By Lyle Fitzsimmons
You ever go into a fight with one vibe on a guy and come out with another, even in a win?
Well… it happened to me on Saturday afternoon.
I settled in to a comfy chair and dialed up a live stream of the IBO title fight between young lion Khabib Allakhverdiev and old geezer Souleymane M'baye, fully expecting the sort of blowout that’d affirm the feeling I’d had that the Russian was an undiscovered gem among the 140-pounders.
I’d seen video of his four-round beatdown of Kaizer Mabuza to win the belt in Moscow last summer, then tuned in live when he handed Joan Guzman his first L via technical decision last fall in Sunrise, Fla., a short jaunt from my front door on the Sunshine State’s other coast.
And while I concede the combined age of those two foes was something north of 68 years, there was still enough in the way Allakhverdiev dispatched them to make me buy what he was selling – that he was someone worthy of a bigger stage against some of the bigger junior welters.
Of course, meeting the 38-year-old M’baye before 1,000 paying customers in Monaco fit neither of those bills to begin with, and the uneven performance the winner put on before finally finishing his man in the 11th round supplied observers with more questions than answers going forward.
There’s no argument to the point that – regardless of how he ultimately won the fight – Allakhverdiev beating a guy with exactly one win since 2010 wasn’t going to prove much. Still, with that the case, it was an ideal time for the wannabe to add a minute or two to his YouTube feature reel.
Instead, the most vivid highlight I recalled in the aftermath was that of trainer John David Jackson exhorting his man to simply go about his business.
“Don’t stay outside with this guy. You’re letting him stay in the fight,” Jackson said, clearly within range of the microphones transmitting his words to the Box Nation broadcast audience. “You’re giving this guy too much time. Get inside and get to work.”
The assessment was right on point.
In the rounds when Allakhverdiev pressed the action—like he did when scoring knockdowns in rounds two and eight—he looked every bit the emergent 140-pound force I’d pegged him to be. But when he let the slap-hitting Frenchman take the lead, the welts that had developed under both his eyes were evidence of the issues that a periodic lack of aggression can cause for a habitual grinder.
The latter situations drew the appropriate response from a riled Jackson, whose exhortations lit enough of a fire under Allakhverdiev to prompt a quick return to violent tendencies. He pounded M’baye for the duration of the 10th then closed the show a round later, when a right hand drove the challenger to the ropes and a follow-up flurry drew the intervention of referee Luis Pabon.
Once it was made official by a globe-trotting Michael Buffer, the victory simultaneously upped the winner’s record to 19-0, accounted for his ninth inside-the-distance workday and was the second defense of the IBO jewelry that warrants his standing among a loaded division’s biggest names.
Incidentally, though he was lauded throughout the broadcast as the WBA’s world champion, that claim is ridiculous at best in the presence of unbeaten American Danny Garcia, who won the organization’s “super” world title with a KO of Amir Khan last July and has defended twice.
Until Garcia gets beat or walks away, he’s all that matters with the letters W-B-A attached.
Still, two belts or one, it’s clear that “The Hawk” will have no shortage of suitors.
Unfortunately, thanks to his relationships with Russian promoter Vladimir Hryunov and U.S.-based Top Rank, fights with either Garcia, IBF champion Lamont Peterson or top contender Lucas Matthysse—all of whom work with Golden Boy Promotions—unlikely. But he does share a Bob Arum stable with Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, Karim Mayfield and Jose Benavidez, not to mention Juan Manuel Marquez, who’s still listed as the WBO’s top man at 140 in its June rankings.
Prior to an injury that scuttled a planned Allakhverdiev defense earlier this year, Hryunov said a deal was possible that would match his man with the winner of the Rios-Alvarado rematch that went on as scheduled in March. Alvarado won that bout via 12-round decision, though it’s Rios that landed the bigger fish—in the form of a bout with a returning Manny Pacquiao in November.
Alvarado would still be an attractive challenge for Allakhverdiev, who tends to lapse when faced with a stylist but could flourish against another foe with a heavy lean toward the rough stuff. A win against Alvarado would open even more significant doors, and even a triumph or two against the lesser Arum properties would guarantee the Russian at least a high-profile workspace for years to come.
Alvarado, Rios and Mayfield are Nos. 5, 6 and 8 in the IBO’s July rankings at 140, while Kendall Holt, Zab Judah, Viktor Postol, Mauricio Herrera and Cesar Cuenca are promotionally viable as well at Nos. 2, 3, 7, 9 and 10, respectively. If Allakhverdiev’s ferocity in the final stages Saturday is his M.O. from start to finish in his next outing, none would be out of the question for him to beat.
And if all else fails, maybe Jackson could take a crack at them in his place.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No fights scheduled.
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 3-0
2013 picks record: 41-24 (63.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 504-176 (74.1 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.