Manuel Charr will play the part of Jack Roper opposite Vitali Klitschko—in the role of the white Joe Louis—when the two heavyweights square off on Saturday at the Olimpiyskiy in Moscow, Russia, for the K2 championship of the world. This scrap will be shown via tape delay on HBO to ensure that people will actually tune in to the Ward-Dawson “Superfight” in Oakland.
Charr, as Jimmy Tobin noted here last week, has the unique distinction of being broke before he even challenges for a portion of the K2 title. Most fighters wind up on skid row after their careers are over, but Charr is unique in more ways than one. Not only is “Diamond Boy” almost completely unknown (except, of course, to those who know everything—a rare species found only in boxing), but he is also the first pug of Syrian descent to fight on such a big stage since Mustafa Hamsho was butchered by Marvin Hagler in 1984. If Charr can upset the dope, then he can stave off penury for, perhaps, the rest of his life. In that case, Klitschko, 44-2 (40), becomes a 6’7 lottery ticket, but the odds of Charr beating “Dr. Ironfist” are as long as they would be if he bought a pair of scratch-off tickets.
Born in Lebanon, Charr, 27, moved to Germany in 1989. Originally a practitioner of Muay Thai, Charr is undoubtedly a dangerous, dangerous man. But Klitschko, Kiev, Ukraine, is two or three levels above the lamb chops Charr has been feeding on since he made his professional boxing debut in 2005. Since then, Charr has faced a veritable United Nations of second-raters. Fighters from Turkey, Hungary, Cuba, the U.K., Romania, Brazil, Ukraine, Nigeria, America, and the Czech Republic dot his spotty record. Charr has even managed the neat trick of beating Latvians in consecutive fights. Unfortunately, Charr, who owns some sort of belt dispensed by a WBC vending machine, has gone the distance with most of these Continental breakfasts.
What Charr, 21-0 (11), has going for him in this bout is what all longshots have when they answer the bell under adverse circumstances: chance. But he is from the Uli Wegner/Arthur Abraham School of Boxing: hands up, plod, and be stingy with punches. At over 6’ 3” and close to 240 pounds, Charr has all of the mobility of something pickled in a Damien Hirst piece. He simply trudges forward behind a high guard and lets go with an occasional wild overhand right. This blow resembles the motions a basketball player makes when he goes for a behind-the-back pass. In close, Charr throws a solid left hook to the body, and from mid-range he tries to surprise an opponent with lead right uppercuts, folly against a fighter with pulls in reach and height like Klitschko.
Now 41, and with a history of nagging injuries, Vitali Klitschko is liable to break down, like a ’74 Gremlin still on the road, at any moment. But his jab-and-cross style—along with his ability to control a fight at long range—is a nightmare scenario for Charr, who lacks the speed and agility to trouble even a faded Klitschko. Without a work rate capable of making Klitschko uncomfortable and without kayo power as an equalizer, it looks like Charr will be back daydreaming in Germany as soon as the bruises heal and his headache goes away.
Having hocked everything to train in a bare storefront in Cologne, Charr is thinking about things like destiny, glory, a bank account. Give him all the credit in the world for dreaming big. In the end, how he got here—and whether he belongs here or not—is irrelevant when you realize how much these nights mean to fighters outside of the prizefight power circles, the ones who claw, scratch, and pawn their way into opportunities. They suggest a line out of Novalis: “The world becomes the dream, and the dream becomes the world.”
As for Klitschko, “Dr. Ironfist” claims that his training camp in Austria functioned as a vacation from the grind of Ukrainian politics. Right now, it looks like the vacation will extend to Moscow until late Saturday night—desires, dreams, and wants be damned.
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