What started the week as an intriguing matchup between Britain’s unbeaten Callum Smith (23-0) and experienced former two-weight world champion Juergen Braehmer, has lost some of its lustre following the Germans late withdrawal. With interest in the WBSS at fever-pitch following George Groves semi-final victory over Chris Eubank Jr last weekend, this is an unhappy outcome.
The Sauerland brothers have breathed new life into boxing’s often twitching corpse, by eschewing safe, one-sided predictability, and bringing the best fighters together in a single competition. It would be painfully unfortunate if this hugely popular and noteworthy venture was derailed, not only by Braehmer’s withdrawal, but also George Groves shoulder injury. If “Saint George” is not able to face the winner of this weekend’s semi-final then the boxing public will be left with the uneasy feeling of anti-climax.
But, the show must go on and Dutchman Nieky Holzken (13-0) has steadied himself from the reserves bench and stepped manfully up from an undercard date with Dmitrii Chudinov to the main event.
Callum Smith vs Nieky Holzken – WBSS super middleweight semi-final
Where: Arena Nurnberger Versicherung, Nuremberg, Germany
When: Saturday 24h February – 10pm UK time / 3am ET
TV: ITV Box Office
It wouldn’t be controversial to state that this really isn’t the fight we all hoped for. The respected Smith has evolved from a solid bookmaker favourite against the veteran Braehmer, to a nailed on 1/40 against his Dutch replacement.
Holzken, manages to tick all the viability boxes by virtue of his unbeaten record, when viewed from a helicopter level at least, and with the performance of something less than even cursory analysis. Anyone that looks deeper will readily establish that the form has been sedately assembled over just 13 contests in five years. When conjoined with the fact that nearly all these bouts have been contested in small shows in his hometown of Helmond, and that he has only once fought outside of the Netherlands, the true depth of the statistics is straightforward to establish. Most of Holzken’s career has been focused on kickboxing where he is the veteran of over 100 contests and has collected numerous titles.
The Netherlands maintains little in the way of a proud prize-fighting tradition and except for 90s WBO super featherweight champion Regilio Tuur, has never laid claim to a world title. In fact, the historic ranks are so threadbare that even Mark van Bommel could probably stake a claim for consideration in the top ten.
The 34-year-old, who goes by the nickname of “The Natural” would appear unlikely to break this trend. He does though carry the limited prestige of being the reigning Benelux champion, following a shutout points victory for the vacant belt back in 2016. Regretfully, I find my knowledge of this regional title inseparable from the benign fighting presence of John Emmen. The big Dutchman, staggeringly rated by BoxRec as the 13th best Dutch fighter of all-time, was wheeled out as a feel-good victim for Frank Bruno following his 1991 comeback, from his first defeat to Mike Tyson. Emmen, a part-time model and even more part-time boxer, appeared far more suited to his day job as he crumpled embarrassingly in a single round that did little for the reputation of either participant or the Benelux bauble.
Callum Smith has the demonstrable pedigree of winning titles at British, European and WBC regional level. His unbeaten record contains substantially more meaningful victories against decent domestic and European opposition including: Rocky Fielding, Christopher Rebrasse, Luke Blackledge and Sweden’s Erik Skoglund. The latter in a hard-fought contest at the first stage of the WBSS, back in September.
Smith began the super series as the early tournament favourite, but slipped in the betting following his difficult encounter with Skoglund as Chris Eubank Jr rose to primacy in the aftermath of his convincing victory over Avni Yildirim. Post Junior’s demise last weekend, he is now back amongst the front-runners and surely a shoe-in to progress to June’s final.
Prediction: Smith by TKO rounds 1-4
Despite, having little time to prepare against a new opponent this should still be a comfortable night’s work for Smith. One substantially easier than the original assignment with Braehmer in front of the Germans vocal home crowd. With the loss of the prime domestic attraction, expect the hall to be disappointingly less than full for this one.
The Liverpool-man has a decent knockout record and has previously demonstrated his ability to take out opponents early; with over half of his 17 knockouts coming in the 1st round.
Holzken enters the ring with absolutely nothing to lose in the biggest fight of his career and will look to take the fight to Smith. The Dutchman has decent power, and despite never having fought over 12 rounds, has an outside chance of causing a major upset if he can navigate the early rounds.
However, for all of Holzken’s pre-fight confidence, this feels like far too much too soon. Investors would be urged to place their bankroll on the contest concluding in the first quartet of rounds in the Englishman’s favour.
There isn’t a huge amount to get excited about here unless you are a dedicated fan of the domestic German fight scene. With none of the undercard bouts scheduled for over eight rounds the bulk of the card presents the opportunity for local prospects to build their records against an obliging cast of mostly limited opponents.
The pick of the matchups, in terms of competitiveness, features the Armenian born and now Nuremburg based middleweight Wanik Awdijan (22-1) against the experienced Florian Wildenhof (27-4-1) in an 8-rounder. He enters on the back of a long winning run following an early career loss. But, despite his eye-catching record is still to fight anyone of note. Wildenhof should prove able to extend him the full distance as Awdijan adds another win to his record.
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