By Gary Purfield
On Saturday from Stechert Arena in Germany cruiserweights Yoan Pablo Hernandez (26-1, 13 KO) and Troy Ross (25-2, 16 KO) fight for Hernandez’s IBF belt. More importantly, they will be fighting to put themselves into the spotlight of a division that is wide open with much of the talent over the last few years now fighting at heavyweight.
Right here and now the best cruiserweights of the last five years are fighting in the more lucrative division over 200lbs. David Haye jumped ship to go after the Klitschko’s and bigger paydays. Tomasz Adamek did the same. This past weekend Steve Cunningham made his heavyweight debut. The one big name left, Marco Huck, made a move to heavyweight, losing a controversial decision to Alexander Povetkin. Huck has returned to cruiser, but chances are if another opportunity presents itself he would likely take the chance to succeed where the money is at heavyweight.
So Hernandez and Ross, who have been in the shadows of the fighters discussed above, will have opportunities to become the man at cruiser. The matchup is highly competitive and both men have the power to end things at any time with either hand. Chances are both will be looking to do just that to win the fight and make a statement to anyone else that wants to challenge in the division.
Hernandez and Ross have taken a long road to this point. The native Cuban, Hernandez, developed his skills in the renown Cuban amateur program where he had a successful amateur career including participating in the 2004 Olympics. He chose not to stick around for another Olympics and defected from his homeland, going to Germany to pursue a professional boxing career.
Hernandez fought through the ranks in Germany, winning all but one of his first twenty five fights. The one setback was a third round knockout loss in 2008 to Wayne Braithwaite. He had wins over Enad Licina and Steve Herelius.
Hernandez then got the opportunity he was seeking when he left his homeland, taking on IBF champ Steve Cunningham in October of 2010. Hernandez floored the champ in round one and looked to be one punch from a knockout win. However, Cunningham survived and eventually began taking over the fight. Then in the sixth round the fight was stopped due to cuts on Hernandez from accidental head butts. Hernandez was awarded the controversial win, which appeared to be another example of the idea that no foreigner is getting a decision in Germany (while Hernandez is Cuban he was considered the home fighter as he makes his home in Germany now). It seemed a bizarre stoppage as neither cut seemed to be a problem. Cunningham petitioned the IBF and was granted an immediate rematch.
Hernandez was able to make it clear the next time that he was the new IBF champ. He dropped Cunningham twice in the fourth round and this time never allowed Cunningham to make a sustained rush, winning a clear cut unanimous decision.
For Troy Ross, it has been a winding journey to this moment. A native of Guyana residing in Canada, he participated in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics before turning pro. Ross won his first twelve bouts, but then dropped a disappointing decision to Willie Herring, 10-3 at the time. Ross would win his next five bouts.
Then Ross got his biggest break thus far when he was invited to participate on the final season of the Contender reality show in Singapore. Ross made the most of his opportunity, making a statement in every fight. Vicious knockouts of Lawrence Tauasa (second round) and Felix Cora Jr (round one) along with a unanimous decision over Akinyemi Laleye put Ross into the finals of the tournament. Ross scored a fourth round stoppage of Ehinomen Ehikhamenor to win the tournament. His power and dominance in the tournament captured the attention of many in boxing who suddenly considered him a force in the division.
Ross won his next two fights, setting up a title shot in 2010 against IBF champ Steve Cunningham. Ross looked good and scored a knockdown in round four. Then it fell apart when Ross was cut above the eye, stopping the fight entering the fifth round. The cut seemed to be caused by a thumb, but regardless Ross walked away with a TKO loss and had to get back in line. He appealed the ruling of the Cunningham fight but was denied by the IBF.
Since then, due to various issues outside the ring, Ross has only fought twice, getting wins over lesser competition. Now he gets one more shot to gain that elusive title. At thirty seven years of age this is probably the last opportunity for Ross to reach the top.
Cruiserweight is often considered a lost division. The ugly stepchild to the heavyweights. However, it thrives in Europe, especially Germany where Hernandez has made his home. That gives cruisers a chance to thrive and that window of opportunity is wide open with so many cruisers jumping to heavyweight.
To capitalize on the money to be made at cruiser in Germany, Hernandez and Ross need to capitalize on their opportunity Saturday. The winner can establish themselves as a top force in the division and go after the other man at cruiser, Marco Huck, who brings big crowds and big money. The loser gets back in line knowing opportunity has passed.
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