By Francisco Salazar
Anton Novikov may be an unbeaten fighter, but he is not well-known to the boxing world.
He hopes to change that tonight as he challenges Jessie Vargas for his WBA junior welterweight title tonight at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, N.V.
The bout will precede the 10 round main event between Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves. Both bouts, along with the Sergey Kovalev-Blake Caparello bout in Atlantic City, N.J., will be televised live on HBO. The broadcast will begin at 9:45PM ET/ 6:45PM PT.
Novikov is not well-known to boxing fans, considering he has primarily fought in his native Russia and in Eastern Europe. He has fought more recently in California, where in his last bout on May 17, he won a one-sided 10 round unanimous decision over Javier Castro.
While Russian fighters such as Ruslan Provodnikov and Sergey Kovalev have attracted much of the media attention of fighters from Russia who have done well in the United States, Novikov wants to be included as well.
While much has been discussed on the success Russian fighters have had in the United States, it is not surprising to Novikov (29-0, 10 KOs).
"The amateur school was always good in Russia," Novikov told Boxingscene.com recently through interpreter/ manager Steven Bash. "Just in the last five years, there has been more opportunities. So rather than stay in that school for a lot longer, there are now a lot of fighters who are getting that opportunities in the professional ranks. So I think it's just a matter of something that was inevitably going to happen, if given the opportunity. Now there are a lot of guys taking advantage of that opportunity."
One might say those fighters like Provodnikov and Kovalev are living out their dreams of fighting in the United States. Fighting on premium cable networks, making five to six-figure purses, and having a growing fan base may make any fighter think they are living out a dream.
Not to Novikov, who thinks of achieving the aforementioned things as goals and not dreams, especially given the opportunity he has tonight.
"I never looked at it as a dream. The way we say it (in Russia), 'We don't dream, we just meet our goals.' To me, it's not a dream come true. It's me moving toward my goals. So now my goal is to ignite the American public and the world boxing public to enjoy my style of fighting and to see who i am."
While there have positives in Novikov's career, he did experience something negative recently. After a November 2012 fight against Karlo Tabaghua, the result was changed from a decision win to a no contest due to Novikov failing a post-fight drug test.
Vargas, his opponent on Saturday night, had pressed for Novikov to go through random drug testing to be administered by VADA.
While Novikov did not specifically mention whether he would or not, the possibility for him to go through random testing in future fights would be to his benefit. A win against Vargas could bring Novikov more high-profile fights, something fight fans wish to see more transparency in.
For now, the task at hand is Vargas. Novikov believes he will be victorious, considering his opponent is the house fighter and is fighting in his hometown.
Novikov has a lot to prove and is eager to do just that tonight.
"Not only do I want to prove I earned my opportunity and I deserve to be fighting for a world title, but i want to become a super-champion of the WBA. I want this to lead to bigger things."
"I don't want to predict how I'm going to win the fight. I don't see anything but winning the fight, whether it comes by knockout. If the knockout is available, or if it doesn't, then I'm going to have to win round by round so i don't leave any doubt on the judges' mind that i won the fight."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing