Oh god, noooooooo! Sven Ottke is back

31.01.08 - By Andrew Wake: I’m sure I was not the only person in the boxing fraternity to put their head in their hands and scream “PLEASE GOD NOOOOOOO” when it became known that former IBF and WBA super-middleweight belt holder Sven Ottke is due to comeback to the squared circle against his German counterpart Dariusz Michalczewski in May.

A costly divorce from his wife Gabi has made the feather fisted fighter from Karlsruhe feel the pinch so he’s decided he will put the gloves back on and try to replenish his depleted bank balance. I can’t argue against a man wanting to make a buck or two, especially in times of financial hardship, but the problem is, who the hell wants to see it?

In March 2004 Sven retired with a professional record of 34 wins and no defeats, he’d made 21 defences of his IBF crown and 4 of the WBA title he’d picked up by beating tough American Byron Mitchell less than a year earlier. On paper these facts make the man they called “The Phantom” appear as one of the greatest pugilists of his generation and, on the basis of this alone, you could think that his decision to call the game quits would have marked a black day for boxing. The reality, however, was that boxing fans in every country in the world except in Germany, rejoiced.

The truth is, Sven Ottke’s supposed exceptional résumé was bogus, a fraud, a complete and utter fabrication, he was a phantom fighter with a phantom’s record. He was one of a rare breed, a fighter who could win a contest by landslide margins without having to actually having to bother fighting and people outside of Germany knew more about the high charity he often received from referees and judges than they did about his boxing skills.

To give him a modicum of credit, he was crafty, elusive and had a tight defence but that is about all the praise I can force myself to muster. I could, in part at least, forgive some of the dubious victories he received if he was an exciting operator but he wasn’t, he was mind numbingly boring and any one of his 28 decision victories can be viewed as a microcosm of his entire career. His fights basically involved him standing at range, looking at his opponent rather than actually landing concussive punches and then when the final bell sounded and the card numbers totted up it was always his hand that was raised

Despite his fights being so tedious they made the average Bernard Hopkins affair look like a thrill a minute showstopper, Ottke was adored in his homeland and his last fight, against the unheralded Swede Armand Krajnc, pulled in 7.14 million viewers – a figure that equated to almost half of all the people in Germany watching television that evening. For the great German public the result was evidently more important than the performance and they thought so highly of Ottke because, by hook or by crook, he always prevailed.

With only 6 of 34 wins coming within schedule waiting for the next Ottke knock out to come around was like waiting for the next solar eclipse. While it is clear that he did not possess hurtful punches, another thing he seemed not to possess was a passport. With his only fight outside his homeland being in neighbouring Austria (a country that is practically German anyway) he was one of the least travelled fighters in the entire history of the sport, but if you stay at home you get the perks and boy did he get some perks.

His victories over such combatants as Charles Brewer, Glencoffe Johnson, Thomas Tate, David Starie, Mads Larsen and Byron Mitchell were questionable to say the least but, for me, the greatest miscarriage of justice I have ever had the misfortune to bare witness to in all my years following the sweet science came at the Nuernberg Arena in December 2003 when Sven outpointed (I use term outpointed very loosely) Robin Reid.

As mentioned in my Eastside article Debacles and Blindness last month, Robin Reid was fighting two men, Ottke and overweight Belgian referee Roger Tilleman. It was an irony that Ottke’s trunks that night advertised a popular brand of condoms because he was certainly a man who had protection.

Reid bossed the early frames and got off some clean shots but each time he landed leather Ottke complained to the referee and Reid received a ticking off for infringements that, at best, could only be described as imaginary. When the “Reaperman” returned to his corner at the end of the fifth he found things were worse than he at first thought as his trainer Brian Hughes told him some bad news he’d gotten wind of. “You’re 3 rounds behind Robin.” Hughes told his man. A bemused Reid replied “You’re joking.”

In the sixth round things got more farcical as two clean shots to the forehead sent Ottke stumbling to the canvas. As Reid raised hands in the air, Ottke smiled and looked at the referee who duly bailed him out and ruled what was a clear knockdown a slip. To make matters worse, later in the round, Ottke dived forward with his head low and caught the challenger. Sven reeled away holding his face and Tilleman took a point away… from Reid!

The next sessions were fairly uneventful as one man did very little and the other did even less. Reid dropped his work rate because, by his own admission, he was fearful that getting his shots off would give the referee the excuse he needed to end the contest and hand Ottke a victory by disqualification. That said, Reid was still the better fighter.

Into the championship rounds Ottke seemed happy to keep the lead he must have known he’d wrongly been handed as he ran so much he nearly tripped over his own feet trying to get away.

“You can win 10 out of 12 rounds and still not win over here.” Said Reid’s promoter Jess Harding, after the contest.

Reid said, “The referee didn’t even give him a count when I knocked him down. The ref was awful. You don’t expect any favours, but let’s be honest, at least Dick Turpin wore a mask when he robbed people.”

One funny thing to come out of the story of Ottke’s comeback is that, apparently, after an argument his ex wife Gabi once floored him. I’m wondering if, when Sven hit the deck, Roger Tilleman jumped out from behind the sofa and waived his arms about, yelling “No knockdown, no knockdown.”

If there is a good side to Sven’s return then that is the possibility that his falsely unblemished résumé might get tainted. However, I want to conclude this article by saying this; as much as I dislike the way Sven collected his titles when he was in his peek, because of the reasons he’s coming back to the ring, I actually wish him luck.

Article posted on 01.02.2008

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