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Culture

Germany's Sauerland Mixes It Up With Boxing's Big Boys

On March 29, IBF middleweight champion Arthur Abraham defends his title against American Elvin Ayala in the German city of Kiel. The Armenian is just one of the fighters who've had success with the Sauerland stable.

Arthur Abraham

Arthur Abraham hopes to unite all middleweight titles in the near future

Arthur Abraham has worn the International Boxing Federation belt since 2005, but it was only in a fight one year later, which he won despite suffering a broken jaw, that he captured international boxing fans' attention.

Abraham's heroic persistence is a skill the undefeated champion developed at Sauerland's combined training-center and headquarters near Berlin's Olympic Stadium. A family enterprise, Sauerland is now one of the heavyweights on the global market.

"I'd say we're in the top five," Sauerland press spokesman Heiko Mallwitz told DW-WORLD.DE. "That's partly because -- in contrast to America where fights are only shown on pay-per-view -- we have an excellent relationship with Germany's leading public station. It's a huge advantage."

Nikolay Valuev

Russian Nikolay Valuev is Sauerland's giant heavyweight hope

The stable's other stars include retired super-middleweight titlist Sven Ottke and former WBA heavyweight champ Nikolay Valuev, who looks set to try to regain the belt from Ruslan Chagaev in May. Also later this year, the stable plans to have Abraham make his first title defense in America – the world's most lucrative boxing market.

That's assuming the Armenian gets past Ayala.

"I can't see Abraham getting in any trouble," Mallwitz said. "There's no one around right now who can beat him. In six or seven rounds, he'll put Ayala on the floor."

A demographic mirror

Henry Maske

Light-heavyweight champ Henry Maske (l.) was a key figure in Germany's 1990s boxing boom

Though hardly as well known internationally as US promoters Don King or Bob Arum, Sauerland is a company with a long boxing tradition. Firm head Wilfried Sauerland learned the sport from his father and began promoting fights in Zambia, Africa in the late 1970s.

The next step was Germany's boxing boom in the 1990s, which saw the rise of light-heavyweight champion Henry Maske and heavyweight contender Axel Schulz -- both from eastern Germany.

Today, the stable is more oriented around Slavic fighters as well as those from immigrant backgrounds in Germany.

"We've made a virtue of necessity," Mallwitz said. "Fighters from the East had excellent fundamental backgrounds, whereas young German fighters are generally pretty poor. But kids from immigrant backgrounds see boxing as an opportunity to get ahead -- without the massive competition they'd face in soccer. Boxing mirrors social-demographic changes, and Berlin is a multicultural city."

And in this corner…

Alexander Frenkel

Ukrainian Alexander Frenkel is an up-and-coming cruiserweight

One of some 30 Sauerland fighters hoping to emulate Abraham's success is Alexander Frenkel. A 24-year-old native of Ukraine who grew up in Germany, he turned pro as a cruiserweight in 2006 and is committed to a career as a pugilist.

"I train for around four hours a day and spend eight weeks preparing for each fight," Frenkel said. "At first it's about conditioning, but about three weeks in advance, we start running through tactics for my specific opponent. By the time I get in the ring, even though I've never met the other fighter, I know exactly what he's going to do."

Frenkel got into the sport at the age of eight via kickboxing, won 55 of 60 fights as an amateur and has amassed a perfect 14-0 record as a pro. But his first bout as a youth was a loss.

"It was awful," Frenkel remembered. "I was so ashamed I didn't want to cross the street. All I wanted to do was train for my next fight."

A polite, articulate young man from a family of musicians, Frenkel doesn't come across like someone whose job is to knock other people unconscious. Only the bruises on his knuckles betray the fact that he's currently ranked number 21 in the world in his weight class.

"I always want to go for knock-outs," Frenkel said. "A close win on points is confusing -- both for the spectators and for me. But my primary goal is always to get hit as seldom as possible, and to hit the other guy as often as I can."

Frenkel and Sauerland's aim is to get him into the top 15 this year -- which would make him eligible for a world-title fight in 2009.

"He has the potential," Mallwitz said. "We hope he'll have a chance at a title by mid- or late-next year. Because, let's face it: we're only interested in titles. Ultimately, they're the only way for us or him to make any money."

In the meantime, Frenkel will be tuning in to watch – and perhaps to pick up pointers from Abraham, when Sauerland's current top dog defends his title.

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