By Alexey Sukachev
The title is provocative; the realm, however, is not. For 30-year old Russian cruiserweight Rakhim Chakhkiev, narrowly (not widely) known as the Machine Gun, his Friday fight versus WBC cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk will be the first title attempt in a pro career, lasting for three and a half years. Regardless the outcome, the feeling is that it will not be his last shot at title. The reason for some extra attention to a lonely championship collision at a remote venue in the city of Moscow is that it can easily produce one of the best fistic gems in a year, filled with them.
The upcoming clash has all tools of the hidden classic. Firstly, there’s a Russian fighter involved. Don’t forget, who the parts of previous FOTY candidates this year were: Ruslan Provodnikov gave hell of an effort in the Bradley fight, while Denis Lebedev (also in Moscow) was one half of the most grueling cruiserweight title affair in a very long time. Add Evgueny Gradovich in another notable performance with Billy Dib, and you’ll have a trend. Secondly, both combatants aren’t defensive-minded stylists – that’s for sure. A collision of a prudent slugger with a cautious puncher can produce fireworks, even though a mixture of styles isn’t as bombastic as an old cliché “Boxer vs. puncher” suggests us. Thirdly, the reason why this attraction will have a “hidden” label around it: both participants are well underestimated.
How can a world champion be underestimated? Easily so, and there’s a myriad of reasons why. For the Polish battler the crucial word is “reputation”. El Diablo, oppositely to his moniker, isn’t a feared fighter but often a disrespected one. Disrespect, in its turn, has come here for a reason but Krzysztof, arguably the second-best Polish pugilist in history only past Tomasz Adamek, can hardly be accused of it – unlike some mighty out-of-the-ring forces in Poland. Those clouded behind his back at least four times in his career, when Wlodarczyk came out on a right side of three much disputed decisions in fights, he could have easily lost.
The first (and the most obscure) was in his 2003 shot at a vacant WBC youth title against the Belarussian journeyman Sergey Karanevich. The latter was a sad sample of a capable fighter from a smaller country, who had enough skills to be a contender but failed miserably due to a total lack of anything resembling the support system. In that fight, however, Karanevich was on the top of his game and the 22-year old Pole must consider himself lucky enough to escape with a split decision in what was indeed a much closer fight.
Other controversies were much more resonant. In late 2006, then 37-1 Wlodarczyk barely got past Steve Cunningham to capture a vacant IBF title via a home-made split decision: two European judges gave narrow margins to the Diablo, while Charles Dwyer of the States had it 119-109 – mightily for the USS. That loss was later avenged in the very same country, Krzysztof’s Motherhood, but a bitter taste remained in place. Finally, Wlodarczyk’s second title run was also marred with two back-to-back questionable scores in a span of just seven months – non-surprisingly also in Poland. While Jason Robinson, who dropped a unanimous decision in the Pole’s first defense of the WBC belt, could hardly be given anything greater than a draw (although BoxingScene had it 116-114 – for Robinson), undefeated Puerto-Rican Francisco Palacios had every reason to blame the aforementioned mighty forces for his split loss in April 2011. Once again the Italian and the French judges favoured Wlodarczyk (the former with a criminal score 118-112), and the South African official chose the other guy. BoxingScene agreed, scoring the bout 116-112, and thus setting the record straight: two controversies in a row is a bit too much for a legitimate champion.
But Wlodarczyk proved his worth no matter what and found a way to convince even some hardcore boxing junkies that his material was indeed of the championship quality. Just when people started to taunt him for undeserved and illegal support, the Polish fighter produced two of his best career performances. Firstly, he travelled over half the Earth to take on Danny Green in his native land of Australia. Green was considered by many to be the Australian version of Wlodarczyk, having an upper hand in some strange fights (like it was the case against Paul Briggs). Against his European counterpart Green was irrelevant, while the champion overcame a rocky start to get a massive eleventh-round stoppage under unfriendly circumstances. He followed it up, decisioning Palacios for the second time (in Poland) – this time wobbling the Boricua late into the fight and leaving no doubt (BoxingScene had it 115-113 – for Wlodarczyk – and we were generous to Francisco), who was a better guy that night.
Call it Cunningham for Cunningham, Palacios for Palacios and Green for Robinson – Wlodarczyk has paid the bills and should be given his due. Add up then 18-1 Ismail Abdoul (Wlodarczyk is the only boxer to stop the ultra-durable Belgian inside the distance – a feat, not even prime David Haye was able to achieve) and 40-3-3 Rudiger May (stopped in ten), and borrow in mind his 47-2-1 record (with 33 KOs). Clearly seen is the fact that Wlodarczyk is indeed overlooked past all his controversies. Make no mistake – the WBC champion, who holds his title for more than three years to the point is for real.
Chakhkiev, on his side, makes no mistakes. “I’ve got a very good opponent in the opposite corner of the ring. He made four defenses of his title, and he is a pre-fight favorite. During the Warsaw presser I noticed his supreme confidence. He was very confident he would beat me up. He has no doubt in his own power, his skills. The fight will be extremely tough for me. It won’t be hard - it will be cruel at the very least”, said the challenger.
Chakhkiev is the second part of the equation and the focus of this story. As much as Wlodarczyk is overlooked, Rakhim can be named one of the best kept secrets in the sport. It’s another firm cliché but it works perfectly here, as the native of Tobolsk (but of the Ingush origin) doesn’t get his props and is often downplayed where it’s not due. Meanwhile, the 30-year old is in his very prime – the fact, which hasn’t been noticed or appreciated recently. But for Rakhim it is a familiar place to be, as he used to be taken lightly (to a degree) to upset the odds.
The first time he exceeded the expectations and rejected his underdog status was in 2007. Chakhkiev was competing as an amateur in a talent-filled division, which was previously dominated domestically by such standouts as Evgueny Makarenko, Evgueny Romanov and Roman Romanchuk. The latter, a powerful crusher and quite possibly the hardest P4P hitter in amateur ranks, dominated the scene during the midst of 00’s.
Chakhkiev lost to Romanchuk twice – in 2004 and 2006 Russian nationals, having been held to a local status for years. 2007, the last year before Beijing Olympics and the year of the US-based world championship, should have been a coming-out party for Roman, but Chakhkiev spoilt celebrations by narrowly defeating Romanchuk in the finals of 2007 nationals – 28-25.
His win over Romanchuk was a big surprise at the time and considered by many to be a fluke or even worse… a sample of Russian boxing politics, which had arguably prevented some huge talent to enter the national team for non-sportive reasons. However, Chakhkiev did what some thought he would fail to do – he replaced Romanchuk in style and proved the Russian team hadn’t lost anything in picking him up. Firstly, he went all way through the 2007 Chicago WC to capture a silver medal at the heavyweight division with a narrow loss (6-7) to Clemente Russo in the finals. But it was only the beginning. The true shine of Chakhkiev’s talent was demonstrated a year later, when he cruised to the gold medal in Beijing Olympics, defeating capable Cuban Osmay Acosta (10-5) and avenging his loss to Russo (4-2) along the road.
Rakhim became one of two Russian gold medalists in Beijing, being accompanied by a two-time Olympic champion Alexey Tischenko. However, unlike Alexander Povetkin or Tischenko, or such fighters as Oleg Saitov or Alexander Lebzyak, this Olympic gold medalist remained very much out of the spotlight. For someone it would have been a bitter disappointment but not for Chakhkiev. He seems to be too quiet and too modest at times, showing both extreme dedication and honorable sportsmanship every time he is seen in public.
Quiet nature and a lack of a good advisor resulted in a questionable move by Rakhim, when he signed with Universum Box-Promotion, an agonizing German boxing club, in fall of 2009. From a remote standpoint, UBP, guided by its founder Klaus-Peter Kohl and his protégé Ditmar Poszwa, was still at the peak of its powers but signs of ugly decay were already felt by those, who were familiar with the situation. Former Ukrainian champs Andriy Kotelnik and Sergiy Dzinziruk were amongst the first to leave once a famed Team. Many other – including Felix Sturm, Susi Kentikian, Dmitry Sartison, Gennady Golovkin, Juergen Braehmer and Zsolt Erdei (who had semi-retired) – followed them in just a couple of years. Chakhkiev and the other Russian expatriate Denis Boytsov followed UBP up until its virtual death in late 2012.
It’s a big “if” when asking about Rakhim’s potential prospect, hadn’t he been signed with the Germans. At some point he was very close to be signed by the Golden Boy Promotions – he has even made his US debut by knocking out upset-minded journeyman Harvey Jolly in three – but legal proceedings between present and future stakeholders of the UBP prevented a deal from being signed. That could have been a smart move by Chakhkiev’s handlers – maybe.
Maybe not, though. Chakhkiev, who was guided more by his managers Andrey Eliseev and Vyacheslav Karakash than by a troubled new head of the UBP Waldemar Kluch, has been developed into a world-class contender in just three years. His handlers did a good job of remaining their protégé active (8 fights over the first year, 3 more in 2011 and 5 more in 2012 – and a total of 16-0, with 12 KOs), while slowly rising his level of opposition. Chakhkiev fought against no-hopers (to raise his confidence and to polish skills), against has-beens like Epifanio Mendoza or Jaidon Condrington (to get higher ranks and reputation) and against rugged and capable second-tier opponents (Zack Page, Michael Simms and Andres Taylor – to name a few) – to be slightly tested. He was also well supported in terms of various ranks, charts and lists (Rakhim is presently ranked #2 by the WBC, #5 by the IBF, #10 by the WBA and #11 by the WBO as well as #10 by the Ring).
“When UBP has slowly dismantled into oblivion following a bankruptcy, I haven’t had even anybody to say “goodbye” to. Right now, I’m with DRS Promotion (the Hamburg-based promotional team, guided by Anatoly Scheiermann) – we shall see how it will work out. And I want to address some warm words to my managers – Andrey (Eliseev) and Vyacheslav (Karakash). They have been on my side through all these years, years of both joy and hardship. I would have been much lower than I’m now hadn’t they been with me”, says the soft-speaking Ingush.
Make no mistake – Chakhkiev is a work in progress. With a lethal left hand and a good right hook to follow it (Chakhkiev stopped very durable Page and Simms – he was the first to stop 1999 world champion) come unpolished defensive blemishes, flat feet at times and a considerable share of amateurishness – as was on display in his latest two fights. Rakhim himself is aware of a certain lack of much needed experience against an old 31-year old Pole, but also shows confidence and self-esteem.
“Wlodarczyk has 50 fights compared to my 16. That’s an ultimate advantage on his side, a big plus for him. Had I been the champion with such a decorated record, I would have been glad to fight a relative rookie like me. But I also deeply believe in character and desire. I’m not afraid of his huge edge in experience as I think I’m skilled enough to even the scores. One, who wishes to win more, will be the winner at the end”.
For various reasons Chakhkiev is much different in comparison with other top-ranked and highly regarded Russian champions and contenders. Unlike Denis Lebedev or Dmitry Pirog, he fights abroad, and he is based abroad, not in Russia (like Alexander Povetkin or Nikolay Valuev). He hasn’t built himself up in the States (like Sergey Kovalev or Evgueny Gradovich). And he is still somehow connected to Russia, deeply into his heart, being a part of the Russian boxing community (unlike Zaurbek Baysangurov, who is a Russian fighter but resides mostly in Ukraine being a part of the Ukrainian boxing society). Quiet and intelligent, Rakhim Chakhkiev doesn’t look like your typical Caucasian fighter with nerves, emotions and unpredictable twists of ego and character.
He was a part of the Russian broadcast team during a huge recent doubleheader with Alexander Povetkin and Denis Lebedev, presented considerable knowledge of the sport and looked very articulate. He also avoids any trash-talking showing a profound respect to his opponents.
“I respect the champion”, tells Chakhkiev firmly. “He is very quiet, no trash, no showboating. Krzysztof looks like a cold-blooded predator that he is. You know, I fought Poles numerous times. They have much in common – skilled, durable, with a god-well of stamina. But we, Caucasians, aren’t to be taken lightly as well”.
Two days before the fight, when this article is being written, Rakhim Chakhkiev is still a slight pre-fight underdog. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk enjoys his stance as a favorite, a well-earned stance. However, the feeling is that we can be witnesses of a hard, brutal birth of a new star in boxing, as Chakhkiev is coming into his prime. And even if not, Rakhim will certainly be a contender for the nearest future. Which is now, not never.
The show, labeled “No retreat, no surrender” is co-promoted by the DRS Promotion (Anatoly Scheiermann) and Felix Kluch’s (Waldemar’s son) FK Boxing. It’ll be held at Dynamo Spots Palace in Krylatskoye district, Moscow, Russia. Doors are opened since 7 PM LT.
There will be a ten-rounder, three eight-rounders, a couple of six-round fights and a three four-rounders. The main attraction of the undercard can be a former WBC featherweight champion Elio Rojas of the Dominican Republic, who reportedly makes his return to the ring after more than a year off since his spirited effort in the WBC title affair Jhonny Gonzalez. The 30-year old Dominican will be pitted against little-known Bulgarian Asan Yuseinov (11-5-2, 7 KOs) at the lightweight limit. This fight has not been officially announced, so chances are high it’ll be scratched from the card.
In a ten-rounder, undefeated Russian cruiserweight Andrey Knyazev (7-0, 3 KOs) takes on fellow unbeaten Azerbaijani Anar Mamedov (6-0) for a vacant WBC Asian Boxing Council 200lb title.
Heavyweight rookie Vladimir Goncharov (2-0, 1 KO) will have a very tough test for his third outing in the ring. He will be opposed by a rugged and dangerously punching veteran Denis Bakhtov (36-8, 24 KOs) – also over eight. Ukrainian cruiserweight Roman Golovaschenko (12-1, 10 KOs) takes on Tough Fight stalwart Ruslan Semenov (3-24-1, 2 KOs) over six. Also six stanzas are scheduled for a fight between Ruslan Berchuk (6-3, 3 KOs) and an ever-dangerous TBA. Cruiserweight debutant Ilya Rolgeyzer will be pitted against Igor Pylypenko (3-14-2). Finally, heralded MMA artist Ali Bagautdinov will also enter prizefighting for the first time in his career.
Two female fights with lovely contestants will round the card up. Blonde welterweight Svetlana Kulakova (6-0, 1 KO) fights for a vacant EBU title against Serbian import Emoke Halasz (4-2, 2 KOs) over eight. And multi-time kickboxing and muay thai flyweight champion Ekaterina Izotova will make her pro boxing debut against fellow debutant battler Yana Lyashko – over four.