HISTORICALLY one of the sport’s glamour divisions, the middleweights are in something of a funk and on the lookout for a new king following the presumed end to Gennadiy Golovkin’s illustrious career.
On Saturday night (October 14), two potential heirs will put their cases forward when GGG’s countryman Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, the WBO belt-holder and No. 3 in the world takes on the man rated sixth, IBF titlist Vincenzo Gualtieri, in what is widely described as a ‘unification’ bout in this boxing business.
Truth is, the sanctioning bodies never have and never will ‘unify’, they create their own rankings and set their own mandatories and make their own rules while charging their own fees. How long one fighter can keep more than one belt as a consequence of that balancing act is therefore anyone’s guess but this contest – between two genuine top 10 fighters – should regardless be welcomed with open arms. The winner will arguably have a better victory on their CV than any 160-pounder in and around them at middleweight and their case for being the leader will gather pace.
Alimkhanuly – AKA ‘Qazaq Style’ – has promised plenty in his 14-0 (9) career. But the 30-year-old southpaw who won the amateur Worlds in 2013 and reached the last eight of the 2016 Olympics needs to move quickly to fulfil them. Furthermore, though he was initially moved rapidly in the professional ranks he’s arguably seen his progress splutter a little since he started competing for the WBO title.
He won the spurious ‘Interim’ strap against the woefully overmatched Danny Dignum in May 2022, was forced to go 12 by an inspired Denzel Bentley six months later in his first bout as the full fat belt-holder and, in May this year, he feasted on Steven Butler – another opponent who was out of his depth. In essence, then, Alimkhanuly – an artful come-forward pressure fighter – has gone from educating himself on the way up against wily gatekeepers and fringe contenders to facing boxers a long way below his level now he’s supposedly at his best. What boxers need, particularly ones as talented as Alimkhanuly, is a sense of danger for that education to continue.
Germany’s Gualtieri, also 30, will likely bring the fear factor to Rosenberg’s Fort Bend Community Center. But not because he’s a fearsome fighter – his 21-0-1 (7) stats accurately represent the kind of boxer he is – but because he’s awkward, clever and has the style to make Alimkhanuly look ordinary.
In a minor upset in July, he comfortably outpointed Brazil’s 30-0 Esquiva Falcao – like Alimkhanuly, a man who impressed in the vest – to win the vacant IBF trinket. In that bout, he exhibited a smart defence and dancing feet designed to draw mistakes and opportunities to counter. Gualtieri can spend a little too long in the pocket with his hands by his side but, crucially, he rarely wastes a shot. Therefore, it’s easy to envision Alimkhanuly getting frustrated and straying from the game plan early in the bout.
Where this fight will likely be won and lost is in the second half of the scheduled 12. Though Gualtieri scored a contentious knockdown against Falcao in the 10th (the Brazilian was grumbling about being hit low when he was bundled to the mat after taking an uppercut), his output certainly dipped as the end of a taxing affair drew ever closer.
However, it must be noted that the underdog has been the full 12 rounds in each of his last six outings. That habit of winning on points, however dull and formulaic it may appear, brings its own confidence to the fighter so adept at orchestrating victory over the distance.
Though Alimkhanuly has only been 12 rounds once – against Bentley – he finished the bout strongly. Qazaq Style, who was expecting an early knockout and fought carelessly at times, dug deep in rounds 11 and 12 just as the Briton was enjoying his best period of the fight. It’s fair to assume that the favourite won’t go into this bout so naïvely. Furthermore, knowing he can go 12 without gassing – an important milestone for any boxer – will make him a more complete animal.
This is far from the 1/12 affair that oddsmakers have priced in Alimkhanuly’s favour, however. There is scope for the upset. Scope, too, for the German to morph into one of those deceptively effective European fighters – think Felix Sturm, for example – who thrives in the face of pressure and is exceptionally hard to beat. But Gualtieri is at his best when he’s allowed to dictate the pace, when he can slow it down when he needs a breather. In Alimkhanuly, he’s facing a tireless and strong pressure fighter, one who can cut off the ring and punch quickly accurately. The pick is for the favourite to overwhelm Gualtieri in the second half.
On the Top Rank undercard is lightweight starlet Keyshawn Davis, 9-0 (6), against the capable but surely overmatched Nahir Albright, 16-2 (7).
THE VERDICT – If Qazak Style is as good as we’ve been led to believe, this is the kind of bout he simply must win.