Photos by Sumio Yamada
VINCENZO CANTATORE vs ALEXANDER GUROV
What could be a dramatic cruiserweight fight takes place in Rome on Friday when Italys Vincenzo Cantatore meets Ukrainian Alexander Gurov for the vacant European title.
Cantatore is the favourite. He is boxing on home turf, and while both men can punch the Italian has the better chin. If it comes to a shootout, the more durable fighter will usually win.
Yet, while realising this, I give Gurov a very good chance of upsetting the odds. He is, I think, technically the better fighter and being a lanky, 6ft 5ins southpaw he has the height, reach and awkward style to give Cantatore problems, just as long as he doesnt get hit on the chin in the first few rounds and that is a very big if indeed.
Most fighters from the former Soviet Union are resilient. Gurov is the exception. I do not think he is fragile so much as extremely vulnerable in the early rounds. All five of his losses have come inside the distance, four of them inside three rounds and this includes a couple of one-round blowouts. Yet Gurov lasted into the eighth round with the heavy-handed Jean-Marc Mormeck and at times looked like winning that bruising war of attrition, which I saw on site in Las Vegas on one of Don Kings long but excellent-quality undercards.
Once Gurov can get into the flow of a fight, he can be punishingly effective. The problem is getting through those initial, perilous minutes when he is meeting a hard puncher.
Gurov was twice banged out in short order in European title bouts in Britain in 20 seconds by Terry Dunstan and in 45 seconds by David Haye. Each time the British fighter let go with a big right hand and caught Gurov on the chin before he could get into the fight over and out.
When Haye nailed him in December, 2005, I thought it was the end of the line for Gurov. After 14 months inactivity, however, he came back with a good win in February when he outpointed Shaun George in a 12-rounder.
I think that this was a hugely important win for Gurov. He went the full 12 rounds against a good fighter and he scored a knockdown in the last round. The George camp disputes the decision, but as I have not seen the bout I cannot comment. Psychologically, though, I believe that this fight will have done Gurov a lot of good. He went past the eighth round for the first time in his 14-year career and finished strongly; he goes into the fight with Cantatore as a winner.
Cantatore is a big, strong, heavy-handed fighter but I do not think he is a quick, explosive type of puncher. His last six bouts have gone the distance (four wins, a loss and a draw). The draw was with the tall, rangy Rudiger May in Germany, and although Cantatore rocked the German boxer several times he never looked like putting him down. I thought the draw was a fair result: Cantatore landed the more telling blows but May was much busier.
Two and a half years earlier, May had been busted up and blasted in four rounds by Gurov in Germany. Yes, form can be misleading but just looking at the respective performances of Gurov and Cantatore against May it is easy to make a case for the Ukrainian.
Gurov is well-accustomed to boxing away from home. The same year as his win over Rudiger May he stopped Rudigers brother, Torsten May, in the eighth round, also in Germany, knocking down his fellow-southpaw and inflicting a severe cut over his right eye. It was a terrible defeat for the Olympic gold medallist, who never boxed again.
In the fights with the May brothers, and again when he stopped Vincenzo Rossitto in Italy, Gurov cut his opponent with hard, sharp punches. (I also thought he knocked down Rossitto, but the referee ruled a slip.)
Gurov, then, can definitely do damage to the other man. I think a big part of his problem is that he is so intent on landing a big punch that he forgets about defence, but Cantatore is more of a wide puncher than David Haye, whose right hand came straight and fast, right through the middle. I think that Gurov might be able to anticipate Cantatores punches and perhaps get in first with his big left hand.
Cantatore has been stopped three times in his five losses once by heavyweight Zeljko Mavrovic, early in his career, and in the 10th round by Wayne Braithwaite five years ago in the first of two world title challenges the other was a close points defeat against Britains slippery Johnny Nelson.
In the fight with Braithwaite, shown in recorded form as part of a Friday Night Fights show, Cantatore was down in the fifth, had the Guyanese fighter hanging on from a big right hand in the ninth but was hurt himself in the same round and then overwhelmed in the 10th.
It may or may not be important, but, after hanging on like the proverbial drowning man in the ninth (the referee told the judges to deduct a point), Braithwaite turned things back in his favour by switching to a southpaw stance and drilling Cantatore with a big left hand and the southpaw left hand is Gurovs most dangerous weapon.
So, the more I think about this fight, the more I find myself giving Gurov a much better shot at winning than the sportsbooks odds suggest.
Gurovs manager, Philippe Fondu, certainly sounded very confident when we spoke on the phone this week. Fondu said: Gurov has trained in Russia for this fight and he prepared very well, and in the last fight he proved he can go 12 rounds and he wasnt fighting a pushover. He is very determined. He knows this might be his last chance and that a win can open some doors for him as European champion.
Fondu acknowledges that Gurov can be knocked out early in a fight but he said: Cantatore doesnt have the speed or skill to land a right hand the way David Haye did. This fight wont go the distance Cantatore wont be able to take Gurovs punches.
I agree with Fondu about the fight not going the distance. As for the winner, if Gurov can use that long southpaw right jab to keep Cantatore from getting set to punch, then land a few hard shots to make the Italian hesitant, there is a very good possibility that the Ukrainian can not only get into the fight but position himself for victory.
It is, of course, difficult to predict a win for a boxer who has been stopped five times, but Oleg Maskaev suffered five stoppage losses and came back to win a heavyweight title, so all is not lost for Gurov.
Either of these 36-year-olds has a chance of landing a fight-winning punch, perhaps around the eighth round after initial caution on both sides.
The odds are against Gurov to be sure, but after a lot of thought I am coming around to the view that he can pull off a shocking upset. OK, can I pull the trigger on a prediction? Yes, I can Ill go for Gurov.