The February 16th edition of HBO’s World Championship Boxing proved to be another broadcast featuring two bouts that weren’t necessarily the most competitive, but still solid nonetheless.
After the cancellation of the anticipated Johnathon Banks (29-1-1, 19 knockouts) vs. Seth Mitchell (25-1-1, 19 knockouts) rematch due to a Banks hand-injury, the new opening bout of the HBO telecast featured super middleweights Sakio Bika (31-5-2, 21 knockouts) and Nikola Sjekloca (25-1, 7 knockouts) competing in a WBC title eliminator for a chance to land a fight against the kingpin of the division, Andre Ward (26-0, 14 knockouts). Going into the bout, the talk surrounded the fact that Bika is a tough fight for anyone. With a calculated boxing style that lends itself to the occasional elbow/headbutt, many questioned Sjekloca’s chances at victory. Those questions were quickly proven right as soon as the opening bell rang.
At the start, both fighters seemed tentative. As usual, Bika remained calm and calculated in his attack, while it was obvious that Sjekloca wasn’t quite sure how to engage the Cameroon-ian. As the round progressed, Sjekloca would try to land a combination, only to have Bika respond with his own vicious body attack, along with a strong jab. It was this kind of varied attack and improvement to his overall boxing game that made it obvious that the new relationship between Bika and Kevin Cunningham would be a prosperous one. Instead of being the type of fighter to lead in with his head and instigate a fight on the inside, Bika was now relying on a peppering jab that would set up the rest of his newly varied attack. Naturally, this new and improved version of Bika lent itself to a fight that wasn’t the most exciting per-se, but it was fun to see his continuing growth as a fighter.
Round after round, Bika continued in his picking apart of Sjekloca, as the European threw his own “power” shots that seemed to be missing just that, power. Regardless, Sjekloca remained in the fight and refused to submit to the much better Bika, so one has to commend his heart in seemingly hopeless odds. After 12-rounds of action, the judges scorecards told the story of just how dominant Bika was in victory. The final scores were (119-109), (118-112), (120-108), and with that Bika has been given his shot at Andre Ward. Unfortunately for him, there is little doubt that their next meeting will go much different than the first one (Ward took home a one-sided Unanimous Decision), but then again, who does Ward really have left?
In the main-event, surging lightweight Adrien Broner (26-0, 22 knockouts) took on the tough Gavin Rees (37-2-1, 18 knockouts) in a bout that many anticipated would play out much like a live slaughter. To further prove this point, some odds-makers had Rees as a 33-to-1 underdog, with Kellerman revealing that another had Rees somewhere closer to the odds of 80-to-1. Things didn’t look good for the Welshman going into this fight, but early on, things seemed to play out much different than expected.
At the opening bell, Rees came out the aggressor. With Broner relying on his superior head movement rather than his footwork, Rees’ early attack proved one thing: The “can man”, can be hit. With Broner doing little in the way of putting up an actual offense early, Rees was able to snatch up the first two rounds as he continued to come forward and land looping shots on the American. By the third round, Broner began to finally wake up. With a laser-like right cross, Broner would find success in his fairly singular attack. Broner was now the one stalking Rees, and with a devastating right hook and occasional upper-cut, Broner was reminding that those ridiculous odds were warranted. Although he was obviously out-classed and out-gunned, Rees kept on and did his best to make the fight competitive. In the fourth round, Rees was badly hurt and knocked down by a vicious uppercut that caught him by surprise, and later again by a body shot.
Upon returning to his corner, Rees’ trainer, Gary Lockett, actually called the referree over to stop the fight, but the doggedly determined Rees talked him out of stopping the fight. Unfortunately, the end was already near and Lockett had to throw in the towel to save his fighter after Rees found himself at the end of one of Broner’s vicious flurries. After a slow start in the fight, Broner’s victory is just another impressive stoppage in his steadily improving résumé. Still, just as much credit and high praise has to be paid to Rees. In the face of impossible odds, Rees stood firm and showed the heart of a true champion. There is no doubt that both fighters will be going to different directions at this point in their careers, but they both have still proven that they are both the type of fighters to be watched.
With another dominant win at lightweight, people have already begun to call for Broner to jump into the shark tank that is the 140-lbs. division. At 23-years old, Broner’s body is still growing so it’s doubtful that this move to 140 lbs. will happen any time soon. Still, one can’t help but think fondly at the highly competitive match-ups that the move in weight might offer. Regardless of when, and even if, this move ever occurs, Broner is a must-watch fighter who may not be a super star, but has already proven more than once that he will always be a “problem” for any opponent.