Stockholm prepares for Capital Showdown
Luke G. Williams
On Saturday night, big-time boxing returns to Stockholm with Sauerland Promotion’s stacked card of action at the historic Hovet Arena. Boxing Monthly previews the action.
Boxing in Sweden has been in recovery mode since the end of a ban on professional pugilism that lasted 37 long years from 1970 until the beginning of 2007. The sport’s comeback gathers pace on Saturday night when the country’s capital plays host to the most eagerly awaited boxing event in the country since the glory days of Ingemar Johansson and Bo Högberg in the 1960s.
The canny Sauerlands have discerned that the Scandinavian country is a marketplace worth expanding their ‘Nordic Fight Night’ series into, and the majority of the Swedish talent on their promotional books will be appearing on Saturday night. “This is our first show in the Swedish capital,” commented Nisse Sauerland when the event was announced. “We plan to make it one to remember.”
Unfortunately, 24-year-old Anthony ‘Can You Dig It’ Yigit (16-0-1, 7 KOs) will not be in action though; the Stockholm-based welterweight’s contest against Chris Goodwin (19-2-1, 0 KOs) has been cancelled due to a back injury suffered by the British boxer. 2012 Olympic Games quarter-finalist Yigit will now fight on the undercard of the Dereck Chisora versus Kubrat Pulev fight on 7 May in Hamburg instead.
Although local fans will be disappointed by the absence of Yigit, there are still plenty of enticing bouts on the bill. Co-headlining is Erik Skoglund, the marketable ‘poster boy’ for Swedish boxing right now, who fights at light-heavyweight and currently boasts a record of 24-0, with 11 KOs.
Skoglund has a world ranking of No. 3 with the IBF, as well as top-15 rankings with the WBC and WBO, and is being manoeuvred by the Sauerlands into a possible world-title shot. Thus far the most impressive names on his resumé are a faded Glen Johnson and Derek Edwards, who TKO-ed Badou Jack in one round in a famous upset in 2014.
At the Hovet, the 24-year-old Skoglund will defend his IBF Intercontinental crown over 12 rounds against South African tough guy Ryno Liebenberg (17-2, 12 KOs), who has certainly made a lot of noise in the build-up by claiming he will “kick Skoglund’s ass” and drawing attention to his past propensity for street-fighting.
Skoglund himself has been more circumspect, commenting: “We brought professional boxing back to Sweden last year, but now we need big shows like this in the capital city to build more interest. I think if I put in a good performance and get a clear decision, it will show that I’m ready for a world title challenge.”
With the benefit of home support to roar him on, Skoglund must be considered favourite to weather the 31-year-old Liebenberg’s doubtless spirited challenge and box his way to a points victory. However, securing a world title in the future in the talent-rich light-heavyweight division will be a tough task for the man from Nyköping.
The other headliner on the bill is 40-year-old Mikaela Laurén (26-3, 11 KOs), who defends her WBC female super-welterweight title against accomplished Croatian Ivana Habazin (15-2, 6 KOs) in a ten-round contest. Laurén is convinced that she will prove “too strong” for the 26-year-old former IBF welterweight titlist and is looking for a KO victory.
This bout should be fiercely competitive and could prove very close. However, former national-team swimmer Laurén has improved her boxing skills markedly over the last couple of years and is the pick to win - probably on points, as Habazin is highly durable, having never been stopped. A victory for Laurén would move her a step closer to her dream showdown – a rematch with the world’s top pound-for-pound female boxer, Norway’s undisputed welterweight queen Cecilia Brækhus, who beat her by TKO in seven in 2010, and also secured a points victory against Habazin in 2014.
Another potential opponent for the marketable Laurén is fellow Swede Klara Svensson (15-1, 5 KOs), who faces an intriguing super-lightweight rematch against Italian Lucia Morelli (19-5, 9 KOs) over eight rounds at the Hovet. The 28-year-old ‘Swedish Princess’ won a hard-fought but wide nod on points the last time the pair met in November 2014 for the WBC interim title – a contest that was fought over the longer 10-round distance.
Both fighters have boxed only once since – Svensson losing on points to Argentina’s Erica Anabella Farias for the ‘full’ WBC title while Morelli blew out Serbian debutant Sanja Radin in two rounds. Svensson should once again have too much for the Italian, but the 37-year-old Morelli is teak-tough and will make her work hard for her victory. If Svensson and Laurén both win then a match-up between the pair at welterweight could be on the cards.
Elsewhere on the bill, 25-year-old heavyweight Otto Wallin (14-0, 10 KOs) faces 35-year-old Irineu Beato Costa Junior (19-6, 17 KOs) from Brazil in an eight-rounder. Sundsvall southpaw Wallin has benefitted from his recent sparring engagements with IBF champ Anthony Joshua and is overwhelming favourite to extend his undefeated record to 15 fights.
Costa Junior can bang, as 17 early victories shows, but Wallin is much the better all-round athlete and technician. If he can once again impress with a stoppage victory, then a potential domestic blockbuster against fellow unbeaten heavyweight prospect Adrian Granat (12-0, 11 KOs) will move a step closer to fruition.
Arguably the most intriguing fight of the night is the eight-round contest between Oscar ‘Golden Boy’ Ahlin (13-1, 11 KOs) and Gambian Patrick Mendy (16-10-1, 1KO). The 26-year-old Ahlin was rated by many as the best prospect in Swedish boxing until he was surprisingly bested on points last May by German-based Cameroonian Bernard Donfack. Hard-hitting Ahlin rebounded from that blow with a KO victory in December but can ill afford any further slip-ups this early in his pro career.
Ahlin was been sparring against WBC super-middleweight champ Badou Jack in Las Vegas prior to this contest and Mendy will prove an interesting test. In his ten losses to date, only Callum Smith has stopped the 25-year-old and, in drawing with the useful Dimitry Chudinov in 2013, he proved that he is no mug. If Ahlin can become just the second man to knock Mendy out then his career will firmly be back on track.
Finally, Swedish fans will get the opportunity to see three further home country prospects in action – super-welterweight Daniel Hartvig (7-0, 4 KOs), who faces an interesting six-round test in the shape of Nikoloz Gvajava (6-0, 6 KOs) from Georgia; female super-lightweight Patricia Berghult (1-0, O KOs), who made some waves in the amateurs, and takes on Croatian Kristina Boras (1-4, 0 KOs); and bantamweight Angelique Hernandez (1-0), who is due to face a currently unnamed opponent. Berghult and Hernandez’s contests are both four-rounders.