by Cliff Rold
Seemingly having lost every round of the fight, 29-year old Russian Light Heavyweight Denis Grachev (12-0-1, 8 KO), fighting out of San Diego, California, turned a late rally in the seventh into a shocking eighth round stoppage of world-rated 27-year old Ismayl Sillakh (17-1, 14 KO) on Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.
Sillakh came into the bout spot on the division limit of 175 lbs., Grachev one lower at 174 lbs. The referee was Rocky Burke.
At the opening bell, both men took the fight to the center of the ring and took turns testing and measuring each other with and occasional rights. Playing the counter puncher, Sillakh started to fins his range with rights over the top and underneath. Grachev looked for right to the head and body, mostly missing the mark.
In rounds two and three, an apparent separation in the class of the competitors took firm root. Grachev, struggling to land, began lunging with lead hooks and Sillakh calmly multiplied his counters. In the third, a right hand caught Grachev clean and off balance, his knee and glove touching the floor for a quick knockdown.
With Sillakh playing steady if unspectacular, Grachev stayed off the floor and continued to push forward in rounds four and five. Sillakh used his legs and quick hands to score points without taking any risks. The trend continued in almost monotonous fashion until late in the seventh. Working off a shot to the body, Grachev pulled the trigger on a nice right hand. Caught clean in the face near the corner, Sillakh rushed to keep off the ropes and Grachev pressed with renewed energy into the bell.
Renewed energy aptly described the eighth, and then some.
Forced out of the patient stance he’d had all night, Sillakh was swinging with more authority as Grachev threw hard haymakers. Grachev landed a short right to the face as Sillakh went to the ropes just past the midway mark and Sillakh quickly clinched and walked the action back to mid-ring.
Sillakh continued to dig with shots, landing a hard right and short left as Grachev came forward, willing to take the heat. Sillakh, his hands low, went for another left. Grachev used the opening and exploded with a short right to buckle Sillakh and send sweat flying. Stumbling to the corner, Sillakh covered up and Grachev charged with everything he had.
Left-right, left-right, over and over the punches came. Some missed the mark but most did not and Sillakh was in serious trouble. A final right hand crushed into the head of Sillakh who fell along the ropes, reaching up with his left glove to brace his fall as referee Rocky Burke stepped in to stop the action at 2:18 of the eighth.
Sillakh, making only his second start since May 2011, came into the bout rated #2 by the WBC, #10 by the WBA, and #6 by the IBF at Light Heavyweight, perfectly positioned to become the mandatory challenger to the winner of Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson II on April 28. He heads back to the drawing board while Grachev, a former kick boxer, can wonder if he has not found a way into the various top tens himself.
It was not the first clash of undefeated battlers to end inside the distance on the night.
22-year old Jr. Lightweight Javier Fortuna (19-0, 14 KO), 128, used powerful left hands to score a stoppage in the first round against 23-year old Yuandale Evans (16-1, 12 KO), 127 ¼, of Cleveland, Ohio. The referee was Martin Colon.
Both young fighters could be seen pacing in the corners after pre-fight introductions, chomping at the bit for a critical early career showdown. It was the right-handed Evans getting started first, snapping the jab while the southpaw Fortuna surveyed the landscape. Fortuna missed with a sweeping lead right hook but moments later connected with a stiff left over the top.
Made aware of his foe’s power, Evans took a step back before coming forward with the jab. Evans missed a left hook and then missed a right after a double jab. A hard left from Fortuna shook Evans and Evans left glove touched the floor. The referee didn’t call a knockdown and Fortuna pounced. Evans, game, tried to fire back and left himself wide open for an even harder left. His body stiffened, Evans fell backwards while a right cuffed the back of his head.
Colon stepped in to begin the count, picking it up at four as Evans pulled himself up at eight, his senses still separated from ample courage. Colon took a hard look and let the fight continue. Fortuna let loose with a series of shots, connecting with three solid lefts in the barrage. The last of them sent Evans crashing to his left and beneath the bottom rope. Colon waved the fight off without counting at 2:02 of the first round.
Fortuna is currently rated #6 at 130 lbs. by the World Boxing Association.
Jr. Middleweight: Randy Fuentes (2-0-1) UD4 John Montes (1-2, 1 KO)
The card was televised in the U.S. on ESPN2 as part of its “Friday Night Fights” series, promoted by Square Ring Promotions.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]