by Pavel Yakovlev: (August 19, 2012) Next month, Jason Gavern meets former IBF world cruiserweight champ Steve Cunningham in Newark, New Jersey. The bout marks Cunningham’s entre into the heavyweight division. Gavern has been selected as the opponent for a good reason: he is a tough, seasoned gatekeeper who has fought many of today’s leading heavyweights. Among Gavern’s opponents are current contenders Denis Boytsov, Mariusz Wach, Alexander Ustinov, Johnathon Banks, Franklin Lawrence, and Travis Walker. In this exclusive ESB interview, Gavern discusses his experiences with these fighters, analyzes their ring abilities, and assesses their future prospects.
ESB: Next month you face Steve Cunningham, who is making his heavyweight debut. Cunningham is tough. Personally, I thought he deserved a draw in his recent bout against Yoan Pablo Hernandez. What are your thoughts about Cunningham?
GAVERN: I think Cunningham is a fantastic fighter…he wasn’t cruiserweight champ for nothing. I think it’s going to be tough for both of us; he’s going to keep his cruiserweight speed, but he’ll be taking heavyweight punches for the first time. For me, the downside is that he’s taking his speed and punching firepower from the cruiserweight division up to the heavyweight division. I’ve got to deal with that. He’s also taking all his experience into the ring, especially from title his fights. It’s going to be an exciting fight.
ESB: Will Cunningham remain effective despite carrying the extra weight?
GAVERN: Evander Holyfield and David Haye were both pretty effective coming up to heavyweight. I think Cunningham will be the same. I think he will do well at heavyweight.
ESB: You have fought many of the world’s best heavyweights, in actual fights and as a sparring partner. This puts you in a unique position to rate their strengths and weaknesses. The record book tells us who you have met in actual fights, but most fans do not know whom you have sparred.
GAVERN: I’ve sparred Vladimir Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, Marco Huck, Robert Helenius, and Jameel McCline. Pretty much all of the best heavyweights of the past six years. I’ve been in the ring with most of them.
ESB: Which Klitschko brother is the better fighter: Vitali or Vladimir?
GAVERN: I don’t know which brother is better, but I will say that nobody will be able to beat Vladimir over the next ten years.
ESB: Does Vladimir punch harder than anyone else out there?
GAVERN: He punches like a truck…he’s an amazing fighter. Absolutely. He’s the best heavyweight coming from of any of the combat sports, including pro boxing or MMA. He’s going to knock out Wach when they fight.
ESB: In 2010 you fought Johnathon Banks to a draw. What is your assessment of Banks’s assets and liabilities at heavyweight?
GAVERN: I’ll tell you what he does poorly first, based on our fight. He held me for 12 rounds. He didn’t want to fight, he just held. He rabbit punched me, literally, 75 times. On the other hand, he moves well. He’s a good boxer, he has a good jab. But if you take the fight to him, he doesn’t do so well. He doesn’t want to fight. He also throws just one punch at a time. He punches and holds. That’s what he did for 12 rounds against me. He really didn’t do anything in our fight that impressed me at all.
ESB: How do you rate Banks’s durability?
GAVERN: You know, I didn’t really hit him clean during the fight, because of he was holding so much. But when I did hit him, I could see in his face that he gets depressed really quick. He doesn’t like getting hit. You’ve got to take the fight to him.
ESB: How do you rate Banks’s punching power? Is he a banger, a guy who can take you out with one good punch? I thought he looked explosive in stopping Travis Walker.
GAVERN: No. He cannot take a guy out with one punch. I never really felt the power in his right hand, but I don’t really know if he hit me with a right hand the whole fight, so I can’t answer the question. He did hit me with a good left hook though, as I was coming at him while he was on the ropes. That was the only punch I really felt for the entire 12 rounds.
ESB: So Banks’s one punch stoppage of Travis Walker is not evidence that he can take a guy out suddenly?
GAVERN: I don’t think so. If you saw the right hand that Banks hit Walker with, you’ll see he threw the punch, pretty much, with his eyes closed. Then he fell over. He didn’t even know that he hit Walker, at first.
ESB: What are Banks’s prospects against Seth Mitchell? My guess is that Banks has a good chance of catching Mitchell in the first or second rounds with right hands, in which case he could win by early KO. But if Banks can’t finish the fight within two rounds, Mitchell will overwhelm him by the end of the third or fourth.
GAVERN: Between the two, I think Mitchell is the better fighter. Johnathon has a chance early, as you point out, but the longer it goes, the more of a chance Mitchell has.
ESB: What are your impressions of Mariusz Wach?
GAVERN: First, let me say that I took this fight on two days’ notice. I had no training. I just took it for the opportunity. Wach is very good with his jab, and he uses his range very well. But he has no power. He hit me with some clean shots, but they only caused flash knockdowns. When the fight was stopped, I was still on my feet…I was just exhausted, not hurt. I think if Wach was really that good, he would have stopped me earlier. More than anything, I stopped myself in that fight. But I do give him credit for using distance very well.
ESB: I am very surprised by your low estimation of Wach’s power.
GAVERN: I wasn’t impressed by his power at all.
ESB: Recently you fought Alexander Ustinov. What’s your estimation of Ustinov’s ability level, his strengths and weaknesses?
GAVERN: The only reason why Ustinov beat me is because of his size. The guy was 6’10”, 315 lbs. He wasn’t faster than me, and he couldn’t outbox me. But he uses his size very well. Every time we were inside, he used his weight on me, bulling me around. But I found that I could hit him with just about anything. I do give him credit for being able to take a punch. In the end, he beat me just because he could lean on me so much on the inside. He’s so big….huge.
ESB: I have noticed that Ustinov carries his hands low. Does this weaken Ustinov’s defense, or is he like Vitali Klitschko, who is a big guy whose superb defensive instincts enable him to lower his guard?
GAVERN: You know, Ustinov’s a very inexperienced boxer. He’s still so green; he has so much to learn. I don’t know if he even realizes that he drops his hands like that. He’s been doing it for over 20 fights, and he still hasn’t fixed it. When he gets hit by someone like the Klitschkos, then he’ll finally learn to keep his hands up. He could take it when I capitalized on his low hands and hit him, because I’m so much smaller than him. But it’ll be different if he gets hit by the Klitschkos.
ESB: I thought Ustinov displayed a sneaky left jab against you. Were you troubled by his left hand at all?
GAVERN: Again, he’s so big, all he has to do is put his left out there, and you have to work to get inside it. It’s not a hard jab, it’s more of a range finder punch. But if you’re not good at moving, you’ll have trouble with that jab of his.
ESB: Ustinov seems fairly light on his feet for a guy who weighs around 300 lbs. What are your thoughts about his footwork?
GAVERN: Well, one thing he did very well against me was to cut the ring off. He was using his range and using his feet, stepping at the right times. Because of that, I had to work harder. He wasn’t jumping around the ring a lot, but he was definitely stepping at the right times.
ESB: You boxed Denis Boytsov in 2009. How do you rate Boytsov, and what is your assessment of his abilities and punching power?
GAVERN: Boytsov is a very good boxer. He’s very good technically. He’s a good fighter all around…good speed, good power. But he’s got hand problems. That’s probably going to be his downfall. Also, he hasn’t stepped up yet. He hasn’t fought anyone. He’s straight up, and he doesn’t move his head much, so he’s not a good defensive fighter in the way that James Toney is. But Boytsov keeps his hands high. He uses that European defense, which works well for him. He has quick hands, all the quicker because he has short arms, which means he punches a shorter distance. He’s definitely a strong guy. Of all the guys I’ve fought, he’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve been hit by.
ESB: Franklin Lawrence has established himself in the world ratings. How does Lawrence rate against the other heavyweight contenders?
GAVERN: Oh boy, let me say this. Lawrence didn’t really beat me. I beat myself. That loss was 110% my fault. That was probably the worst fight of my career. I really don’t know what happened that night. I trained hard, but came in heavy anyway. I wish I could have that fight again, ten times over. Lawrence is nothing special. He’s not going to go far, definitely not.
ESB: How do you rate Lawrence’s punching power?
GAVERN: He’s almost like a Glen Johnson type, he walks you down all night. He comes at you all night…just keeps coming at you. I wasn’t hurt in the fight, even though he caught me in the first round with a flash knockdown. But his punches were nothing special. The best I’ve ever been hit is by Boytsov.
ESB: What about Lawrence’s athleticism and technical ability? How do you rate him in these categories?
GAVERN: He just walks at you, basically that’s it. But whatever he does, it works for him. That’s how he beat Jason Estrada and others.
ESB: Travis Walker is now a rated contender, following his knockout of Kali Meehan. Walker has a reputation as being a powerful puncher. What are your thoughts about Walker?
GAVERN: Walker’s a pretty good fighter, an exciting fighter. He’s a very strong puncher. I watched him fight Chagaev, and Walker knocked him around the ring with bomb after bomb. He’s a really strong guy. He’s 6’5”, 6’6”…I fought him years ago, and he’s gotten more experience since then, so he probably hits even harder now.
ESB: But Walker didn’t hit you as hard as Boytsov did?
GAVERN: No, he didn’t.
ESB: What are Walker’s chances against Tomasz Adamek?
GAVERN: I think his chances are really good. First of all, let me say that Eddie Chambers beat Adamek, even with one hand. Adamek moves really well, but in his last fight, I think he got hit far more than he should have. I think Walker has a good chance. It’s going to be interesting to see.
ESB: Of all these guys that we have discussed, how would you rank them relative to each other? Which one is best?
GAVERN: That’s hard to say. Boytsov’s definitely pretty good. Seth Mitchell is up there too, he’s proven himself. I would say Wach would beat Boytsov based on his size advantage, but it would be a good fight because of Boytsov’s power. Ustinov is up there too, because of his size.
ESB: It looks like Wach will be fighting Vladimir Klitschko next. You pick Vladimir to win by knockout?
GAVERN: Klitschko will knock him out within seven to nine rounds. I mean, I could hit Wach a lot, and I’m just 6’2”, without a lot of power. Klitschko is like 6’7”, and he hits like a truck. I think Wach’s going to get knocked out.
ESB: What are your thoughts about the upcoming match between Povetkin and Hasim Rahman?
GAVERN: First, I don’t know why Povetkin’s fighting Rahman, who’s irrelevant. I don’t even know how Rahman got the opportunity to fight him. I think it’s kind of sad that this fight is happening. Who has Rahman beaten to get there? This fight is a lose-lose situation for the heavyweight division. Povetkin will win the fight, but then again, if Rahman hits him with that overhand right, then Rahman has chance. I thought Povetkin lost to Marco Huck.
ESB: Any comments on David Haye? Did you ever spar with him?
GAVERN: I never sparred with him, but I think we need more David Hayes in the heavyweight division. He’s exciting.