29.04.06 – By Troy Ondrizek: Ray Austin has always been a tough as nails competitor who gives all who face him hell in the ring. At 6’6” and roughly 250lbs, “The Rainman” is a man of immense stature that proposes problems even for the heavyweight division’s most skilled fighters. Austin hasn’t found a tremendous amount of luck when he has stepped up in level of opposition. Against Lance Whitaker, Zuri Lawrence, and Larry Donald; Austin’s first three attempts at stepping up in competition, Austin found himself fighting to a draw in all three contest..
Back in September Ray fought a WBA eliminator with Owen Beck to decide who would face the winner of John Ruiz and Nicolay Valuev. Well Austin beat Beck and Valuev beat Ruiz, thus leading to the ever-exciting and quite frankly a pathetic excuse for a title fight: Nicolay Valuev versus Owen Beck. What, didn’t I just say that Beck lost an eliminator fight with Austin, and now Beck is fighting for the heavyweight title, yeah it’s true, and it shows how far Valuev’s handlers will go to protect the awkward giant from facing real competition.
Now the real losers in this situation are the fans, as sanctioning bodies and some promoters insult boxing fans by trying to pass these types of fights as legitimate title fights and legitimate fighters, but a close second in the loser category of this situation is Ray Austin.
The fight between Austin and Beck was seven months ago and Austin just now got back into the ring April 1st and pummeled an unsuspecting Jeremy Bates. Now Bates isn’t even close to a top 250 ranked heavyweight, let alone a top 25 contender that you would expect to see Ray Austin in against. I was able to speak with Ray back on Thursday, and I asked him about not fighting for nearly seven months. Austin’s response was that he was being avoided; now you hear that same response from a lot of fighters trying to generate hype for themselves, but in Ray’s case, I feel this is true. Ray is a man who seems to be more risk than reward, meaning that if a top fighter loses to Ray Austin, their career would take a significant step back because people would say that they lost to a fringe contender; on the other side of the coin, if they beat Ray Austin, people would say that they beat an overrated fighter and that it means nothing.
Even though it seems that losing to Ray Austin was the best thing to ever happen to Owen Beck, but that’s an anomaly that should never occur in this sport. Ray Austin will vehemently argue that he is not a fringe contender. Ray feels that he is the best the division has to offer, and that he is being avoided because he isn’t the only person that knows this. Now I’ll leave the opinions of this previous statement up for you to judge, but the truth is that Ray Austin is avoided like he stricken with the Smallpox.
Ray was the most obscure heavyweight in the division up until Thursday, for Friday came in the fight offers, or more accurately, the mandatory came to be enforced.
Early on Friday morning the IBF issued a decree that Ray Austin fight in yet another eliminator bout, this time for the right to face Wladimir Klitschko, a man whom Ray Austin has been calling out for years. Seriously, Austin has been waiting to face Wladimir Klitschko ever since Klitschko pulled out of a proposed WBO title fight with Austin back in 2003; instead of facing Austin, Wladimir fought Corrie Sanders, we all know what happened there. Later on Friday, the WBC not to be outdone when it comes to forcing mandatory bouts; declared that Ray Austin must defend his WBC USNBC regional title belt against interim champion Shannon Briggs. Now all of a sudden Ray Austin is the wildcard in the heavyweight division, and the next round of title fights depends all on who he will face next in eliminator bouts.
Let’s break his decision down objectively shall we. First off Ray is ranked as the number two contender by the IBF, with there being no number one. Ray has wanted to fight Wladimir Klitschko for years, and for some reason the two just haven’t met inside the ropes. Ray feels he could beat anybody and he feels that Wladimir couldn’t handle his size. However, it’s not Klitschko that will be staring Austin down in this IBF eliminator, it will be Sultan Ibragimov. Ibragimov is a 2000 Olympic silver medalist who is pure dynamite coming out of the gate. Sultan comes at you from a southpaw stance and puts on a barrage of punches literally from the start.
Sultan is always looking for the knockout, but will take any opening his opponent will give him. Ibragimov works well off combos and goes from high to low and vice versa very well; constantly punishing your body and then your brain. We saw Sultan come out against another giant man in Lance Whitaker back in December, and the Mount had no answer for what Ibragimov was doing to him. Sultan did start to tire rather severely by the fourth round, and Whitaker was able to lay some leather on Ibragimov and caught Sultan with some flush rights, but the Russian seemed to have a granite chin. Ibragimov poses a lot of problems style-wise for Austin. One, Sultan is a quick little guy with power, but Austin has a chin. Ray isn’t all that busy with his hands at the start of fights and this will cause him to lose early rounds. However, that might be a good thing for him, because Sultan can go for broke and wear himself out too early. That would be Austin’s best bet, and then maybe Ray could take advantage of a fatigued Ibragimov and maybe start working him with the combos that the big man actually feels comfortable throwing. Ray could become a TKO victim, but he could also deliver the same result to Ibragimov, I’ll let you decide what you think.
Now Ray is ranked sixth by the WBC and Shannon Briggs is ranked eighth. With the WBC declaring that the winner of Rahman/Maskaev in August will be forced to face James Toney in their next bout, and that leaves Austin in a quandary. For Ray is 35 and there is only so much time left for him to make his mark; even though Ray thinks he will be around for another 12 years. Now let’s talk about the proposed bout with Shannon Briggs. Shannon has a more impressive offensive arsenal than Sultan, but he lacks the aggressiveness of Ibragimov. Shannon can give Ray time to figure out his game-plan and derive the best way to pick Shannon apart. Shannon has some really fast hands as well as Sultan does, and Shannon is a big boy at 6’4” and can fight on the outside unlike Sultan.
Shannon can snap out that tough jab and keep Austin at bay. Shannon also has the type of power that ends fights instantly; something that Sultan and Austin don’t seem to possess. Shannon like Sultan throws combos well, but head-hunts a little more than Ibragimov. Shannon tends to get complacent at times and will let his guard down, thus giving Ray is best opportunity to put some punches together and hurt the former linear champ. Shannon though did just start working with Jeff Mayweather in hopes to tighten-up his defense. It is that part of Shannon’s game that is his Achilles heel, but we’ll see if he rectifies that problem. Ray could outwork Shannon to an UD because Shannon doesn’t go deep all that well. So this is another tough fight for Ray, and once again I’ll let you decide who will win.
Now to be honest I don’t see either fight as a real good situation for Ray, but he asked for it, and he is always a game competitor. It interests me whom Ray would rather fight and who he thinks is the best win for his career. Ray Austin has been asking for these types of fights to happen, and now he has no choice but to fight. Whatever Ray’s scheme was to accomplish his championship goals, he now is forced to show his hand and display whether or not he is the future or just a stepping-stone for someone else’s career.