Commentary

Bika puts Soliman's "Contender" hopes on ice

Sakio Bika put Sam Soliman's "Contender" hopes on ice by earning a unanimous decision over the Australian. Bika will face Jaidon Codrington in the final.

Originally Published: October 28, 2007
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com

Sam Soliman burst into fight fans' consciousness when he performed surprisingly well in a 12-round loss to Winky Wright back in 2005.

The Melbourne, Australia native's heart impressed viewers as much as any other single attribute on that night, when he looked comparable to one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

If you haven't seen that outing, or seen Soliman in action at all for that matter, you would still be able to gauge the man's heart and desire if you saw him perform his favorite post-fight ritual.

After every bout (and after grueling training sessions), Soliman fills a bathtub with ice and jumps in. He sits in the arctic bath and doesn't flinch, allowing the frigid water to soothe his aching and inflamed muscles and joints.

The Iceman's regimen didn't carry him into the "Contender" final against Jaidon Codrington on Nov. 6 in Boston, but the Aussie came close.

In the second semifinal match of the season, the 33-year-old Soliman dropped a unanimous decision to Cameroon-born, Australia-based Sakio Bika.

Soliman (34-10) and Bika (24-3), who happened to be the two most seasoned participants on the show, had tangled once before, back in 2002. Soliman was already an experienced pro, having been thrown into choppy waters against more decorated, highly-touted sorts like Glen Kelly, Howard Eastman, Ray Joval and Anthony Mundine.

He'd lost each scrap, but was gaining the experience that brought him to the edge of this program's finale. Bika was on the rise with a 10-0 record and was expected to hand the gatekeeper his eighth loss. That didn't happen.

Soliman got the nod in a majority decision, and the result put a bee in Bika's bonnet ever since. The athlete, a quiet type who left the trash-talking in the "Contender" crib to Max Alexander, David Banks and Jaidon Codrington, surprised viewers with his incendiary speech before he and Soliman engaged in their rematch.

"Sam didn't beat me then; I was robbed," Bika stated. "I have 15 percent respect for Sam."

Soliman, meanwhile, didn't take the bait when Bika brought up the previous face-off. The Iceman hopped in his bath of ice cubes and chilled out.

Come fight night, Bika was the more warmed-up of the two boxers and was ready to rock early on. Bika's jab looked taut, and in the first round, he backed Soliman up several feet with the setup selection.

Soliman owns a respectable jab himself and fine hand speed to go with it. He looked to peck away at Bika while searching for the right time to drop his right over Bika's low left hand.

In the first half of the bout, Bika fired right uppercuts that scored in the judge's eyes, catching the Aussie native on the chin while he leaned in.

By the fourth, though, it looked like the Iceman had warmed up, and he began pushing Bika back. Soliman's right landed more frequently and it looked as though his stellar cardio would pay dividends. But Bika's a more precise striker than Soliman, who relies more on volume than precision targeting.

Soliman landed his best shot in the sixth, a right hand off of a clinch that pushed Bika backwards and drew a "hurrah" from the crowd.

Would Bika's conditioning fail him?

Soliman kept the pressure on in the seventh, and it all came down to the final frame. Bika went back to the jab, as trainer Pepe Correa demanded, while Soliman, in need of a knockdown or knockout, feinted more than he flurried.

The decision was left to the judges. Max DeLuca scored it 77-75, while Jack Reiss and Pat Russell scored the fight 78-74, all for Bika.

In the dressing room post-bout, Soliman filled up his ice bath and hopped in without a trace of a flinch. His wife Maria came in to console her man.

"We can start a family now," she said.

Any viewer familiar with "Seinfeld" had to hope that the fighter would be allowed to defrost first.

ESPN.com talked to Soliman and asked him what he could have done differently to change the outcome of the fight.

"I underestimated Bika, because I had won the first time so easily," Soliman said. "I hope I get a chance to fight Sakio again. I won't give him a chance next time. Unless it's 'Sam Soliman got disqualified for hitting me on the chin.'"

A 24/7 positive personality, Soliman laughed.

"I finished strong this time, but gave him the early rounds and made it questionable," he continued. "All credit to him for doing it. I thought I won the last three rounds, but it wasn't enough. If I were the judges, I would have given it to Sakio by one point."

Regarding the ice bath regimen, where did that ritual come from?

Soliman explained that he's a tremendous fan of Aussie rules football, which is a close cousin to rugby. About four years ago, he befriended some of the players, and they were doing the ice bath routine after tortuous practices and contests.

"The bruises go away faster; the ice gets in your legs and speeds up the body's recovery," he explained.

The Iceman got Miguel Hernandez and Wayne Johnsen to give the shrinkage bath a shot, he said. Johnsen, who's played rugby, where the practice is more common, stuck with it.

Soliman's trainer Buddy McGirt disapproves of the icy dip. McGirt fought as a pro from 1982 until 1997, when trainers were telling boxers to chow down mongo steaks before bouts, as opposed to carbo-loading like today's fighters are told.

"My trainer back then would've said, 'What are you doing!'" McGirt said. "An ice bath? Are you crazy?"

McGirt told ESPN.com that Soliman even jumped in the icy tub before the fight with Bika. That wouldn't be his recommendation to a prospect, but McGirt wasn't going to try and dissuade a veteran of 44 professional boxing matches.

The Iceman will try and best fellow ice-lover Johnsen in an undercard attraction Boston. Then, he said, he and wife Maria will work to start a family.

There will not be, one assumes, any ice baths involved in that ritual.

Michael Woods, the executive editor of TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.

Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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