The Povetkin Project

By Chris Acosta: You can hardly blame anyone for the excitement surrounding heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin. As far as boxing prospects go his credentials read like a can’t miss blueprint on how to get it done: An Olympic Gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece that capped a sterling 125-7 amateur record, the backing of a renowned promotional company( Sauerland Events) and a crowd-pleasing style that belies the usually technical-heavy approach of his countrymen.
To up the intrigue, Povetkin has avenged all of the defeats he’d experienced as an amateur and has gathered quite a buzz on internet forums and Youtube where many a fan are confident enough of his ability to proclaim him as the future of the division. And unlike other high-profile prospects, Povetkin also carries an air of discipline and willingness to take risks; something lacking in the divisions’ current climate.

After forcing a stoppage of former IBF titleholder Chris Byrd in October of 2007, the Russian was but a signature away from challenging Ukrainian powerhouse Wladimir Klitschko. The plan, it seemed, was right on course.

But then something strange happened. Povetkin withdrew from the chance to fight for the title and the usual rumors immediately swirled: injuries, promotional problems and the possible emergence of a yellow streak. Sure, Povetkin was relatively green and light on experience but who in his right mind would shy away from such a huge opportunity at glory and money? Apparently, the next saviour of the division.

Now this unexpected development was a blow to his fans, particularly Europeans who reveled in yet another chance to blast we Americans for all those years of domination and heckling. And despite being American myself, I felt their pain. There’s nothing worse than having your hopes dashed by controllable forces; to lose in the ring was one thing but to do so before you even step inside one? Unacceptable.

The finger pointing finally had an aim when it was revealed that Povetkin’s longtime trainer Valery Belov, would be replaced by none other than Mr. Soapbox himself, Teddy Atlas. It was confirmed that it was Atlas who recommended that his new charge hold out on the title fight until he’d ironed out some nuances in his game. The news was met by an infuriated boxing community who claimed that Atlas was making decisions to draw attention to himself (such as seemed to be the case in Michael Moorer’s championship-winning effort against Evander Holyfield).

With the heavyweight in desperate need of fresh blood, Povetkin’s concession was devastating as it left the door open to retreads like Sam Peter who’d been there and shown that they couldn’t do it and the materialization of unknowns such as Britain‘s Derek Chisora. Hell, even the casually conditioned (at best) Chris Arreola stuck his nose in there against the best and couldn’t be accused for lack of effort or heart. Respect is a lot harder to regain than to gain and Povetkin was suddenly climbing up the ladder of the former.

But after the first wave of speculation had come and gone, this author began to wonder if perhaps it was -gulp!- the right move, Believe me, agreeing with Teddy Atlas isn’t easy. In fact, I hear that there’s a therapy group dedicated to it. But here I was looking back through some videos of Povetkin and realizing that his supposed potential was gradually out-distancing his actual progress.

The Russian was a winner to be sure. He fought with confidence and determination, But he also appeared at times to do just enough to win rather than exhibiting overwhelming force. He pummeled the soft-chinned (and totally shot) David Bostice with the proverbial kitchen sink without so much as a wobble from his opponent although the fight was stopped with Bostice on his feet. Bostice if you recall, was absolutely destroyed by a young 24 year-old Wlad Klitschko and an aged Tim Witherspoon. He banged away at journeyman Taurus Sykes and got a ho-hum stoppage which was nothing like the brutal defeat Sykes got from Sam Peter. And in his toughest test to date, seemed fortunate that Eddie Chambers wasn’t in peak condition. Chambers landed his right hand at will and had the Russian looking completely dumbfounded before taking his foot off the pedal for whatever mysterious reason.

The more I dug into his performances and swept aside my own hope for the next big thing, the more I saw a man who was nowhere near ready for either Klitschko. Povetkin often threw arm punches after which he stood there as if assessing their affect. He fought with little imagination and lacked what Atlas often refers to as an “identity” in the ring. He lacked the obvious athleticism of a David Haye, the wallop of Denis Boytsov or the resourcefulness of Tomas Adamek. I found myself wondering whether Povetkin was a classic case of burn-out or max-out. Has he already shown us the most he can give? Who knows? The answer will come when the question is asked.
Teddy Atlas is no doubt thinking the same thing, which is why he decided to take the fighter back to square one. In this case, I have to agree that the trainer, despite being overbearing and obnoxious, is doing so to find out if there’s an untapped reservoir of potential in his protégé. The reports have been that Povetkin is a willing learner and that’s a good thing. Atlas has been criticized for his overly dramatic approach but in all fairness his past charges (Moorer, Michael Grant, Donny Lalonde and to an extent, even Mike Tyson, whom he served as co-trainer with Cus D’Amato for a brief time) were constitutionally shaky and needed between-rounds therapy. Povetkin may represent a completely different type of athlete, one who doesn’t lack for confidence but is in need of nothing more than a fresh perspective. Perhaps Atlas sees this as a chance to finally work with a fighter who is mentally capable and more receptive to picking up on his instruction. Maybe I’m reaching for an explanation to make sense of this experiment but for the time being, it’s all I have to work with.

Alexander Povetkin may or may not win a world title. He may surprise us with something new after some time with Atlas, show nothing at all or even regress. He might even be one of those fighters who goes the whole way without looking spectacular. The man himself is the only one who knows why he’s chosen an unpopular and to some, bizarre, direction with his career. But there’s a real honesty in this choice which suggests that the Russian hopeful is very serious about improving rather than cashing in on what he’s supposed to be.

Article posted on 24.10.2010

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