By Alexey Sukachev
The darkest hour is before the dawn. And when it comes, thirst for the light becomes hardly tolerable. Even a shady glimpse of fire, even a feeling of a ray coming, is consumed willingly, and you ask for more.
Thirst for seeing Russian (and ex-Soviet) fighters in meaningful collisions was hardly tolerable for the first month and a half of 2013. Gennady Golovkin fought and stopped game Gabriel Rosado in seven on January 19, but it wasn’t enough. Then a month passed by without a notice, and finally a tourney, arranged by Kirill Pchelnikov this past Friday in Troitsk, has only teased the fans and ignited the hunger, being an aforementioned glimpse, not light. We (ex-Soviet boxing community) want more fights, we want better fights and we want them badly.
Gladly, the thirst will be satisfied in style in the coming month and a half. Three major title fights and a good share of minor trinkets for contest will undoubtedly attract not only a thin layer of local hardcore fans, but also a good bulk of casuals to raise the sport’s popularity. What makes it so special is the fact that the most notable and the most important clashes (including all three major belt affairs) will take place overseas, being inalienable parts of televised undercards or even their main events.
The story doesn’t end at this point. In the history of ex-Soviet prizefighting there has never been a single period of such an abundant revelry. Kostya Tszyu made his mark as an elite pugilist and a future Hall of Fame entrant long ago. However, his American performances have rarely seen any compatriots. Oleg Maskaev and Sultan Ibragimov made their marks overseas, but they were heavyweights and their reigns didn’t last long. On the opposite side, this time fighters from lighter weight classes will be aired in the States, and those boxers (mostly) aren’t heavyweights or rising stars and superstars. Which means a middle class of Russian boxing community is finally making its long-awaited step towards the worldwide recognition. A step, which has been predicted long ago but has never been so vigorously awaited in the former USSR…
Found below is a list of upcoming events, which will form the menu of Russian boxing gourmands for the nearest future.
Event: WBA #3, WBC #7 and WBO #8 Gary Russell Jr. (21-0, 13 KOs) vs. WBO #9 and WBA #15 Vyacheslav Gusev (20-2, 5 KOs) – 10 rounds
Weight class: featherweight
Place: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, The Joint, Las Vegas, USA
Status: co-main event
This is not the first time Vyacheslav Gusev, 27, is fighting on American TV. Four years ago he entered the fight with Juan Carlos Burgos on ESPN, destined to be another victim of then-undefeated Mexican prospect. He ended the fight as a proud contestant, whose loss wasn’t as clear as the scorecards told us (BoxingScene had it a draw: 95-95).
Gusev will be very lucky to receive such distinction against hard-hitting, slick-moving former US Olympian. Russell, 24 and nearing his very prime, is faster than Burgos, more refined and has better reflexes. Gusev's chance is to stay on the inside, circling to his left and trying to spoil the fight as much as he can. Still, he needs something extra to pull it off, which he has not: his punches lack what it takes to deal any serious damage to the world-class opponents – power.
Event: WBA/WBC #10 and IBF 13 Magomed Abdusalamov (16-0, 16 KOs) vs. WBO #15 Victor Bisbal (21-1, 15 KOs) – 10 rounds
Weight class: heavyweight
Place: Resorts Hotel & Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
Status: co-main event
Fighting two weeks after Vyacheslav Glazkov, Magomed Abdusalamov will try to prove his superiority over fellow prospect and his bitter rival since the amateur days. Abdusalamov wanted Glazkov fight badly this winter but the team of the undefeated Ukrainian chose to follow the other road. As a number of other top-15 opponents failed to show up, Team Mago chose a fairly forgotten Boricua veteran to oppose their protégé.
If anything, Bisbal, 32, will be an easy diet for the feared Russian puncher. The best days of six-time Puerto-Rican heavyweight champion and 2004 Athens Olympian could have been well behind him if he had them at all. Yet, when he was on his slow rise to fame, Bisbal was knocked out silly by 6-5-1 traveller Domonic Jenkins. The Puerto Rican hasn’t fought a live dog since then, limiting himself to deeply faded veterans Robert Daniels and Alex Gonzalez in 2012.
Bisbal chances couldn’t be slimmer than that but Abdusalamov is well advised to be careful and aware – the fight versus Jameel McCline, his toughest to date – exposed his (predictably) weak defense and questionable chin. He still has much to prove, so that this fight is explainable.
Event: Vladimir Hryunov’s tripleheader for minor titles with a share of unbeatens.
List: 1. WBA #4 Eduard Troyanovskiy (13-0, 10 KOs) vs. Osgood Kayuni (14-0-1, 7 KOs) – PABA Lightweight, 12 rounds; 2. Andrey Klimov (14-0, 8 KOs) vs. George Ashie (23-4-1, 16 KOs) – vacant IBF I/C Lightweight, 12 rounds; 3. Dmitry Chudinov (7-0-1, 4 KOs) vs. Milton Nunez (25-6-1, 23 KOs) – PABA interim Middleweight, 12 rounds.
Place: Krylia Sovetov Sports Arena, Moscow, Russia
TV: Russia 2
Vladimir Hryunov proves his status of one of Russia’s leading promoters with a local tripleheader, which features his top second-echelon fighters in fairly competitive match-ups. There will be no stars in the mix, but several quality boxers will have a perfect chance to showcase their abilities in front of the fully-packed arena, while staying busy at the same time.
Of these bouts, the second one looks to be the most interesting. Andrey Klimov, a Russian champion, earned good credentials in his four bouts in America in 2011 and 2012. His Ghanaian opponent George Ashie is a former Commonwealth champion and has never been stopped. The same cannot be said about Milton Nunez, who lost within a round to Gennady Golovkin, Nilson Tapia, Hugo Kasperski and Jorge Melendez. His stellar moment was a MD 10 loss to Deandre Latimore and he is not expected to get much of a chance against former amateur standout Chudinov. Osgood Kayuni fights for the first time outside of his native continent and looks to be a dark horse.
Aside of these match-ups and two pro debutants look after “The Russian Gatti” Oleg Liseev (6-1, 4 KOs), who is tentatively set to fight the well-travelled veteran Dionisio Miranda (21-8-2, 18 KOs) over eight. This could be a war.
Event: WBO Champion Timothy Bradley (29-0, 12 KOs) vs. WBO #3 / The Ring #9 Ruslan Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs) – 12 rounds
Weight class: welterweight
Place: Home Depot Center, Carson, California, USA
Status: main event
If anyone has earned his chance to fight for a world title, his name is Ruslan Provodnikov. If you still doubts in the Russian of the Khanty (indigenous people of Western Siberia) origin, look carefully at his resume. The guy has travelled all over the world, which includes fighting in Russia, USA and China, has fought eight times on ESPN, defeated four previously unbeaten lads and two former champs (DeMarcus Corley and Javier Jauregui), surviving his share of controversy against the former and against Mauricio Herrera. Much more important is the fact that in all of these fights, Ruslan has taken his heart out for the joy of the fans. Willing to trade with everyone he is incredibly fun to watch – thanks to his punching skills mixed with defensive vulnerability.
Against Timothy Bradley, Provodnikov will be a huge underdog due to two of his blemishes: his weak guard and his slow feet. The main problem will be cornering Bradley and inducing a dog fight on the inside, where he has better chances to succeed. However, no one up to this point (with an exception of Manny Pacquiao) was able to force the four-time, two-division world champion to play his game. Provodnikov can be a lucky but unlikely exception.
Event: Kirill Pchelnikov’s and Ural Boxing’s co-promotion
Featured fight: WBO #4 Alisher Rakhimov (25-1, 12 KOs) vs. IBF #2, WBC #5 and the Ring #8 Denis Shafikov (31-0-1, 17 KOs) – 10 rounds. WBC Baltic Lightweight title.
Undercard: 1. Aslanbek Kozaev (23-0, 7 KOs) vs. David Avanesyan (13-1, 6 KOs) – 10 rounds, welterweights; 2. Konstantin Ponomarev (18-0, 9 KOs) vs. Fariz Kazimov (13-2-1, 4 KOs) - welterweights; 3. Ayup Arsaev (13-0, 8 KOs) vs. TBA – featherweights; 4. Ahror Muralimov (13-0, 11 KOs) vs. TBA – heavyweights; 5. Fedor Papazov (9-0, 7 KOs) vs. TBA – light welterweights.
Place: Noginsk, Russia
TV: Russia 2 (?)
A huge card is being put up by two thriving Russian promoters – Kirill Pchelnikov and Evgueny Vainstein of Ural Boxing Promotions – which features a number of undefeated or almost-undefeated fighters in cross-roaders.
Taking the lead is Shafikov vs. Rakhimov clash, a lightweight debut for the Ring #8 ranked junior welterweight. The battle can be no so fun to watch, as both boxers rely more on their boxing skills than their power but it’ll be uniquely tense. Shafikov looks to be a favorite – thanks to his breakthrough year in 2012 and the recent setback of Rakhimov (who suffered a close loss to Ji-Hoon Kim on ESPN) – but the former Uzbek Olympian is said to be in the shape of his lifetime and looks poised to upset the odds. The winner of the fight will be a legitimate contender in the lightweight class.
Adding to the build-up is a rich, talent-filled undercard. Top Ural Boxing’s prospects Kozaev and Ponomarev will be tested roughly by capable Russian champion Avanesyan and former Russian champion Kazimov. The event also features undefeated and fan-friendly sluggers Ayup Arsaev and Fedor Papazov, as well as a comeback of hard-hitting Uzbek heavyweight Ahror Muralimov.
Event: German Titov’s comeback into action
Fights: 1. WBO #8 Dmitry Mikhailenko (14-0, 5 KOs) vs. TBA – 12 rounds, welterweights, WBO European title; 2. Vasily Lepikhin (12-0, 5 KOs) vs. TBA – 8 rounds, light heavyweights; 3. Andrey Isaev (23-3, 7 KOs) vs. TBA – 8 rounds, super bantamweights; 4. Evgueny Chuprakov (4-0, 2 KOs) vs. TBA – 6 rounds, super featherweights.
Place: Yekaterinburg, Russia
A small card features the comeback of once a prominent promoter German Titov, whose activities decreased over the last two years but who has announced a pre-planned comeback with new, more thrilling tourneys. The first step will be made in his Ural citadel of Yekaterinburg. Don’t expect any sound names to fill in the voids but the card is nevertheless interesting to watch.
Event: WBA/IBO Champion and The Ring #6 Khabib Allakhverdiev (18-0, 8 KOs) vs. Breidis Prescott (26-4, 20 KOs) – 12 rounds
Weight class: light welterweight
Place: Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Status: co-featured bout
Khabib Allakhverdiev, who was sidelined for a couple of years, struggling to land meaningful fights up until the fall of 2011, had a breakthrough year in 2012. Allakhverdiev consecutively outpointed Nate Campbell (that was in 2011) and crushed fringe contenders Kaizer Mabuza and Ignacio Mendoza to garner everyone’s attention and to become a major player in one of the boxing’s most thrilling weight classes. A win over Joan Guzman was nearly missed but Khabib has found himself on the lucky (and deserved) end of a split technical decision. The victory helped Allakhverdiev to land a deal with Top Rank, and March 30 will be the date of his first defense.
Karim Mayfield was a front-runner to land the spot of Khabib’s opponent, but then Prescott came out of nowhere to get the second huge chance of his career. The first one is still very well remembered, as is a vivid image of splattered Amir Khan – the top dog, being annihilated by the Colombian puncher in less than a minute. Prescott failed to live up to the expectations and slowly turned back to mediocrity. However, against the Russian he will be motivated to the limit, feeling this could be his last chance to take a world title. The Colombian will look forward to break out a street combat with Allakhverdiev. Khabib can co-operate but, unlike Khan, he has a sturdy chin, a newly found firepower and skills to frustrate the Colombian. Look also for his left hand that had a sneaky dynamite pack in his gloves.
Allakhverdiev vs. Prescott fight is set to take place as the main preliminary bout of Rios vs. Alvarado II. The bout between the winners looks to be a natural further step, and suddenly Khabib can found himself in a mega-fight, which was so far way less than two years from this point.
Event: WBC #6 Sergey Grachev (12-1, 8 KOs) vs. Zsolt Erdei (33-0, 18 KOs) – 10 rounds
Weight class: light heavyweights (catchweight)
Place: Chapiteau de Fontvieille, Monte Carlo, Monaco
Status: Part of the super middleweight tourney
A perfect match-up to start a new tourney, arranged by several international promotional companies in the former boxing hotbed of Monaco, which is slowly getting back to life after a long sleep.
Grachev, 30, isn’t a boxer by education but a kickboxer. Rugged and raw, he lack much needed refinement but makes up for it in resilience, durability and bulldog’s determination, and he is also packed up with a nice punch to aid his goals. Grachev, who leap-frogged into the title mix after a kayo of very much ballyhooed prospect Ismayl Sillakh (one of the biggest upsets of 2012) and then looked pretty good against elite super middleweight Lucian Bute, will look forward to bully and to finally crush the Hungarian.
Erdei, 38, on the other hand, is in the twilight of his career. He has seen better days and he would have been a huge underdog against straightforward Grachev during these days. But now, after having missed more than 20 months out of the ring and at a very solid age, Zsolt, not Denis, will be on the downside of bookmakers’ odds. However, he is still undefeated and he has a vast experience behind his back. This bout isn’t as uneven as it may seem.
Event: IBO Champion and IBF/WBA #3, WBC/The Ring #4 Alexander Bakhtin (30-0, 11 KOs) vs. Sergio Carlos Santillan (30-12-3, 14 KOs) – 12 rounds
Weight class: super bantamweight
Place: Balashikha, Russia
Status: main event
TV: Russia 2 (?)
For years Alexander Bakhtin has been looking up to join the bantamweight and then the super bantamweight elite, but the final step has never been made. Despite getting some very solid victories, holding minor, semi-major and regional titles, and even breaking a respectable record for the largest number of defenses of the Japanese bantamweight title (9) Bakhtin has yet to fight either an internationally recognized champion or a stellar opponent.
Both Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko were rumored to travel to Sasha’s adopted hometown of Balashikha, but Bakhtin will end up fighting aged (39 years) Argentinean veteran Sergio Carlos Santillan, a fighter he must dominate with closed eyes. Even this fight is in question, as it comes directly one day after the Khabib’s fight, which means Bakhtin’s powerful manager and promoter Vladimir Hryunov should miss one of these fights. That doesn’t mean much in the aftermath: at 31, Bakhtin should be thrown into deep waters and shouldn’t fight no-names anymore.
Though Russians will occupy the spotlights in the coming month, fighters from the former USSR will leave their marks too. Making it short:
March 22 – Kiev comeback of world ranked cruiserweight (WBC #4, IBF/The Ring #9, WBO #13) Dmytro Kucher (20-0, 15 KOs) and light welterweight (WBC #3 and WBO #14) Victor Postol (21-0, 10 KOs).
March 30 – A huge card in Monaco will also feature the next appearance of the middleweight terror king Gennady Golovkin (25-0, 22 KOs) in the defense of his WBA/IBO titles against durable Japanese veteran Nobuhiro Ishida (24-8-2, 9 KOs). Ishida has never been stopped. On the same card, European junior middleweight champion Sergey Rabchenko (22-0, 16 KOs) looks forward to erase bad memories of his latest, scrappy win over Sedric Vitu, by fighting Italian veteran Adriano Nicchi (20-3-2, 9 KOs), who looks to be a softer touch. Rabchenko is ranked #2 by the WBC, #6 by the WBA, #7 by the IBF and #14 by the WBO.
May 4 – A comeback of the best heavyweight in the world: Super WBA / IBF/ WBO / IBO and The Ring champion Wladimir Klitschko (59-3, 50 KOs) is still searching for a right opponent. Francesco Pianeta, Bryant Jennings and several other fighters were brought into consideration, but still no opponent is named for the Ukrainian giant.