By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Sergey Lipinets likely will win the vacant IBF junior welterweight championship in convincing, entertaining fashion Saturday night.
Lipinets’ championship reign might not last as long as you might expect, though.
The punishing puncher from Kazakhstan has the power, hand speed and overall boxing ability to become a unified champion in the suddenly wide-open 140-pound division. There just might not be enough lucrative, high-profile fights in it to keep Lipinets from moving up to the more fertile welterweight division before too long.
The 28-year-old Lipinets had hoped to get a shot at the division’s undisputed champion, Terence Crawford, before Crawford’s inevitable move to welterweight. His handlers realized that probably wouldn’t happen, which was among the reasons they tried to block former IBF junior welterweight champion Julius Indongo from facing Crawford in a fight for full 140-pound supremacy August 19 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
They wanted Namibia’s Indongo to make his mandatory defense against the No. 1-rated Lipinets, but the IBF granted Indongo an exception and afforded him the opportunity to make a seven-figure purse against Crawford. The undefeated Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs) knocked out Indongo (22-1, 11 KOs) with a body shot in the third round, but the Omaha, Nebraska, native quickly gave up the IBF title.
“I knew that Crawford wouldn’t fight Sergey,” Alex Vaysfeld, Lipinets’ co-manager, told BoxingScene.com before a press conference Thursday in Manhattan. “Too little reward and took much risk. It’s all business, and I understand that. Crawford wouldn’t make the money he would normally make fighting Sergey. And imagine if Sergey would have beaten him? I knew Top Rank would never let that fight happen.
“And then I was disappointed because I wanted Sergey to fight Indongo. Not only that [he was undefeated], but he knocked that Russian out in the first round [Eduard Troyanovsky]. So we wanted to make a statement by knocking him out. But what are you gonna do? That’s boxing. … It’s OK. He’s here, fighting for that belt.”
By here, Vaysfeld means Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That’s where Lipinets (12-0, 10 KOs) will oppose Japan’s Akihiro Kondo (29-6-1, 16 KOs) on Saturday night in a 12-round fight for the IBF 140-pound championship Crawford gave up to advance to the welterweight division.
Crawford, 30, had tremendous difficulty making 140 pounds by the time he fought Indongo. Vaysfeld says Lipinets “isn’t killing himself” to make the 140-pound limit, yet might move up to the 147-pound division because there’s more money and opportunity available there.
“He’ll go where the biggest names are,” Vaysfeld said. “The main thing is if we’re gonna have real, real good matchups at 140, we’re gonna be at 140. But if he has to move up to 147 to fight someone like Thurman or Spence, hell yeah, then we’ll move up.”
Like Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs, 1 NC), the WBA/WBC welterweight champion, and Errol Spence Jr. (22-0, 19 KOs), the IBF welterweight champ, Lipinets is advised by Al Haymon and fights as a part of Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions organization.
The quiet, respectful Lipinets preferred to discuss his title fight against Kondo, not unification fights, a potential move to welterweight or whether he’s disappointed Crawford moved.
“One step at a time, I’ll get to the top of the division,” Lipinets said, according to Vaysfeld’s translation. “But right now, I want to concentrate on getting that belt. My ultimate goal is to win all the belts, just like Crawford did.”
Lipinets, who now resides and trains in the Los Angeles area, is listed by various Internet sports books as a 50-1 favorite over Kondo. The 32-year-old Kondo, ranked No. 3 by the IBF, has won eight straight fights, has never been knocked out and has suffered four of his six defeats by either split decision or majority decision.
“He’s never been knocked out and that shows that he can take a punch,” Lipinets said. “So I have to have at least an A, B and C plan for this fight.”
That said, Lipinets intends to improve his knockout ratio to 85 percent and extend his knockout streak to five.
“Everybody wants to knock somebody out, especially me,” said Lipinets, who’s trained by former two-division champion Buddy McGirt. “That’s my forte. That’s what I do. About half of my opponents had never been knocked out before they fought me. So I’m gonna try to knock him out. That’s for sure.”
Showtime will televise Lipinets-Kondo as the opener of a tripleheader scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
The main event of the telecast will match unbeaten WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs), of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, against former champion Bermane Stiverne (25-2-1, 21 KOs), of Las Vegas, in a mandatory rematch. The second fight will feature former IBF welterweight champ Shawn Porter (27-2-1, 17 KOs), of Akron, Ohio, against Adrian Granados (18-5-2, 12 KOs), of Cicero, Illinois, in a 10-round welterweight bout.
“If you haven’t seen Sergey Lipinets fight, I urge you to turn on TV early, get to the arena early,” said Stephen Espinoza, general manager and vice president for Showtime Sports. “He is a very entertaining fighter and this will be a very entertaining fight.”
As long as Lipinets-Kondo doesn’t end in a draw, one of the five championships Crawford relinquished will be claimed Saturday night. If Lipinets wins, he could have to wait longer than he’d prefer for a unification bout because the IBO, WBA, WBC and WBO titles will remain unclaimed.
“I want him to become the unified champion of the world,” Vaysfeld said. “We wanna unify all the belts. We’re trying to fight the best guys out there to show all his talent. It’s just like with Manny Pacquiao – he wasn’t really known until he fought [Marco Antonio] Barrera, for example. After Barrera, all of a sudden, he blew up. Everybody knew who he was. That’s the type of fight we’re looking for, so people can recognize him.”
Beating Barrera by 11th-round technical knockout in November 2003 put Pacquiao on the map among American boxing fans, but the Filipino legend had to move up in weight before he attained the fame and fortune that made him a superstar. While winning Saturday night will enable Lipinets to achieve one of his goals by becoming a world champion, he, too, likely will need to move up to pursue the acclaim and compensation he seeks.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.