By Francisco Salazar
So what is a “Mexican-Russian?”
More than likely, that phrase will not be found in any dictionary.
Instead, you can find one, and only one, running the streets of Oxnard at 5AM and training inside the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in the same city.
While visual learners may understand what this “Mexican-Russian” does, Robert Garcia best spelled out a description of what he sees on a daily basis.
“He may not have that elite talent that some boxers have, but he makes up for it with heart and determination.”
Evgeny Gradovich does not attract attention the way some brash fighters do. However, whatever he is doing something right if he is already a world title holder with higher aspirations outside the ring.
The unbeaten featherweight Gradovich will defend his title against Mauricio Javier Munoz on Saturday at the Venetian Casino and Resort in Macau, China.
The scheduled 12 round bout will be part of a Top Rank card that will be televised on HBO2 at 5:30PM ET/PT.
Gradovich (16-0, 8 KOs) will make the first defense of the world title belt he won from Billy Dib by split decision in Mashantucket, CT on March 1st.
While Gradovich is not mentioned amongst the elite fighters at 126 pounds, he has earned the respect of those in boxing for not taking the easy route to fight and win a world title.
It has left an impression on Garcia, who now trains him, during the last couple of years the Russian-born Gradovich has been in Oxnard.
“When he came to Oxnard, you could tell he was hungry to become a world champion,” Garcia said to Boxingscene.com over the phone on Monday night. “From day one, he would give it his all and understands the important things in boxing.”
“He gets up at 5AM and goes for runs. No one needs to wake him up because he does it on his own. I’ve seen for myself the dedication that he has. I’ve seen very few fighters that have more desire and dedication than Evgeny does.”
In a way, Gradovich’s fight against Dib may have symbolized the blue collar attitude and training regimen he holds during training camp. While Dib was the favorite because he was the title holder and had more professional experience, Gradovich never backed down and exerted more of himself to tire Dib during the championship rounds.
Or the confidence both Gradovich and Garcia had that they would beat Dib, proving that he belonged amongst the best at 126 pounds.
“We knew that we could beat him,” said Garcia.
As if his success in the ring is not enough, Gradovich may be becoming a winner outside of the ring as well.
Aside from boxing and soccer, Oxnard has a reputation of drawing a number of Latinos to the area, many of whom work in the agricultural fields around the city. Those ambitious enough leave work and go to Oxnard Adult School, where they learn English or another craft to better their economic situation.
Gradovich stands out in classrooms at the Oxnard school with students with Spanish surnames, eager to learn English and picking up a few words in Spanish as well. What Gradovich is doing is no different than the number of immigrants who come to the United States to make a better life.
“He is living the American dream,” said Garcia. “He is applying for citizenship and wants to bring his family here. He rides his bike to the gym, but is studying to get his driver’s license so he could drive to the gym. He has his apartment here in Oxnard and he’s done well for himself.”
As for “Mexican-Russian,” Garcia laughs at how he got the nickname, but says that it is the perfect fit for him.”
“He came in to the gym and hardly spoke any English. Most of the time, myself and my assistants talk in Spanish. So then, he started saying a few words in Spanish and was talking more and more in Spanish. Then, he started talking and acting like a Mexican would. So, one of my assistants just gave him the name, ‘Mexican-Russian.’ He fights like a Mexican and he acts like one.”
Gradovich will have his hands full against Munoz on Saturday. And he believes he should have a difficult fight. Nothing was given to him on a personal or a professional level and that is how he likes it.
While he is not mentioned as often as Abner Mares, Miguel Angel Garcia, Nonito Donaire at the featherweight limit, Gradovich proves that he is not one to bet against. Especially outside of the ring.
Being labeled the “Mexican-Russian” makes Gradovich a unique fighter. It would be difficult to find another fighter just like him.