German pro-boxing on the ropes | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 28.04.2017
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German pro-boxing on the ropes

Germany's professional boxing scene has been struggling for some time. For many, veteran Wladimir Klitschko is the last active boxer they really know. When he hangs up his gloves, it's unclear who can pick up the torch.

Deutschland Boxen WBC Weltmeisterschaftsboxkampf in Dortmund - Marco Huck vs. Mairis Briedis (Imago/osnapix)

German boxing's not in much better shape than Marco Huck in this image

The times when Germans would gather around the TV on a Saturday night every few months to watch the long-awaited big fight have long past. The only active boxer with genuine name recognition in Germany nowadays is Wladimir Klitschko - a Ukrainian national who's considered an honorary citizen of Hamburg given his decades based there.

And to be fair, Klitschko did draw a TV audience of around 9 million people in his defeat to British boxer Tyson Fury a year and a half ago. Still, this is only a decent haul for what was billed as a "title fight of the year." Germany's successful generation of pugilists like Henry Maske, Axel Schulz, Sven Ottke and Graciano Rocchigiani would regularly pull in an average of around 18 million viewers - so twice as many. This golden age is long gone. (Although it's worth noting that TV audiences do have rather more choice now than they did then, of course.)

London PK WBA-Super-WM Schwergewicht Klitschko - Joshua (picture-alliance/Offside/M. Atkins)

This could be the last fight for some time with the potential to draw 10 million or more viewers in Germany

The most recent title fight involving a German, when Marco Huck took on Lithuanian Mairis Briedis early in April, pulled in just 3 million viewers. 

"Boxing desperately needs good fights. Then the interest will spike again," former light heavyweight champion and fan favorite Henry Maske says, albeit adding that such stunning bouts are getting fewer and further between. Famous coach Ulli Wegner is also all too aware of how heavily the sport relies on personalities in the ring. 

"After the fall of the Berlin Wall we had this boom with Maske, with [Darius] Michalczewski and with Ottke. Everybody knew them. Everyone wanted to see them fight," Wegner says. He says German boxing needs to find another such golden generation. 

And so far, there's little sign of one. Worse than that, with Wladimir Klitschko now 41 years of age, retirement is urgently beckoning. 

Wladimir Klitschko (picture-alliance/dpa/ R. Vennenbernd)

Tyson Fury had the measure of Klitschko when they met in December

Klitschko can't fight on forever

Should the heavyweight champ lose to Anthony Joshua, 14 years Klitschko's junior, on Saturday night, it's entirely possible he might hang up his gloves. Even if he wins, the 41-year-old can't keep boxing indefinitely. His retirement will extinguish German boxing's last bright light. 

"Klitschko will of course always draw enough attention," Maske says, "but the other fighters need to break through too - and the best way is via performances in the ring." 

London PK WBA-Super-WM Schwergewicht Klitschko - Joshua (Getty Images/AFP/D. Leal-Olivas)

Saturday's big fight pitches old guard against new - can Klitschko still school Joshua?

The man once nicknamed the "gentleman boxer" also says that efforts to hype up other fights and other fighters outside the ring don't really make much difference: "people will then watch closely to see if the guy can do anything on the canvas. That's what it's really about." 

By "other boxers," Maske's talking about the handful of German fighters who are at least partially recognizable to home fans. But Felix Sturm, Marco Huck, Jürgen Brähmer, Arthur Abraham and Jack Culcay are just as likely to generate negative headlines - by losing recent title fights, for being near their career's end, for doping, or simply for lacking that style and swagger most memorable boxers possess.

Just one remaining German title holder

Former super middleweight champion Felix Sturm, who's 37 himself, was stripped of his belt after a questionable win on points over Russian Fedor Chudinov in February 2016. He failed a doping test. His belt gone, it's by no means certain he'll ever step in the ring as a pro again. 

Boxen -Felix Sturm (picture-alliance/dpa/F. v. Erichsen)

Felix Sturm had to give up his belt

Marco Huck, who's five years younger than Sturm, suffered a painful recent defeat against Mairis Briedis. The cruiserweight, known for his quick hands, therefore didn't just lose the (relatively unimportant) IBO belt, but also had to give up his dream of securing the WBC title. His future's also up in the air. 

And what of Jürgen Brähmer? His career's also been in its autumn years for some time. Quite possibly his last title fight, one he withdrew from with an injured elbow, drew a TV audience of just 2 million in Germany. 

Arthur Abraham has once again decided to delay his career's end. The 37-year-old won last Saturday against Robin Krasniqi, born in the former Yugoslavia (in what's now Kosovo) but based in Munich, meaning he can hope for another shot at a title fight against WBO champion Gilberto Ramirez of Mexico. 

But for now, looking at a list of world champion boxers won't swell a German breast with pride. In the 17 different weight categories, there's currently just one German champ: 24-year-old Tyron Zeuge holds the WBA super middleweight belt. But it's highly questionable that this not-so-charismatic boxer can become a new leading light for the sport in Germany. Just a glance at the crowds he can pull confirms as much. His title fight was watched by just 1.5 million, a market share of 7.7 percent. 

Klitschko's bout against Joshua on Saturday could be the last fight for some time with the potential to draw 10 million or more German viewers.