By Jake Donovan
Up until a few days ago, the schedule for this weekend served as a stark reminder of the emotional distress Timur Ibragimov endured the last time he stepped foot on the ring.
Just over a year ago, the Uzbekistan heavyweight dropped a controversial split decision to Jean-Marc Mormeck in his opponent’s native France. He hasn’t fought since and was unsure of his future until receiving an offer to face Seth Mitchell live on HBO.
There was a catch – he once again had to travel to his opponent’s hometown. Another troubling issue was the fact that while Ibragimov would travel to D.C. for co-feature money against a rising prospect, Mormeck was preparing for the opportunity of a lifetime – a heavyweight title shot against lineal champion Wladimir Klitschko.
A sign of things creeping in Ibragimov’s favor ahead of this weekend is the fact that there is no longer a heavyweight title fight of which to speak. Klitschko was forced to withdraw after succumbing to a bout of kidney stones, leaving Mormeck high and dry.
Meanwhile, the show goes on for Ibragimov, who isn’t concerned about traveling to the U.S. to go up against the house fighter.
“What I like in this fight (is) because the national TV will be there and I like American judges because they're honest,” insists Ibragimov, whose lone other appearance on HBO was also his first loss, falling short to Calvin Brock in a battle of then-unbeaten heavyweights that underwhelmed.
Many argue that Ibragimov – a member of the 1996 Uzbekistan Olympic boxing squad – is a typical heavyweight suspect who falls short when it matters the most. The 35-year old is well aware of the reputation that precedes him.
No excuses are made for back-to-back losses to Brock and Tony Thompson, but he feels the need to defend himself when onlookers simply “Boxrec” his resume and cite Mormeck W12 Ibragimov.
“The last fight with Mormeck, I go in his hometown and we (were) expecting what my promoters told me, that they have two neutral judges,” recalls Ibragimov, who believes promises weren’t kept. “I told them, ‘I’m packing my bags and going home.’ Then they change one judge.”
That one judge happened to be the only official who scored the bout in favor of Ibragimov, who boxed well in the beginning and landed the cleaner punches down the stretch. It was his lapse in the middle rounds that cost him the fight on the other two cards.
Ibragimov believes that crowd environment has an impact on overseas officiating, but believes that American boxing fans and officials are far more impartial.
“If you go to Germany, you're fighting a German guy and start beating him, they don't care. They feel like the fans with German fighter. But here in America, as soon as you start fighting and beating the American guy, everybody will start (cheering for you). That's why I think more honest fans are in America and (its) judges. That's why I am here and that's why I'm taking this fight.”
It’s no secret that an uphill battle awaits, and not just because he’s traveling to his opponent’s backyard. Mitchell, a former high school and college football star before multiple knee injuries ended his career, is one of the fastest rising American prospects in the game today.
Having not fought in over a year is hardly means to prepare for your toughest challenge in years, but Ibragimov believes that he’s as ready as he will ever be for Saturday night’s fight. His preparation has intensified in preparing for this fight, and he also turns to his past experience on the road in being ready for whatever the evening has to offer.
“You know what? I love to go to somebody's home and beat the person in his own home. I go to Germany and beat Timo Hoffman. I go to Miami and beat Oliver McCall. I think for every fighter, it's the fight of his year because you lose one and that's it and you go down in the ranking and everything and nobody will really respect you.”
The last official win on Ibragimov’s record also came on the road, scoring a ninth round stoppage over faded former cruiserweight challenger Luis Pineda in Panama last October. The fight served as the final leg of a nine-fight win streak before coming up short against Mormeck in France.
Saturday night marks his fifth straight road appearance. A loss could make it his last relevant fight, but the former heavyweight contender doesn’t believe in entering a fight with the worst case scenario in mind.
“I think every fight is important, but this one because it will show on HBO, big promoters are involved and I’m up against a very tough opponent. That's why in his hometown, I have to be ready for 200%, and I'm doing that. That's why I think this way, that (when) you go to his hometown even the walls are helping in your home. That's why I got to be ready for that too.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]