31.01.04 – By Elliot Worsell: British and European Middleweight champion Howard Eastman remained on the fast track to undisputed world middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins last night following a competitive points victory over the tricky, world-class southpaw Sergey Tatevosyan in Dagenham. Coming off a 6 month layoff, and having to face a stand in opponent more recognised and established than the original, Eastman did what he had to do to grind out the hard fought win, and stay within touching distance of the coveted WBC title he has craved for so long.
Tatevosyan, a 31-year-old southpaw who was rated in the world top 5 according to respected US publication ‘Ring Magazine’, had noteworthy triumphs against respected operators Armand Kranjc, Yuri Tsarenko and James Obede Toney, and represented the 33 year old Eastman’s hardest test since he dropped a tetchy 12 round decision to William Joppy in Vegas 2 years ago.
The assumption that the tried and tested Tatevosyan would prove to be more problematic than Spanish unknown Jorge Sendra proved correct, as similarly to other lefty’s Eastman has fought in the past, the slick style of the Russian asked one or two questions of the long reigning champion.
The open questioning begun from the very first round as both men tentatively tried to fathom out the style of their opponent. Eastman on the offensive was looking for openings throughout the first few rounds, purely with his heavy, rather than pacey, left jab. Tatevosyan on the other hand was measured in everything he did, and was waiting for Eastman to make the first move before countering with fast one-two combinations. Purely from viewing the first couple of rounds it was clear that Mr Tatevosyan was not an opponent who was easy to look good against
The skilful Russian, whose hands were low at times, used the ring extremely well and at times confused and bamboozled Eastman, making him miss with wild lunges. Tatevosyan, although definitely not the puncher of the two, got through with some meaty counter hooks in round 2 as both began to force the pace more.
Eastman was very economical at this point, throwing shots whenever it was worth throwing one. This all made for a somewhat tiresome opening few rounds, but it worked for Eastman because he was the fresher of the two down the stretch. A heavy left hook in the 2nd momentarily got the attention of the slippery Russian as he caught him flush on the face whilst on the move.
The 3rd was a competitive two-way session as both men had periods of success. Eastman with the heavier blows, particularly with the hook, was beginning to agitate Tatevosyan and force him out of his defensive shell. That was all the better for Sergey, because when he opened up and pressed the fight more he looked a classy operator indeed. Although, not especially hard shots, he flurried Eastman on the ropes with five or six rapid-fire hooks and straights. Eastman, at his outlandish best, simply smiled the attack off.
In the 4th segment Tatevosyan was getting caught more, as he began to drop his gloves and rely on his speed of foot rather than his speed of hand. He would spin, swivel and turn away from Eastman when under attack. A defensive ploy that caused problems for the Russian as time and time again he was tagged by cuffing right crosses and sharp left hooks by the champion when on the turn.
From the champion’s point of view, more combinations were needed to keep the challenger under sustained pressure. Against a quick, sharp ‘mover’ Eastman needed more than just one or two single heavy shots to keep him on a leash. Tatevosyan could handle that, but when the Battersea puncher put his foot down and let a volley of punches go, the former Russian Middleweight champion looked under threat.
For as long as the fight went the general impression was that Tatevosyan was becoming more and more cautious and wary of Eastman’s power. He would flick out sharp looking leads over the low left hand of Eastman, but would then wait for the response from the hard-fisted European king. There was a sense that the younger Russian preferred the fight at distance, but in truth it was when he got inside Eastman’s gangly reach that he got his best shots off. When they opened up in a neutral corner in the 5th round Tatevosyan took confidence from the fact that he started the rumble and effectively finished it, connecting with a sneaky right hook counter.
Tatevosyan had the speed of hand and foot to make Eastman look cumbersome and void of ideas at times. It was to Eastman’s credit then, that he changed his game plan on occasions and made a dent on the plucky challenger in the middle rounds.
In the 6th Eastman looked more relaxed and at ease with simply using the left jab backed up by a stiff right cross. He was moving a lot better in this round too, and was busier with his work. Tatevosyan was not without his successes though, and twice in the round he caught the solid chin of Eastman with flush left crosses as the champion leaned into the shots. Eastman was undeterred by the work of the challenger, but this still didn’t change the fact that he shipped one to many lefts and rights in close, shots that effectively built up the confidence of the game, foreign import.
The 7th round was a key three minutes for Eastman as he finally was given the impression that Tatevosyan was hurt from the heavy-handed attacks of the champion. A too rarely used right uppercut busted the left eye of Tatevosyan, and he ruefully stared back at Eastman upon delivery. The right uppercut, a shot that also staggered Tatevosyan slightly in the middle of the round, was a shot Eastman didn’t bring out of his armoury enough, especially given the success he has had with it in past contests.
The heavy blows Tatevosyan was forced to eat in the 7th made him a lot more circumspect it seemed in delivering his own attacks over the next few rounds. With Carl Froch’s Nottingham faithful chanting ‘Are we in a library?’ it clearly summarised the atmosphere and action inside and outside of the ring. At times it resembled two top-drawer chess players arguing over who should go first. Who should set free that first pawn? On most occasions that player was Eastman, but Tatevosyan had enough ring smarts about him to often be the more accurate of the two tradesmen.
In the 8th and 9th rounds Eastman continued to be the hunter and Tatevosyan the hunted. Eastman banged some long right hands into the face and mid section of Tatevosyan, and in reply the sprightly Russian pushed Eastman back with light flurries in Eastman’s own corner. The overall impression throughout the first 9 rounds was that Eastman was the one doing the forcing and landing the heavier shots, and it was Taetevosyan who was the more accurate and sporadic of the two.
The 10th was another good un’ for Eastman as he began to shift through the gears a bit more and up the tempo. He connected with a series of big left hooks as Tatevosyan got lazy on the ropes, and was bullying the smaller Russian when the work got close and personal. A cleverly picked straight right rebounded off the jaw of Tatevosyan as he remained glued to the ring ropes, wary of the power the champion possessed.
Tatevosyan’s work resembled a school child flicking their hand across a Bunsen burner trying to not get burnt. He was pushing and prodding with cute lead lefts and rights, but was always looking to get out before Eastman could dish out some punishment of his own. Not a bad tactic sure, but Tatevosyan it appeared had the hand speed to deal with Eastman when in range, but just didn’t want to stay busy enough to win the rounds.
Tellingly Eastman appeared the fresher of the two going into the final two rounds, as Tatevosyan, face reddened and breathing heavily, needed a couple of big rounds to pull out a ‘closeish’ contest. Eastman always seemed in control throughout, but Tatevosyan’s finely tuned work on the back foot meant he was always very much in the contest.
A left hook early in the 11th sagged the legs of Tatevosyan ever so slightly, as it looked like Eastman would do well to start stepping on the gas and breaking his gutsy challenger down. Tatevosyan spat defiance, and was adamant to see the fight through. He landed a crisp left hook of his own on the ‘Battersea Bomber that sent the blonde bearded one back into the ropes, where he was drilled with a rally of shots from Tatevosyan, albeit blocking most.
Despite the confidence of the champion, Tatevosyan gave it a real go in the final two rounds, and in the 12th especially served up some noteworthy punishment to his 33-year-old adversary. Upping his work rate and giving Eastman lots of angles to think about, Tatevosyan tagged the lacklustre champion with some accurate hooks and straights down the pipe. There was never a sense Eastman was hurt at all, but even so, the punches coming bothered him, and this was signified when he complained to the referee after some dodgy clinching and headwork from the rugged Russian. Eastman took three or four flush shots whilst chatting to the referee. Tatevosyan didn’t need a written invitation.
This act in the 12th riled the often-calm champion, and he furiously traded with Tatevosyan on the bell. It was a cameo appearance from the Howard Eastman we pray to see more often. A super charged Eastman, using all his tools and implementing it with a high work rate and desire. He got to Tatevosyan late in the round, but more of that was needed earlier in the fight, when both appeared too concerned with one another.
When the bell rung, only one fighter raised his arm in triumph. Eastman knew he’d done just enough to etch out the decision, and Tatevosyan, although ultra competitive throughout settled for the fact that he’d taken the second best middleweight in the world 12 hard rounds.
The scoring of the fight badly tarnished a good-natured fight, as the scores bizarrely read 117-112, 120-109, and 116-113. Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli and David Blunkett would have done a better job. The fight was nip and tuck throughout, and although Eastman was a deserving winner, it was a very close match up between two class technicians.