Solis, Austin ready for eliminator fight

Cuba’s long and proud boxing history, from the dominance of featherweight king Kid Chocolate in the 1930s to recent Olympic glory, to the wave of defections in recent years, has never produced a professional heavyweight champion.

Odlanier Solis hopes to finally end that long and baffling streak.

The 30-year-old contender and 2004 Olympic gold medalist defected from Cuba in 2006 and has rapidly climbed through the professional pecking order, setting up a title eliminator against Ray Austin on Friday night. The winner gets to face WBC champion Vitali Klitschko next year.

”I am aware of it but soon that will change,” Solis said of Cuba’s professional heavyweight title drought. ”I am in position to do it.”

Nino Valdes was a top-10 contender in the 1950s but could never win a belt. Jorge Luis Gonzalez, the first of the notable boxers to defect Cuba in the late 1980s, faded from the sport’s biggest stage after a knockout loss to then-champion Riddick Bowe in 1995.

Yet despite his proximity to a title shot, Solis refuses to place any additional importance on his bout against Austin. It’s just another fight on the road to better things.

”I don’t watch tape on Ray Austin or Vitali Klitschko,” Solis said. ”I don’t watch any tape of my opponents. I just focus on doing my job to the best of my abilities.”

That’s been good enough so far. Solis has won his first 16 pro fights, 12 of them by knockout, but has only fought four times in the past 23 months. His bout against the 40-year-old Austin will be his first since a third-round knockout of Carl Drummond in March.

The persistent rumors within boxing circles are that Solis’ lengthy ring-absence this year has been attributed to lack of conditioning, but he says that’s not the case.

”My weight is not any matter,” Solis said. ”I am in shape. ”I have prepared for this fight at 100 percent. You are going to see good things out of me Friday night.”

Austin, meanwhile, could have another opportunity against a Klitschko if he derails Solis’ title aspirations. Austin (28-4-4, 18 KOs) faced Wladimir Ktlischko three years ago for the IBF title and was stopped in the second round of a brutally one-sided fight.

”I learned from my mistakes in that fight,” Austin said. ”A lot of guys in this profession don’t learn from their mistakes and make the same mistakes over and over.”

Austin, who is 4-0 since the loss, is not fazed by the attention given to Solis.

”It’s supposed to be like that, I can appreciate that he is an amateur star,” Austin said. ”He did a lot of good things and now he’s making the transition to the pros.”

The show Friday also will feature an IBF light heavyweight title fight between defending champion Tavoris Cloud and Colombia’s Fulgencio Zuniga. Cloud (21-0, 18 KOs) won the belt with a unanimous decision over former champion Clinton Woods in August 2008.

Three weeks short of the first anniversary of his title-winning performance, Cloud won a unanimous decision over Glen Johnson, another former light heavyweight titleholder.

”I’m ready to prove I’m the best light-heavyweight out there,” Cloud said.

Zuniga (24-4-1, 21 KOs) will have his first opportunity at a 175-pound world title after two unsuccessful bids in the super-middleweight division.