Felix Sturm vs Sebastian Zbik WBA Middleweight Title Fight Preview

Sturm faces another tough test against former WBC champ Zbik

Germany's Felix Sturm makes the 12th defense of his WBA middleweight title when he takes on fellow countrymen Sebastian Zbik at the Lanxess-Arena in Cologne on Friday. Sturm, who had to turn back the titanic challenges of British pair Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray in his last two title defenses, may be in for another perilous night against Zbik, the former WBC middleweight champion who's only loss was a controversial majority decision against Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez Jr last June.

33-year-old Felix Sturm (36-2-2, 15 KOs) is making his first ring appearance of 2012, after scoring three successful title defenses last year. The German, who is a three-time holder of the middleweight title, first won the WBO version of the belt way back in 2003. After one successful defense, he lost his title controversially to American Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas – Sturm's first defeat as professional. 

By 2006 he was a champion again after outscoring Maselino  Masoe to lift the WBA version of the title. His reign was to be short-lived however, as he was surprisingly TKO'd in 10 rounds by the veteran Spaniard Javier Castillejo in one of the biggest upsets of 2006. Sturm regained the crown the following year with a unanimous decision over Castillejo, and has since gone on to make 11 title defenses, defeating the likes of future IBF middleweight champion Sebastian Sylvester, cagey American Randy Griffin and Ronald Hearns, the 6' 3'' son of Detroit boxing legend Tommy Hearns. 

Last June Sturm barely clung on to his title in a sensational fight against Birmingham born Irishman Matthew Macklin. Macklin stormed through the early rounds with a savage body assault and looked to have the title in the bag. It took a tremendous finish from the German to just edge the fight on a controversial though deserved split decision. Six months later Sturm faced the unbeaten Martin Murray and found himself embroiled in another savage see-saw struggle, this time only retaining his title via a draw.

One has to hand it to Sturm - he could easily take advantage of the WBA rankings and make a comfortable defense or two against weaker opposition, but instead he has chose to test himself once again against a premium quality fighter in 30 year old Sebastian Zbik (30-1, 10 KOs), ranked 5th by both the WBA and WBO.

In 2010 Zbik was elevated from interim WBC middleweight champion to full champion following the former holder Sergio Martinez's ''elevation'' to the position of WBC Diamond champion after the Argentinian's decision to fight Serhiy Dzinziruk, the longtime WBO light middleweight champion, instead of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. 

As Chavez Jr was ranked number one by the WBC, Zbik's first defense was against him at the Los Angeles Staples Center last June. In a thrilling, hard-fought encounter, Zbik looked to have done just enough to retain his title, but lost on a majority decision. The feeling of many at ringside was that as Chavez Jr is managed by Bob Arum, and his organization Top Rank promoted the fight, if the bout were close, Chavez Jr would get the decision.

Like Sturm, Zbik is a shade under 6' tall, and also like the champion, is a cerebral fighter who prefers to box rather than bang, with just 10 KOs in his 31 bout career. What this means is that fight fans should be prepared for an intensely fought 'chess match' of a bout between two intellectual protagonists who are grand masters of the sweet science. 

Although their Tales of the Tape are roughly the same, Sturm is likely to be the bigger fighter on the night. However, the champion may have burned himself out somewhat with his back-to-back wars against Macklin and Murray last year. By comparison Zbik has had a good eight months break from the ring, and fought only once in 2011, so he should have the edge in freshness.

In his toughest fights, it is Sturm's tremendous fitness and conditioning that enables him to finish contests strongly and take the late rounds. Against Chavez Jr, Zbik faded badly in the later rounds, allowing the Mexican to come back into the fight and ultimately take the decision. Sooner or later, Sturm will go to the well once too often and find it comes up dry. If that happens on Friday, Zbik can take the fight and the title on points. However, I see Sturm digging deep one more time to edge a close but unanimous decision.

Sturm by unanimous 12 round decision.

Big Fight Odds: Felix Sturm 4/9, Sebastian Zbik 13/8 bet365
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Felix Sturm vs Sebastian Zbik WBA Middleweight Title Fight Preview

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