By Alexey Sukachev and Alexey Uralets (at ringside)
At DIVS ("Dvorets Igrovych Vidov Sporta") in Ekaterinburg, Russia, WBO middleweight champion Dmitry Pirog (18-0, 14KOs) won a twelve round unanimous decision over optional challenger Javier Francisco Maciel (18-2, 12KOs). The scores were 115-112, 117-110 and 115-111.
Many thought Maciel was a huge underdog, being brought to Russia only for a blowout. At the end of the day, Argentinean, ranked at #10 by the WBO, will return home with his head held high after a good, gutsy showing against Pirog. The Russian fighter, who was deemed to be the newest European sensation, on the other hand, had an obvious off-night and disappointed his fans to a degree after a much closer-than-expected performance.
It was a rugged fight all the way. After a feeling-out process in the opening stanza, Pirog suddenly found that his opponent isn't there to go down. To be frank, the Russian champion said beforehand about how unconvenient and how awkward the Argentinean fighter was, and things may have even surpassed his ealier expectations. Maciel moved well and hung his gloves high to prevent Dmitry from landing big shot. Pirog tried the same tricks he was using in the Jacobs fight by changing his stance on occassion, shoulder rolling, picking up punches from various angles and using the Philly-shell on his defense. It wasn't effective this time as Maciel took his punches mostly on the guard and replied well. Rounds two and three could have been scored in his favor.
Pirog started to besten his opponent in the next couple of rounds with some nice body shots and landing his left hand both to the midsection and to the head of Maciel while the Argentinean just wasn't too active to get any points. Pirog bobbed and weaved under his wild blows and easily retained his composure. However, in round six both fighters were way too slick to determine a clear winner. Surprisingly though, Maciel, 26, found some more gas in his tank and started to give the champion some real trouble in round seven. In round eight, the Latino guest landed several punches in succession that have found Pirog's head. Clearly shoked (though not dazed) Pirog was forced to clinch in the biggest round of the contest for Maciel.
Sensing the smell of an upset, Pirog, 30, quickly resurged himself and started to deliver bombs in round nine. He showed real championship character by bringing the fight to his opponent and punished Maciel with quick, telling blows, although the Argentinean fighter clearly wasn't that impressed with Pirog's power and resilience. In round ten, the Russian champion used his shoulder excessively and lost a point. Meanwhile, Maciel wasn't specifically clean as well by landing some low blows during the fight, which he was given several warnings about but he never lost any points. Rounds eleven and twelve were big for Pirog who dug deep to find some inner resources for the unusually gutsy and determined Argentinean.
Still ranked at #8 by "The Ring" at 160lbs, Pirog definitely had an off-night in his homecoming. It was a rare championship fight on Russian soil. But he shouldn't be written off on the basis of a single mediocre performance. With a win to his ledger, he possibly opened up the door for bigger, more lucrative fights - which he surely deserves. Javier Maciel, on the other hand, has nothing to be ashamed of and he might become a more serious threat for some fighters at the junior middleweight limit, which is where he belongs.
Two of the best post-Soviet lightweights - Alisher Rakhimov, 33, of Uzbekistan (but resided in Ekaterinburg) and Kazak-native Rustam Nugaev, 28 - collided in a twelve-rounder for a vacant WBO Asia Pacific (interim) strap, which produced fireworks to get the local crowd on their feet and heated things up before the main event. Unanimous scores - all in favor of still undefeated Rakhimov (now 22-0, 11 KOs) don't fully represent the razor-thin and paper-close nature of the fight, which could have gone either way but probably more in the Uzbek's favor.
Both fighters produced an enourmously thrilling and close contest, which was mostly fought in close quarters. Shorter and stockier Rakhimov, who fought as a featherweight and as a super featherweight earlier in his career, tried to get inside with the bigger and notably taller Nugaev (21-6-1, 12 KOs), who is well-known overseas for several wins over Mexican and Mexican-American fighters. Nugaev didn't hesitate to exchange punches in close quarters as well. He threw multiple combinations to the body, landed hooks and right hands on the occassion. He was also the busier fighter but Rakhimov, despite a disadvantage in age, was trying to work up for the lost activity with harder, cleaner punches, and his money punch was the uppercut. There were almost no clinches during the fight, and both pugilists gave everything and entertained the crowd with punches in bunches and high-quality defense.
The crucial moment of the fight was the eleventh round, when the more experienced 2000 Sydney Olympic quarterfinalist for Uzbekistan, turned on some additional pressure to grab the championship rounds with clean aggression and clean blows to support his point of view regarding the winner of the fight. At the end, all three judges scored it for Rakhimov: 118-112 (Victor Panin), 118-113 (Floris Rakhmatullin) and 116-112 (Semion Stakheev). BoxingScene saw it somewhat closer with 115-113 - also for Alisher. Referee was Roman Petrov.
Many experts were worried that it might be too soon for rising Ukrainian heavyweight prospect Vyacheslav Glazkov to fight such a grizzled and battle-tested veteran as former perennial/fringe contender Denis Bakhtov. It turned out they were wrong. Glazkov, 26, and a 2008 Beijing super heavyweight bronze medalist, passed the toughest test of his career with brilliant performance over rugged but still raw Bakhtov (33-6, 23 KOs), 31, over eight rounds.
Glazkov (now 9-0, 6 KOs), who is promoted by the same people as his Russian opponent, started the fight cautiously and fought this way to the end. Taller and with a wider wingspan, Glazkov wisely decided to outbox flat-footed and slow Bakhtov from the outside. His hard, sharp jab was a major aid in this task as he sticked it into Denis' face time and again to make his foe tired and frustrated. Bakhtov was unable to land any big shots in the first part of the fight. He just followed more skillful Glazkov and tried to cut the angles but wasn't quick enough for that. Meanwhile, Glazkov easily avoided any bullying and was hitting Bakhtov with one punch after another.
In round five, the pattern changed a bit as Glazkov got fatigued and more experienced Bakhtov tried to maul him despite his face being just a bloody mess. In the sixth he landed several hard blows but Glazkov regained his composure and valiantly fought until the bell. The Ukrainian finally caught back his rhythm in the seventh and was unstoppable from that point on. Bakhtov, who became tremendously tired himself, was fighting on sheer will for the final six minutes of the contest with his mouth wide open but his gloves high. He even tried some streetfighting but to no effect. At the end, judges Roman Petrov, Floris Rakhmatullin and Semion Stakheev had it lopsidedly for Glazkov: 80-72 - on all three scorecards. Referee was Victor Panin. BoxingScene had it 79-74 - also for Glazkov.
2008 Beijing Olympic light welterweight gold medalist Felix Diaz, 27, moved up to 9-0, 6 KOs, with an easy third-round stoppage of previously undefeated Russian boxer Andrey Berdyshev (5-1, 1 KO). Berdyshev was visibly not in the best physical shape as he hasn't stepped in the ring for almost two years, since April 2009. Southpaw stylist Diaz was light on his feet, easily avoiding any unnecessary damage from rusty, slower Berdyshev and just playing with him. The first couple of rounds was also a test for Dominican's left hand as he was steadily navigating it right into Andrey's face. The end came at 1:39 of the third stanza. Firstly, Diaz floored the Russian with a smashing left hook to the jaw; then he just swarmed all over his dazed opponent to get a stoppage by referee Roman Petrov, which came a little bit too early as Berdyshev was still throwing something back.
Dominican light heavyweight Lennin Castillo (4-0, 2 KOs), 22, was rather lucky to get quite an undeserved nod over tough and rough Russian fighter Gennady Maximov (now 3-2, 2 KOs), also 22, in four hard-fought rounds.
Castillo, who was more than eleven pounds lighter than his Russian foe, felt rather uncomfortable with his bigger and mauling opponent. It was a tough fight for the islander from the first round forward, as he was smoothered by Maximov in close quarters. At first, Castillo, who has sharper, better reflexes, was able to land cleaner and more telling punches at higher frequency to get an edge in the starting round. However, Maximov began to move better and gradually turned to be lighter on his heels to frustrate Castillo in the second round. Rounds three and four were mostly in Maximov's favour who countered the Dominican well and used uppercuts to tag Lennin's head time and again.
Though Castillo came in as a top dog, it was Maximov who showed more grit and better skills at the end of the fight. BoxingScene had it 39-38 - in his favour (with one stanza even). All three judges saw the fight differently: 39-38 (Victor Panin), 39-37 (Semion Stakheev) and 40-36 (Floris Rakhmatullin) - for still unbeaten Lennin Castillo. Referee was Roman Petrov.
2010 Supercup (previously International Kostya Tszyu Cup) winner Dmitry "Southern" Mikhailenko (10-0, 4 KOs) continued his way up in ranks with a dominating stoppage of Chelyabinsk-based career journeyman Vadim Sufyanov (6-13-1, 2 KOs) who lost his previous seven fights. Late entrant Mikhailenko felt out his less skillful counterpart in the even first round, and started delivering punches in the second stanza. Sufianov was hurt with a barrage of punches at the end of the second minute and then put down midst into the third minute with a punishing left hook to the liver. Referee Rozalin Nasibulin reached the count of "ten" at 2:22 of the third round and waved the fight off crowning Mikhailenko with another victory.
In the first bout of the evening, rising Kazakh cruiserweight Isa "Bumblebee" Akberbayev (7-0, 4 KOs) captured the first minor title of his starting career with an easy stoppage of Tanzanian Pascal Ndomba (9-3-2, 7 KOs) in two rounds.
Akberbayev looked as a fighter one or two weight classes heavier than his African opponent, who previously fought mostly as a light heavyweight and super middleweight. Immediately after the opening bell, much shorter Ndomba started to press the action but his punches were well off the mark, while 6'3" Akberbayev avoided any damage with relative ease. He also countered his opponent but not too often to frustrate him. In the second round, however, Akberbayev started to throw punches with deadlier intentions and immediately had his opponent on the defensive. Ndomba, who was suddenly found to have nothing left in the tank, didn't respond at all but just leaned forward and tied his opponent on the inside. Luckily for him, Isa doesn't have a significant punch in backpack but landed tons of lighter, still painful blows, mostly to the midsection. Finally, with several seconds remaining in the second stanza, Ndomba rose his hands and chose not to continue this fight, forcing referee Victor Panin to wave this contest off.
Official time of stoppage was 2:58 of the second round. Akberbayev, 27, is now the WBC Asian Boxing Council cruiserweight titlist.