By Alexey Sukachev
While big men of boxing are preparing for future challenges (no fights are presently solidified for Alexander Povetkin, Nikolay Valuev and Denis Boytsov), and cruiserweights Denis Lebedev and and Alexander Alexeev are getting ready to collide in all-Russian encounter in Germany, one can hardly find a bigger figure on the domestic boxing scene than 29-year old middleweight Dmitry Pirog of Gelendzhik, Russia.
A notorious boxer-puncher Pirog, now sporting an impressive record of 16 wins and 13 of them coming inside the distance, first turned some heads on less than a year since his pro debut in July 2005. On April 16 of 2006 Pirog, despite having just three wins over non-descript opposition to his resume, challenged a notable fringe contender (and Russian super middleweight champion at the time) Sergey Tatevosyan (25-5 with 13 KOs) for a vacant national 160lb title and impressively dealt a sudden beating to the grizzled veteran en route to a convincing unanimous decision in his first career ten-rounder. A string of victories followed as well as several minor titles have changed their owners in Pirog’s favour.
However, it wasn’t until a breakthrough year of 2008 when Dmitry’s name has once again popped up in fans’ mind. The rising contender made a short, one-sided work of two former notables (Russian Alsanbek Kodzoev and Uzbek perennial contender Kuvanych Toygonbayev) and mixed it up with a dominant decision over durable Serbian Geard Ajetovic (much more impressive than a corresponding win by fellow prospect Daniel Geale) to become 2008 Russian Fighter of the Year. The next year was less productive in terms of activity but saw Russian stylist rising up in terms of opposition after a clean sweep of former two-time world title challenger Kofi Jantuah (32-3-1, 21 KOs) for a vacant WBC International title. Pirog’s first abroad performance also made waves among hardcore boxing junkies and widespread his name over web boxing community.
This year has been moving well so far for Pirog too. He started it on the sixth of February with the fifth-round TKO over American Eric “Murder” Mitchell (22-6-1, 11 KOs). It was Mitchell’s first stoppage loss in his seventeen years of prizefighting. Pirog came back in late April in a tune-up fight against Estonian Sergey Melis (15-1, 5 KOs) to stop his foe with liver punches in the sixth after toying with him before that.
Following the recent news of WBO stripping its middleweight champion Sergio Gabriel Martinez off his title BoxingScene got on phone with WBO #1 ranked fighter (Pirog is also rated #4 by the WBC, #11 by the IBF and #14 by the WBA) to know more about his fighting past, his future plans, and his possible debut on American soil later this year. Amazingly, though, that literally hours after our first conversation rumors spread over the Web that Pirog would face WBO #2 ranked Daniel Jacobs on July 31 (as a part of HBO PPV with Juan Manuel Marquez defending his titles in a lightweight rematch against Juan Diaz) in a clash for a now-vacant WBO belt. After a short pause this reporter once again contacted Russian fighter to get fresh updates about his upcoming camp and his opinion of highly touted American. We decided not to erase any previous statements as they are shedding more light on Dmitry Pirog.
Editor's Note: The following interview was conducted over the course of a few weeks, before and after Daniel Jacobs was announced as Pirog's opponent.
“I was forced into Melis fight”
BoxingScene: Your fight versus Sergey Melis was considered by many to be a legitimate mismatch. However, it turned out that lightly regarded Melis was there for a fight and gave you several hot moments during the collision. What has gone wrong?
Pirog: In the first place, I haven’t even planned to fight this guy. It’s better to say I was forced to step in the ring by a chain of political circumstances. I was offered a contract on short notice and I agreed on it only because I wanted to be reinstalled in World Boxing Council rankings and I needed an opponent for a minor title fight (WBC Baltic belt). I don’t want to get knee deep into politics but that’s the reality of boxing today. Following some dubious accidents last year I lost my position in the top-5 of the WBC ranks and was thrown out of them. I intend to be presented as a real threat for every world champion around so I want to be listed as a contender by all four major sanctioning bodies that’s why I decided to pick up where I had left before against Melis.
BoxingScene: It looked like you weren’t fully focused during that fight and, moreover, it gave me a taste of you boxing merely at a half of your real potential.
Pirog: That’s right to a certain degree. However, I had not taken Melis lightly nor did I underestimate him in any way. It had more to do with me being out of shape as I took this match in the midst of my preparation for bigger, tougher challenges. So I decided not to press for a stoppage and to go rounds with this opponent. Yeah, it can be said that I used this bout as a warlike testing ground or sparring session to sharpen my skills and to learn new tricks under pressure. I wasn’t looking for a knockout but it came down the stretch after several body punches. Well, you know, it happens sometimes (smiles). All in all, it was a useful experience for me. Melis proved to be an awkward fighter who was able to tag me on occasions, especially with his left hand (which also was a part of studying some ways of improving my defense). I don’t regret going into this.
BoxingScene (earlier): What is next for you?
Pirog: I hope to make a debut on American soil later this summer. My representatives and my promoters, particularly German Titov, are working hard to bring me a TV date overseas. ESPN looks like a viable opportunity right now but the date and the venue of my debut are yet to be defined. Maybe the 18th of June will be my hammer-time but I’m not sure.
BoxingScene (earlier): Who can be your next opponent?
Pirog: It’s too early to reveal any names right now but I hope that my opponent will not be only a fighter with a sound name but also with considerable skills who can give me a tough challenge to overcome and to present the best of me for American public. I’m not interested in fighting a one-sided brawler or a straightforward spoiler; I need complex challenges to bring the best in me.
“I don’t wanna miss a chance to fight on HBO”
BoxingScene (later): So, now it’s WBO #2 Jacobs (also ranked #4 by the WBC, #6 by the WBA and #12 by the IBF) you are fighting against on July 31. Has that offer taken you by surprise?
Pirog: Well, that’s a bit incorrect. As we have already discussed, I was ranked #1 by the WBO. So that was natural that after stripping Martinez off title WBO would offer me a chance to fight for a newly vacated belt with the highest ranked challenger, and it was Jacobs.
On the other hand, I was in the midst of my preparation for a planned June 18 bout on the ESPN. Actually, I would have preferred to fight Jacobs after that, somewhere in September. But the only free date was the 31st of July so I was forced to agree on that. Otherwise, team Jacobs would have started negotiations with other pretenders.
BoxingScene (later): Sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? You are #1 ranked WBO fighter and you are forced to agree on what Jacobs has to offer you. What is the catch?
Pirog: Alexey, don’t forget that Jacobs is a young, marketable up-and-comer, and HBO is interested in him. Let’s get it frankly – I have a chance to fight on HBO and that can very well be a lifetime chance. I don’t wanna miss it, man; so now I’m here getting myself ready to fight Jacobs even though I have to re-arrange my camp.
BoxingScene (later): Have you already watched Jacobs’ tapes? What is your opinion of him?
Pirog: Surely, I watched him a lot. I’m high on Jacobs. People keep saying he is way too inexperienced to fight me for the title but I don’t think so. As far as I know, Jacobs has tons of amateur experience, and he was an accomplished fighter at unpaid ranks. I feel his amateur background in his fights. He can do all types of work – he can bang and he ties you up, he can be a slugger and he can be a spoiler if needed. Surely, he had somewhat soft opposition but I think he is well-developed. That’ll be helluva fight.
BoxingScene (later): What your preparation will look like?
Pirog: I intend to get ready for this fight here in Russia. I’m currently in Gelendzhik and I will have some further conditioning here. Then I shall relocate myself to Samara and to continue my boxing trainings there. All sparring sessions will be conducted there as well. I’m planning to fight overseas 10-14 days before the collision.
“The taste of win came by seeing Tatevosyan’s photo in Penthouse magazine”
BoxingScene: Speaking of hard challenges, who was your most difficult opponent to date?
Pirog: I will name Eric Mitchell. He was very-very game and he was extremely difficult to hit. You know, that is kind of distance, which is always hard to crack. The guy used all his experience to roll with the punches, bob and weave and to avoid being punished with a considerable elusiveness. It was a hard fight while it lasted but it lasted only for five rounds. I was wondered a bit why he decided to stop fighting in the midst of the match-up. Maybe he felt his stamina started to vane and he didn’t want to take an unnecessary punishment.
BoxingScene: I’m surprised a bit you haven’t named Sergey Tatevosyan as your hardest foe. You were almost a rookie in that fight and Tatevosyan was a reigning national champion one weight class above not to speak about his worldwide accomplishments…
Pirog: I was no one at the very beginning of my pro career even despite the fact that I started fighting in six- and eight-rounders. It was when Igor Vladimirovich Mazurov (PBFR general secretary) found me and offered me a fight against Tatevosyan for the Russian national title rather than meaningless tune-ups against dubious opposition.
No one actually knew about me and my skills. I was a dark horse and it helped me much. I don’t think Tatevosyan was an exception in underrating me. On the other hand, I knew little about him as well. I was confident in winning that fight but I knew nothing about his real potential. I realized what really I have done only in aircraft after the fight, when I surprisingly found Sergey’s photo and a story about him in Penthouse Russian edition.
Tatevosyan fight wasn’t a walk in the park for me. To fight this southpaw I had to rearrange my stance and to summon my amateur skills. The thing I wasn’t really glad with. I don’t think that was my best performance after all.
BoxingScene: Dmitry, was that fight a turning point in your boxing career?
Pirog: Lots of things have been changed. A reappraisal of values occurred. I found an inner and fundamental potential behind my skills. I started working hard and putting in everything I’ve got through the training. Boxing became a job, not a joke for me.
“I’m better suited for American boxing”
BoxingScene: Who else, aside of Mitchell, forced you to work hard inside the squared circle?
Pirog: Tatevosyan fight was a tough affair. I also think late Alexey Chirkov gave me helluva work to do. It’s not clear from his record but he is damn tough and has a good punch. Though it was short it gave me lots of experience.
BoxingScene: You had been preparing for both Tatevosyan and Chirkov fights yourself. Why so?
Pirog: You are right, Alexey. I trained for all of my earlier pro fights myself. I mean I didn’t need any coaches at all. It’s hard to find somebody to teach you new things and my conviction is that amateur mentors aren’t capable of this. However I realize good team is a must for future accomplishments. I have been looking for good specialists for a long time and it was a hard search. Now I’m working with Vyacheslav Nepogodin and Victor Petrochenko and I’m really satisfied with our mutual connection.
BoxingScene: Experts notice your unusual style of fighting. One can hardly find more American-like Russian boxer than you though you use some unique tricks as well. Was it a deliberate choice or not?
Pirog: To a certain degree. I like what I’m seeing from some American fighters and I’ve adopted some of their movements to improve my defense. I use upper body movement while infighting and I try to get a better use of such an effective weapon as an uppercut. I’m not copying anybody, however. I try to implement new tricks in my system of boxing if they are really valuable. Sometimes I notice some fresh movements and gimmicks while studying tapes. Then I try to mimic them during training sessions. All in all, I agree with you, Alexey, on this point – I’m better suited for American, not Russian boxing.
“Like to go where the boxing is”
BoxingScene (later): What is your opinion about Karmazin fight vs. Sylvester?
Pirog: Well, that was indeed a tough fight to score. I now that can sound crazy but I think judges did a great work assessing Karmazin vs. Sylvester fight. I also scored it a draw. Roman was much smarter than the German fighter but he failed either to impose his will on Sylvester or to adjust to his style. That was an even fight. I also want to admit that Roman’s manager Steven Bash accomplished a fascinating job on making it a fair fight for my compatriot. Great work!
BoxingScene: Gennady Golovkin has a fight for a vacant WBA title scheduled for him in Kazakhstan in July, and his opponent is yet to be defined…
Pirog: No, we haven’t been in negotiations with Golovkin. We haven’t sent them any offers and vice versa.
BoxingScene: Russian Internet fans have a long history of discussing a possible collision between you and Gennady. It dates back well into 2008…
Pirog: I saw such a thread on one of Russian leading boxing forums (Allboxing). Well, I know Gena pretty well as a pro though I’m not fully aware of his amateur background (Kazakh prospect was 2003 world middleweight champion and 2004 Athens silver medalist, possesses kayo victory over reigning IBF king Lucian Bute and wins over Andre Dirrell and Andy Lee).
BoxingScene: Whoa! Where from? Golovkin fights were rarely taped up until recently and one could hardly find them both on web and on TV.
Pirog: I’d been training with Gennady for some time in Germany two or three years ago. I went there on holidays to take a rest. But I’m a hardcore boxing junkie. I like to go where the boxing is. I really enjoy resting where some boxing events are going to be held. So I’ve trained with Gena. I’m really impressed both by his boxing skills and personality. I feel he is a future world champion. No doubt about that.
BoxingScene: You said combining boxing and holidays is a joy for you. Where else have you been mixing them?
Pirog: I visited the WBC convention in Philippines a couple of years ago. I got acquainted with well-known fighters, officials, coaches and so on.
BoxingScene: Bring us some names.
Pirog: For example, I was introduced to Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao, Vitaly Klitschko and WBC president Jose Sulaiman. Earlier I got to know classy boxing legend Kostya Tszyu. All these guys are simple and modest in real life. No haughtiness, no superciliousness or rudeness from them. I have nothing but tons of respect for those who worked extremely hard to become a star and to climb the highest hills possible. But I have no idols. They are all men. Everybody has its weaknesses and everybody except for rare cases of physical inability has a chance to become a hero in the ring. Diligence and determination is what it’s all about.
Proving fighters aren’t hard-nosed stupid bums
BoxingScene: Dmitry, please, remind your fans how you have got into this business.
Pirog: I started playing chess in Temryuk, a small town near the Black Sea, but soon thereafter made a move towards boxing and began visiting local gym. I was trained by Victor Ivanovich Serdyukov, a knowledgeable coach and a wonderful man, who not only made a good boxer of me but also helped me much to become a classy individual. Then I relocated myself to Krasnodar in order to continue my education in the institute. There I was picked up by legendary Artem Alexandrovich Lavrov (USSR amateur team head coach since 1980 till 1989, Turkey amateur team head coach in 1990-1999, 1999 Turkish Coach of the year). He also gave me lots of knowledge and skill.
BoxingScene: You are known to be a promising pro. What were your amateur achievements?
Pirog: I have won neither World nor Euro championships; I haven’t taken part in Summer Olympics as well. Having said this, I do have some achievements at unpaid ranks. I was a finalist for “Olympic hopes” tournament and took the silver medal at the armed forces championship of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
BoxingScene: What is your overall record as an amateur?
Pirog: I can’t recall it precisely but I scored about 200 wins and suffered somewhat 30 losses.
BoxingScene: Was there any chance to consolidate your position in Russian amateur system?
Pirog: There were chances but for a variety reasons I haven’t been able to fully realize my potential in unpaid boxing. I’m not sorry for my performance in amateurs, however. I met such notables as Andrey Mishin (2002 European champion), Alexander Maletin (1997 World and 2000, 2002 and 2004 European champion) and Oleg Saitov (two-time Olympic gold medalist in 1996 and 2000) and every time gave them hell of a fight. I tried to make my way to 2004 Olympics both for Russia and Georgia but once again Fortune wasn’t on my side those days.
BoxingScene: Your amateur career came to an end in summer 2004 but you started fighting as a prizefighter only a year since. What had you been doing for a year then?
Pirog: I took a year off. I have a business and I decided to develop it and to earn some money for me and my family. I know being fighting businessman is somewhat strange for Russian pugs and boxing fans. But I want to break that freaky stereotype of a fighter being a hard-nosed stupid bum who has nothing out of the ring.
BoxingScene: Why had you decided to continue your career as a pro?
Pirog: First of all, I have never officially retired from the ring. Boxing was always in my soul. I felt that I wasn’t done as a boxer. I came to promoter and asked to box in local boxing show for my pleasure. I hadn’t any goal at that time but I re-invented my dedication to boxing following Tatevosyan fight.
BoxingScene: Aside of boxer you also hold a managerial license. Are there any pro fighters represented by manager Dmitry Pirog?
Pirog: Hell yeah! And you know one of them, Alexey. Vasily Lepikhin (8-0, 4 KOs) is the Russian light heavyweight champion and he also holds your Baltic Boxing Union 175lb title. He is a good boxer and a promising prospect.
BoxingScene: Well, I remember his fight versus Roman Simakov the last year. That was a pure mayhem and it shocked me much more as I was ringside supervising that fight. (This reporter also serves as the BBU general secretary). Who else is guided by you?
Pirog: Here is Fedor (Theodoros) Papazov (5-0, 4 KOs). He proved his mettle with his recent stoppage of Shavkhat Madaminov.
BoxingScene: Amazingly, you are also known to be a rare case of an active fighter being an official. Tell us more about that.
Pirog: Well, I’m a vice-president of Professional Boxing Federation of the Southern Federal District of Russia. I want to once again underline that pro boxer can be successful and accomplished personality out of the ring. For example, I have two higher educations. I have graduated (both times with red diplomas) from the Sports Academy and from the Faculty of public administration of the Kuban State University. I was a second-to-none student of the high school. And I don’t want to be boastful. I’m sure more and more fighters are going the same way in Russia now.
BoxingScene: We hope so. And we are surely high on you, Dmitry. Good luck both in and outside the ring!
Pirog: Same to you!
Those interested in Pirog can watch his fights on this author’s YouTube channel.