed with 12,000 fans. The 10-rounder is being carried live on German television. Even though Schulz has just turned 38 and has not boxed for seven years the former heavyweight contender seems to have lost none of his popularity with the German public.
Schulz has never won a major title. He lost three times in world title fights, boxed a draw and lost twice in European championship attempts. Yet the German fans always remained loyal. Schulz was very much the crowd favourite, for instance, when he was stopped in the eighth round by Wladimir Klitschko in his last fight, in September 1999.
It reminds me of the way British boxing fans had an affectionate regard for fighters who always came up short in the big fights but who fought bravely and were seen as decent, friendly and unassuming.
The London heavyweight Billy Walker epitomised the game loser that the British fans loved. Walker always, without fail, came to fight, and he took his lumps with good grace. He lost to Henry Cooper and Germanys Karl Mildenberger in title bouts but each time, bloodied and in reality a bit outclassed, he kept marching forward. When Walker fought he struck a chord with the British public. Schulz evokes a similar response in Germany.
So, when Minto, a 31-year-old from Butler, PA, steps into the ring on Saturday he is going to be entering an atmosphere like nothing he has faced before. Minto is going to be greeted with a barrage of boos and whistles. The crowd will be doing its best to will Schulz to victory, roaring every time he even throws a punch, let alone lands one.
Of course, the crowd cannot do the fighting for Schulz. He has to do that for himself and what the fans will not know until the bout gets underway is how much Schulz has left at his age and after such a long time away.
I know that there is scepticism about Schulzs comeback in some quarters in Germany. His former promoter, Wilfried Sauerland, is known not to favour Schulz returning to the ring. Schulz, though, has passed all the medical tests, he has trained in Florida, claims he has regained his enthusiasm and says he is not even considering the possibility of losing.
One has to wonder why Schulz is coming back, though, after all this time. Is he bored in retirement? Does he watch some of todays leading heavyweights and think: â€˜I can beat these guys? Is he simply deluding himself?
At his best, Schulz was always a capable heavyweight, big and tough and of course very game, but somewhat limited. Still, only the top-level fighters beat him: world champions Henry Akinwande, George Foreman, Michael Moorer and Klitschko and the contender, Francois Botha the defeat that shows as a no contestâ€? on Schulzs record because the South African tested positive for steroids. The fights with Moorer, Foreman and Botha were all extremely close. The only time Schulz was badly beaten was against Klitschko and that really was a brutal battering. Schulz soaked up punishment. He was subjected to a steady hammering by Klitschkos left jab that was the equivalent of a long-range softening-up artillery bombardment before the Ukrainian started to let the right hand go. Schulz was knocked down in the eighth round and pounded until the referee rescued him.
Schulz is not fighting the towering, hard hitting Klitschko on Saturday, though. He is meeting a smaller man, a heavyweight who is not fast, not particularly hard-hitting as heavyweights go. The Schulz team will have in particular noted that, in his only loss, Minto was outsmarted by a 46-year-old Tony Tubbs. The Germans clearly look upon the bout as a calculated risk with Minto cast as a respectable but beatable opponent .
Naturally, Minto feels the Germans are making a mistake, as does his trainer, Tom Yankello. Speaking from his Pittsburgh gym before leaving for Germany on Sunday, Yankello said: Brians really improved on a lot of facets of his game. Hes faster than Axel, hes better defensively, hes got good power in both hands and Axels never really shown hes a puncher and in the skill department were going to have more. But, I mean, on the flip side Im sure the atmosphere will be all for Axel, hes got more experience in big fights than Brian. But I just think Brians ready to step up. Hes a strong-minded and strong-willed guy, hes got a lot of desire and hell be able to handle the event.
I dont want to give up much of our game plan but were looking to win every round. Brian is versatile he can box or he can come right at you. But were not looking for a slow start. Were looking to win round one, and we want to put every round in the bank and clearly and distinctly win the rounds.â€?
Minto will have to fight at a greater intensity level, though, than he did in his wins over Billy Zumbrun and Danny Batchelder this year. Although he won those fights clearly enough on points he was not particularly impressive and I thought that Batchelder, basically a cruiserweight, was hitting him a bit too often for comfort with right hands. Minto was able to impose his strength on Batchelder who has been one of his sparmates for this fight but he will not be able to push the heavier, four-inches-taller Schulz around.
If Minto lets his hands go the way he did when he stopped Vinnie Maddalone in seven rounds in October of last year he has a very good chance of winning. Schulz is not going to have improved after seven years inactivity and he was destroyed in his last fight, but he is not a boxer who relied on speed or reflexes so the layoff might not be quite as detrimental to him as it first appears. Schulz was always a basic sort of fighter hands up high, moving in, letting his punches go in quick bursts, not very imaginative but effective given his durability, strength and conditioning.
If Schulz can take Mintos punches, he could win by outworking the smaller man in well-judged spurts of activity and then crowding him to shut down counter-punching opportunities. However, Schulz has not taken a punch in an actual fight in a very long time, and we have to wonder how he will react when he gets hit.
I think that there are too many imponderables to try to pick a winner here. For instance, Schulz could come out for the first bell and find that he just doesnt have it any more. Unless Schulz is totally spent, though, sheer guts and experience could get him through the 10 rounds and if the fight is at all close one would not expect Minto to get any favours from the judges.
I just do not have any strong feelings about who will win this one, but it is, unfortunately, a possibility that, in an emotion-charged atmosphere, Minto might win the fight but not get the decision.