Worth the weight: Onetime 147-pound titleholder Jan Zaveck finds success in 154-pound division

For more than a decade, Jan Zaveck maintained the fitness discipline of a supermodel, his weight fluctuating no more than 1½ pounds for 35 of his first 36 professional fights.

Jan Zaveck and Keith Thurman

Jan Zaveck connects with a left hook to the head of Keith Thurman during their 147-pound clash in March 2013. It was one of the few bright spots for Zaveck, who lost every round on all three scorecards.

But with each passing birthday, Zaveck—like pretty much everyone everywhere—found it increasingly difficult to win the metabolism battle. So in October 2014—after tipping the scales between 145½ and 147 pounds for all but one fight—Zaveck finally gave in to his body’s wishes and jumped up a weight class to fight 154-pound contender Ferenc Hafner.

Result: Zaveck, checking in at a career-high 153.9 pounds, scored a seventh-round TKO victory. Then this past April, just a few weeks after turning 39, Zaveck weighed 151 pounds for a clash against Sasha Yengoyan, who at the time was 31-1-1.

Again, Zaveck prevailed, winning a 12-round unanimous decision.

Now, as he prepares for the biggest fight of his life against 154-pound titleholder Erislandy Lara (21-2-2, 12 KOs) on Wednesday in Miami, Jan Zaveck (35-3, 19 KOs) will once again be bulked up, having convinced himself that—in his case, anyway—bigger is indeed better.

“I have more energy and power at 154,” says Zaveck, whose natural weight is 164, compared with Lara’s 172. “I’ve had more problems at 151, but absolutely none above that.”

Zaveck was a force at 147 pounds for the first eight years of his pro career, winning 31 of his first 32 bouts, including 18 by knockout. The lone setback was a narrow split-decision loss in November 2008 to Rafal Jackiewicz, coincidentally in Jackiewicz’s native Poland.

A native of Slovenia now fighting out of Germany, Zaveck rebounded from that defeat to win a 147-pound world title in December 2009. He successfully defended it four times—including a rematch victory over Jackiewicz by majority decision in Slovenia—until losing the title to Andre Berto in September 2011.

That bout ended after five rounds because a cut over Zaveck’s right eye impaired his vision to the point that the referee deemed it unsafe for him to continue.

“I was getting to Andre Berto,” Zaveck says. “I waited a round or two too long for him to get tired.”

Once again, though, Zaveck bounced back, this time with a convincing unanimous-decision victory over Bethuel Ushona in March 2012. Then, after a hiatus of nearly a year, he took a big step up in class when he faced top 147-pound contender Keith Thurman.

At the time, Thurman had knocked out eight consecutive opponents. Zaveck managed not to become victim No. 9, but that was his only saving grace that night as Thurman pitched a shutout in a 12-round, unanimous-decision win.

“Keith Thurman’s a smart boxer, but I went in there trying to knock him out,” says Zaveck, whose only two fights on U.S. soil were the losses to Berto and Thurman. “I learned sheer power’s not enough; the ‘school of boxing’ is important, and I have to be able to do many things.”

Versatility will be critical if Zaveck expects to get past Lara, who is widely regarded as one of the slickest boxers in the sport.

Working with longtime German coach Dirk Dzemski, Zaveck had a 10-week training camp, which in addition to the usual physical work included careful study of three of Lara’s most difficult fights: a disputed draw with Carlos Molina in March 2011, a 10th-round stoppage of Alfredo Angulo in June 2013 and a split-decision loss to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in July 2014.

Angulo effectively cut off the ring en route to flooring Lara in the fourth and ninth rounds with separate left hooks. Angulo led on one scorecard and trailed by a single point on two others when he absorbed a one-two combination, turned away and succumbed to severe swelling over both eyes, leading the referee to stop the fight.

Zaveck praised Lara’s skills, but insists his film study will pay off Wednesday night in his third career fight in the United States.

“Lara’s a brilliant technical boxer who’s difficult to punch without getting hit,” says Zaveck, who landed in Miami on November 18, having split time training in his native Ptuj, Slovenia, and Magdeburg, Germany. “Alvarez and Angulo pressured Lara, but they took a lot of punches.

“My game plan is to go to the head and body with pressure that doesn’t allow him too many punches back. I’ll be more unpredictable than you’ve seen. I believe my first American victory is approaching.”

For complete coverage of Lara vs Zaveck, be sure to check out our fight page.

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