Ahead of his IBO World super middleweight title eliminator against István Szili on March 26, 2022, at the Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany, former five-time world champion Felix Sturm sat down to talk about the collaboration with recently founded LIB Boxpromotion, his motivation to keep fighting, his opinion on superstar Saul “Canelo“ Alvarez and a possible fight between the two, the recent trend of YouTubers-turning- boxers, and a look back on his own career. (Photo by Sedat Sahan)
Felix, how did your collaboration with Ludger Inholte and LIB Boxpromotion come about?
Felix Sturm: We met through a common friend. I was invited to Ludger Inholte’s summer party and we got to talking about boxing. I knew that he had been a lifelong fan of the sport and that he got up at night to watch Muhammad Ali. After a while, we talked about the situation of boxing Germany. Of course, I was able to share my experience and told him what had gone wrong in the last couple of years and what could be improved in the future. Ludger Inholte was immediately fired up and came up with the idea of LIB Boxpromotion. He was the initiator, he managed to build the promotion from the ground up incredibly fast. It is only due to the COVID situation that the first LIB event hasn’t already happened. Ludger has done an amazing job with LIB.
You won five world titles, you are 42 years of age. What is your personal motivation to keep fighting?
Well, six titles are better than five titles (laughs). As long as I love this sport, as long as I love the training, as long as I feel competitive and ambitious, there will always be a new challenge on the horizon for me. Since the beginning of my career, I considered every training session a challenge to be mastered. So naturally, every title is a new challenge as well and with Ludger Inholte and LIB Boxpromotion by my side, my motivation to win my sixth title, the first for LIB, has hit a new high. Not just for me personally, but also to pave the way for the young fighters in our stable.
Aside from your own career, what are your goals in your collaboration with LIB Boxpromotion?
We have the plan to bring new life to the sport of boxing in Germany. That’s the goal. Ludger Inholte has no personal interest of financial gain in this. He wants to establish the LIB as a big player, he wants to get boxing back to the center stage in Germany. We all know that this is an immense challenge, no doubt about it, but if you have someone like Ludger doing everything in his power, with all his passion, to realize a goal, I feel it can be done. In fact, I think there is a great chance that we can do what we set out to do. We want to become number one in Germany, that’s how Ludger Inholte is wired. That’s how he succeeded in his other business ventures and I think that you need to have this mindset to be successful. I feel very confident that the LIB will be yet another success story. I know that, with all I have done in this sport, I am the main fighter of the LIB right now. But like I said, I want to pave the way for all the young and talented fighters we have in our gym. All of them have the potential to archive something in this sport, be it on European or World level. However, we will take it slow, we don’t want to burn these kids out.
So your plan is to stay involved with LIB Boxpromotion even after you retire from the sport of boxing?
Of course, of course. We have our gym [the Sturm Gym in Cologne, Germany], we have these young fighters. We want to keep growing, but in a healthy way. We don’t want to rush things. Ludger has the final say on who and how many fighters we sign, now and in the future. We have our eyes open for talented fighters, but I don’t think that LIB will ever have 100 or more fighters under contract. We believe in all of our fighters and we hope that they will become world champions one day. Ludger and I are in agreement that we will only sign fighters with the potential to reach the top of the sport. But make no mistake, if a fighter does not make it, that’s no problem either. Both Ludger Inholte and I will make sure that no one gets left behind. There’s always another career path in life. We are very well connected and we will make sure to secure our fighters futures, regardless of their success in boxing. That’s what LIB Boxpromotion stands for.
What do expect from István Szili, your opponent on March 26 at the Westfalenhalle in Dortmund?
He’s a very tough competitor, a fighter through and through. He surprised many people in the past. He’s strong physically, he fought and won on the road. He’s got his strengths, but he also got his weaknesses. I expect a tough fighter, who will be aggressive, who will be on the offense. He can be a bit wild on the inside, he can go a fast pace without a problem. I’m looking forward to the fight, I think it will be an intense battle. On March 26, we will finally have another big boxing event in Germany. Ludger and the LIB want to deliver quality events of the highest standard, and us athletes want to ensure that that’s the case on March 26.
Boxing superstar Canelo Álvarez is the current unified WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF super middleweight champion. The IBO belt is the only one not in his possession. What is your opinion on him and would you like to fight him in the future?
There’s no doubt that Canelo is the absolute number one in boxing, the biggest star, right now. There was Anthony Joshua, but he clearly lost to Oleksandr Usyk. That leaves Canelo, by a landslide. He’s an outstanding boxer, he has power, he can fight, he can box. What I like most about him, though, is that he never let up, despite all of his success. He’s always fully dedicated to the sport and from what you read in the press, he’s always training and working as hard as possible. That shows inside the ring. Like so many other fans and experts do, I just enjoy watching Canelo fight. He has the right mindset for this sport and he knows what he has to do to remain at the very top of the game. Hence, it’s no question that I would love to fight him. I never got that rematch against Oscar de la Hoya and Canelo would be another shot to prove myself on the biggest possible stage in boxing. I would take that fight in a heartbeat. But we have to wait and see, it seems that Canelo will move to cruiserweight to go for another world title in another division. So we don’t know what will happen with his titles at 168. We don’t know if he wants to stay at cruiserweight, if he eyes a run at light heavyweight. There are some great fighters at 175 that could present a challenge for Canelo in his hunt for more records.
What is your opinion of the current trend of YouTubers like Jake Paul competing in the sport of boxing?
Only in America. Stuff like that only works in the United States and, in fact, does so very well. It’s just a different situation compared to Germany, the same as it is with Pay-Per- View. People are used to watching boxing for free over here, that you don’t have to shell out extra money to watch a fight. I think it’ll change, I think all of this will come to Germany and Europe in the future. So maybe we’ll have a YouTuber headlining a boxing show in Germany on Pay-Per-View as well one day. Then we’ll see if that concept has a future here, if there’s interest, if people pay money for it. What I like, though, is that there are lots and lots of streaming services who offer sports, who offer boxing, with DAZN being the frontrunner. They do an excellent job, they position boxing very well, they have a great presentation of the sport. That can only be of benefit for boxing.
What was the biggest moment of your career?
Hands down, the fight against Oscar de la Hoya. That is an absolute highlight of my career. A close second would be when I won my fourth world title against Darren Barker. That was exceptional because everyone wrote me off before the fight. No one believed I could win, no one believed I could win another world title. Darren was a great fighter and it was just brillant to defeat him in such spectacular fashion. Also, the atmosphere that night in Stuttgart was absolutely electric, probably the best I ever experienced for a fight of mine.
What was the worst?
Losing by knockout to Javier Castillejo was a very difficult moment for me, a difficult time. To this day, that was my only stoppage loss and the only time I had a serious injury in my career. I suffered a zygomatic fracture and a broken jaw. Also, my unification against Daniel Geale. It was so close, but for some reason, I didn’t get off to a good start in the fight. The fight didn’t go like I envisioned. It took me a while to get over that loss. I would’ve loved a rematch with him, but unfortunately, it never happened. However, in my mind, what happened, happened. You cannot change the past, you can only change your future. I’m just looking forward to working with Ludger Inholte and LIB Boxpromotion now, everything I experienced – good and bad – in my life and my career made me the man I am today.
Do you want to say anything in closing?
Like I said, I’m looking forward to the future with the LIB in my corner, to the future with all these young and talented fighters. I am glad to have met a man like Ludger Inholte, who wants to give a platform to young fighters in a difficult sport like boxing and who wants to bring German boxing back to the eye of the public, like in it’s hey-day with Henry Maske, Axel Schulz, Dariusz Michalczewski and many more. Of course, I also want to wish all the boxing fans out there a Happy New Year!