By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Go ahead, we dare you.
Watch any U.S.-based national newscast these days and try to get through 30 minutes without mention of pre-election dealings involving Trump Tower and the Kremlin, or suggestion that relations between Americans and Russians are as prickly as they’ve been since the end of the Cold War.
But from his perch on the other side, Dmitry Kudryashov can’t see it.
The 31-year-old is a native and resident of Volgodonsk – a city of nearly 200,000 people, about 700 miles due south of Moscow – and has gotten involved on the lower levels of Russian regional government thanks in part to a background in engineering and a master’s degree in economics.
He’s been stateside in recent days, though, preparing in California for a quarterfinal appearance in the World Boxing Super Series at the Alamodome in San Antonio. There, in his first fight outside his homeland, he’ll meet second-tier WBA cruiserweight champion Yunier Dorticos on Saturday night.
And rest assured, the tensed-up state of international affairs is the least of his concerns.
“I’m a boxer, a fighter, first of all,” he said, via interpreter Alik Frolov.
“I spend most of my time preparing myself and doing training. I’ve never heard anything intense about Russia and America. People don’t have anything against America over there. I never hear of anyone thinking about the relationship. Nobody talks about it. Nobody cares about it.”
The same is apparently true within the Los Angeles gym community.
“Here, in L.A., we never hear about it,” Kudryashov said. “We’re boxers. We’re fighters. We’re sportsmen. We’re just doing sports. I don’t really even care about all that stuff. I’m not interested in the relationship. It’s all just TV and news stuff. I just don’t care about it.”
What he does care about is making a memorable first impression on the world stage, both to advance his career pursuits and to honor the memory of his late father, who got him into boxing as a boy.
The family grew up in an apartment in Volgodonsk, where Kudryashov’s mother and sister still live. His father, who died three years ago, was a developer and his mother was involved in the economic industry. Kudryashov started boxing to protect himself, but was well-behaved and advanced in school while simultaneously climbing through the amateur ring ranks.
“Every kid on my street, all in my neighborhood, was doing boxing,” he said. “My father loved boxing. He loved what I was doing and was very supportive. I want my father to be proud of me. That’s very important for me. It’s definitely one of the biggest fights in my life, in my career. But it’s not only about dad memories. It’s for all the people around me – all my relatives and all of my friends.”
The support system has swelled to include a wife and newborn daughter, though Kudryashov concedes that his mother, while backing him wholeheartedly, still doesn’t like to watch his fights.
“She isn’t against boxing,” he said. “They support me in everything I’m doing. She doesn’t watch because she’s my mom and she doesn’t like to see me getting hit. They never tell me stop doing it, though. They support me. They know it’s part of my life and I’ll keep doing it.”
And, mom’s predictable worry aside, Kudryashov sees nothing out of the ordinary in his academic background and has zero concern that he’s risking a unique intellect with such a violent activity.
His mindset differs from John Urschel, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at MIT, who abruptly retired from the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens over the summer – two days after a study revealed increasing evidence connecting a degenerative brain disease (CTE) to the highest levels of football.
“The boxer is not just a muscled body and a puncher,” Kudryashov said.
“I’m supposed to be smart in all the ways – in politics, in economics, all around. Any human being is supposed to be smart all around. I’m still very young for boxing. I don’t think too far away about what could happen next, in boxing or long term. I’m only starting to get better and starting to peak. I have lots of things to learn. I’m far away from the end.”
The bout with Dorticos will be the 23rd in a professional career that began for Kudryashov with a third-round KO of Oleksandr Okhrei six years ago. He won 18 straight fights – all by stoppage – before a second-round loss to Nigeria-born slugger Olanrewaju Durodola in 2015. He rebounded with win No. 19 six months later, then won another in between before besting Durodola in five rounds on June 3.
He’s slotted sixth among contenders at 200 pounds by the WBA and ninth by the Independent World Boxing Rankings, actually four slots ahead of Dorticos, who’s 21-0 with 20 KOs.
“It’s not the first fight for me. Just a regular week,” Kudryashov said. “I have a game plan and a nutrition plan and I’m sticking to it. I’m relaxed, not worried about anything, just ready to fight. Nothing special. The last week is very important. I need to be my best physically and mentally.
“It’s the calm before the storm. I’m not going to burn out about the fight. I’ll bring it all out on fight night. I’m expecting to bring all my emotions, all my thoughts and all my conditioning on fight night.”
Saturday’s winner will advance to the eight-man event’s semifinals, which are scheduled for early 2018. The tournament championship fight is set for May 2018.
WBO champion Oleksandr Usyk reserved his semifinal berth with a 10th-round TKO of Marco Huck on Sept. 9, while quarterfinal bouts matching WBC champ Mairis Briedis and Mike Perez and IBF champ Murat Gassiev and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk are planned for Sept. 30 and Oct. 21, respectively.
Denis Lebedev, the WBA’s “super” champion at cruiserweight, is not participating.
But Kudryashov has gotten ready for everyone else who is.
“I’m a boxing fan. I’m always on boxing,” he said.
“I’m always watching the top fighters in my weight class. I watched them a long time before the tournament. I know them and their style of boxing. I’m the type of fighter that I’m watching. I cannot tell you that I’m stalking them but I know them good and I’ve watched them before. When I heard I was going to fight (in the tournament) of course I watched them and I know what I’m fighting.”
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO super middleweight title – Tucson, Arizona
Gilberto Ramirez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Jesse Hart (No. 1 WBO/No. 22 IWBR)
Ramirez (35-0, 24 KO): Second title defense; Tenth fight in the United States (9-0, 3 KO)
Hart (22-0, 18 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled for 12 rounds (3.5-round average)
Fitzbitz says: The Philadelphia-based challenger is a rugged power puncher who may indeed cause some problems, but Ramirez should evade issues and take him into the late-round waters. Ramirez by decision
WBO featherweight title – Tucson, Arizona
Oscar Valdez (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Genesis Servania (No. 4 WBO/No. 56 IWBR)
Valdez (22-0, 19 KO): Third title defense; Two stoppage wins in three scheduled 12-rounders
Servania (29-0, 12 KO): First title fight; Ninth scheduled 12-round fight (8-0, 6 KO)
Fitzbitz says: There’s a reason Valdez is regarded so highly by the brass at Top Rank. He’s good. And though his challenger here has an unmarked record, he’s not on the same level. Valdez in 9
WBA lightweight title – Inglewood, California
Jorge Linares (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Luke Campbell (No. 1 WBA/No. 9 IWBR)
Linares (42-3, 27 KO): Second title defense; Held belts at 126 (WBC), 130 (WBA) and 135 (WBC)
Campbell (17-1, 14 KO): First title fight; Second fight in the United States (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Linares’ past shows he’s vulnerable to surprises when he’s expected to win, and Campbell could theoretically pull it off, but it seems unlikely that he’s up to the task. Linares by decision
WBO heavyweight title – Manchester, United Kingdom
Joseph Parker (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Hughie Fury (No. 1 WBO/Unranked IWBR)
Parker (23-0, 18 KO): Second title defense; Fifth fight outside of New Zealand (4-0, 3 KO)
Fury (20-0, 10 KO): First title fight; First fight in Manchester
Fitzbitz says: Parker is probably not as good as his championship brethren, but it says here that he’s at least a step ahead of the Englishman with a familiar name but a balky resume. Parker by decision
Last week's picks: 2-2 (WIN: Saunders, Tanaka; LOSS: Oguni, Budler)
2017 picks record: 64-25 (71.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 886-299 (74.7 percent)
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.
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.