Unbeaten Abraham seeks U.S. stardom

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It’s not much of a stretch to think that Arthur Abraham could just as easily be training today to ride in the Tour de France as he is to try to become the world’s finest super middleweight boxer.

Abraham, who is one of the co-favorites along with American Andre Ward in Showtime’s Super 6 tournament, almost turned to boxing by accident.

Abraham, 30, is now 31-0 with 25 knockouts and recognized widely as among the finest fighters in the world, regardless of weight. He’s ranked No. 8 in the Yahoo! Sports rankings.

But when Abraham was a teenager, he was a cyclist and was good enough to have won an age-group state championship in Bavaria. He hadn’t given much thought about becoming a boxer until he saw a Mike Tyson fight on television. After seeing the former heavyweight champion, his entire thought process about his athletic career changed.

At 16, with a promising future as a cyclist ahead of him, Abraham decided to switch sports after seeing Tyson fight and began to box.

“There was this great fire inside of Mike Tyson and that inspired me,” said Abraham, who is preparing for a March 27 bout with Andre Dirrell on Showtime at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. “Watching him fight and seeing the impact he had on [the fans] … it made me want to do that, too.”

Abraham was born in Armenia and moved to Germany with his parents as a teen, when they went to help run a relative’s restaurant. Abraham quickly got into cycling and was comfortable in that sport.

When he saw Tyson fight for the first time – and he can’t even remember the specific fight, just how exciting it was – he knew that not only did he want to be a boxer, but also he wanted to be a star in the U.S. like Tyson.

And so, despite gaining enormous popularity in Germany, where boxing is one of the country’s major sports and Abraham is one of the game’s more popular figures, he desperately wanted to make his name in the U.S.

He’s become not only a fighter but also a boxing aficionado and wants the kind of notoriety that men like Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao have achieved.

Abraham, who is still working on his English, hopes that American fans will be impressed by his desire to put on a show.

“I love America,” said Abraham, who has scored eight knockouts in his last nine outings. “To really be a star in boxing, you have to make it in America. All the legends became legends by winning big fights here. Sugar Ray Leonard, [Julio Cesar] Chavez, of course Tyson.

“They did what I want to do. I want to fight the best opponents I can and give the American fans the kind of fights that Tyson used to give them.”

Tyson fights transcended boxing and, for a while at least, became almost like a national holiday. Abraham is not likely to ever approach that level of popularity in the U.S., but boxing fans who haven’t seen him could do worse than to tune in every time he fights. Abraham’s fights are filled with contact, because he’s the type of fighter who is looking for knockouts. He’s got natural power in both hands and is intent on doing as much damage as possible with each punch.

It was no surprise that he knocked out Jermain Taylor in his Super 6 opener in October, given Taylor had been on a downward spiral for a while. But Abraham never let the former undisputed middleweight champion into the fight and thoroughly dominated before knocking him out brutally in the 12th and, ultimately, forcing him to pull out of the tournament.

Dirrell is a different story. He is an athletic up-and-comer who, despite an opening-round loss to Carl Froch, remains a dangerous opponent. Dirrell is one of the few fighters in the elite field who is probably still on the upward spiral.

Dirrell injured his back in sparring and forced the bout to be postponed for three weeks. It was scheduled for Saturday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., but has been moved to Detroit. Dirrell is from Michigan and will presumably have the benefit of the hometown crowd, but Abraham hopes to win them over as the fight goes on.

“If you give the fans everything you have, they will recognize that and appreciate you for it,” Abraham said. “I want to be a big star in America. I want to make my name. This tournament is a great opportunity for me to do that and so I’m happy to actually fight here.

“I know Dirrell will be fighting at home and I know he’s a good opponent, but these are the kinds of fights you have to win if you want to become a legend.”

It’s hard not to root for Abraham. Too many fighters say they want to be a legend but take a safety-first, safety-always approach when the bell rings.

Abraham competes with a controlled fury. And though he has a good defense, make no mistake that he’s an offensive fighter.

This is a guy who is the epitome of a fighter, not a boxer.

He loved seeing Tyson going for the home run every time and he tries to do the same thing.

“If you want to be a big star in America, you have to give the people a reason to watch you,” Abraham said. “I understand that. It’s what Mike Tyson did, and it inspired me. Maybe I can inspire some young Americans the same way.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Mar 5, 2010