By Alexey Sukachev
It's been a month since the last edition of this list it’s time to move on and to get the job done promptly.
It’s also just that time when it’s pretty darn hard to imagine modern boxing without fighters from what was once called the “Evil Empire”. And, yes, I’m talking about the former USSR and the present array of once united and now independent states. More than 25 world champions (counting only so-called “major belts”), a lock on the sport’s glamour division, several heated rivalries, a few of dominating masterminds, and now – with the Kostya Tszyu’s arrival to Canastota – we have our first ever Eastern European Hall of Famer (Purists will call for Laszlo Papp but it’s an ultimate exception and Hungary’s placement in Eastern Europe is also a subject at large).
Twenty one years since the first Soviet amateur stalwarts diffused onto the Western (and partly onto the Far Eastern) fight scene, it’s finally a time to give a detailed look back and to remember the cream of the cream of post-Soviet prizefighters. The moment is chosen perfectly, contained by two 20th anniversaries – one which is mentioned above and another one (the dissolution of the Soviet Union) coming this year.
In this edition, we review the fourth group of fighters, which are ranked between the 17th and the 11th positions.
Selection and scoring criteria is explained at the bottom of this article. Previous issues of this series can be found through the following links:
The rest of the group and some extra bonuses will be reviewed in the next couple of articles. Stay tuned!
17. Beibut Shumenov (Kazakhstan)
Weight class: light heavyweight
Record: 11-1, 7 KOs
Years active: 2007-…
Titles held: WBA (2010-…, 2) + minor: WBC Asian Boxing Council (2008-2009, 3), PABA (2008-2009, 2), IBA (2009-…, 3) and WBO Asia Pacific (2008-2009, 2).
Three biggest wins: Montell Griffin (49-7) – UD 12, 2008; Gabriel Campillo (19-2) – SD 12, 2010; Vyacheslav Uzelkov (22-0) – UD 12, 2010.
If you’re an ordinary light heavyweight prospect with just twelve fights behind your back, you will fight either a 30-10 journeyman veteran or a fellow 10-0 prospect somewhere deep in ESPN undercards in your next fight. If you’re a gifted, talented star-in-making you’ll be fighting 23-4-3 former contender for the NABF belt or 8-0 amateur great in a HBO-televised co-feature or ShoBox main event. If you’re Beibut Shumenov you’ll already have a couple defenses of a major belt and will be shouting for unification fights against your division’s top marquee names.
An amazing fact is that Shumenov, a fighter who became a holder of a piece of light heavyweight championship in the least number of fights, isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime type of talent. His determination, his character is out of question and he indeed is a physical specimen with a sturdy chin and some wild power to go with but he can hardly be described as a body of talent like Ukrainian master Ismayl Sillakh or a gifted Cuban defector Yordanis Despaigne. He wasn’t a superstar back into his amateur days (even though he took a part in 2004 Summer Olympics and managed to beat Polish Aleksey Kuziemski in the first round before being outpointed in the second), and he wasn’t any near as talented as his epic predecessor Vasily Jirov; he was also less gifted than his successors Erdos Dzhanabergenov or Yerkebulan Shynaliev. Given that, his pro achievements are mind-boggling as is his #17 spot in the TOP-50.
What has made an average talent a major story in the paid ranks? The answer is simple but nowhere as simple as Shumenov’s background. It’s a rather commonplace that fighters are being born, not made. However, born or made, they are usually coming out of a specific background: poverty, financial, mental or legal problems, desperation, and lethargic and/or criminal ghettoes. Oppositely to a canon, Beibut Shumenov has never been in a need of anything. He was born into an upper-class family in a rich country (with a severe social difference to go with); his father is one of the richest persons in Kazakhstan. “His father is a much respected person in his native Shymkent; an unofficial ruler of the city”, says well-known Russian cutman Dmitry Luchnikov who has already worked in Beibut’s corner. Shymkent has an approximate number of 0.6 millions of citizens, the third most populated Kazakh city. “You can stand in the centre of his patrimony and cast an eye on the horizon – all those lands, all those pastures are his; he is that rich”, says another knowledgeable person.
With a support system of such a quality and with always-sufficient financial backup, it wasn’t surprising Shumenov promoted himself up to the recent time. Surely, money can help you but they won’t lace up gloves instead of you and they won’t take any punishment in the ring. Shumenov, who resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, took lessons from the who’s who of boxing community and used to work with the best trainers around. However, many still doubt his abilities and question his achievements, saying he has built up his record over badly faded veterans and a highway robbery. That is correct… to a degree. Yet, despite the fact his talent is majorly raw and his skills are yet sub-par, a short glance at his record shows a clear champion’s quality and underrated talent.
After breaking through several debutants and journeymen the Kazakh enforcer took Montell Griffin in his sixth fight (0.5 points) and schooled once-champion over twelve easy, fairly one-sided rounds. Interestingly, Griffin was previously defeated almost exclusively in title bouts or eliminators. Shumenov repeated this trick in just a fight, knocking out two-time former titlist Byron Mitchell in four rounds (1.25 points). It’s true that both fighters were well past their primes and were probably shot before the contests but it’s also true that dominating a highly-negative former champion in your 6th fight and overslugging another titlist (who sandwiched his loss with knockout of 23-3 prospect and 30-6-1 veteran) in your 8th bout are major achievements. The same is true for 49-year old former middleweight powerhouse William Joppy (4.5 points) who was broken down in six this January. Joppy was also a late substitute for WBO champion Juergen Braehmer who failed to show up claiming severe food poisoning; he wasn’t that bad of an opponent coming out of a spirited and controversial loss to Canadian contender Sebastian Demers but was stopped much easier than by Lucian Bute three years before. Curiously, Mitchell was also a late (and pretty expensive) substitute for another champion Alejandro Berrio which is another evidence of how strong Shumenov’s supportive system is.
On the positive, the Kazakh champion outboxed dangerous Columbian puncher Epifanio Mendoza, who has just been held to a much controversial MD loss to Jeff Lacy, in his 7th outing and completely outclassed 22-0 powerful mandatory challenger Vyacheslav Uzelkov (1 point) in his first title defense. On the negative, there’s a pair of highly controversial fights with Spanish journeyman-turned-champion Gabriel Campillo, the first of them being a close loss and the second one being considered by many to be a wider loss in what was called one of the biggest robberies of 2010 (2 points).
Though still only 27, Shumenov is hardly seen as a champion past his thirties. He will try to gamble with light heavyweight leaders and to add more belts and honors to his bank before concentrating on promotion or his life after boxing. It’s hard to expect a long run for the Kazakh poster boy but while he is here he will definitely be in the spotlight. If he can hone his skills in respect to his excellent physical abilities and work ethics, Shumenov will be found much higher in this list in just two or three years. Time will tell us if this is just a dream or not.
16. Sultan Ibragimov (Russia)
Weight class: heavyweight
Record: 22-1-1, 17 KOs
Years active: 2002-2008
Titles held: WBO (2007-2008, 1) + minor: WBO Asia Pacific (2004-2006, 6).
Three biggest wins: Lance Whittaker (31-3-1) – TKO 7, 2005; Shannon Briggs (48-4-1) – UD 12, 2007; Evander Holyfield (42-8-2) – UD 12, 2007.
Sultan Ibragimov’s professional career was probably the shortest of all non-active boxers in this list but it was enough to get him into the second ten of the fighters under consideration. How fair is that? Probably, this is not very gracious for fighters who are ranked lower than him and who have more achievements to cheer about but you will definitely be surprised if I note that Ibragimov is in fact badly misjudged in accordance to this author’s own regulations. Let’s evaluate an actual prize (and price) of Sultan Ibragimov. He has defeated three former world champions – Al Cole (in a non-title fight – 0.75 points), Shannon Briggs (1 point) and Evander Holyfield (who we shall let alone for a second). And he has been victorious in two world championship fights (2 more points). The key figure here is The Real Deal who has got eleven major belts on separate occasions in two weight classes which makes up for eleven points thus adding it to 14.75 – a major prize to move Sultan all way up to the 13th position in our ranks. Honestly taken, this is nonsense. That’s why this Judgment of Solomon was ruled out in favour of 5.5 points for Evander Holyfield’s glorious career which is also an invaluable gift for a fighter who defeated the 44-year old legend. Ibragimov sums up to 9.25, tying with Beibut Shumenov and taking the 16th spot of the rankings based on overall impressions of his career.
Sultan has definitely worked off his future preferences at amateur ranks. He was a stellar amateur performer but each time failed to make the last step up. Competing as a heavyweight (which is analogous to cruiserweight in comparison with professional boxing), Ibragimov got a silver medal at 2000 European championship (losing to Jackson Chanet on a DQ) and repeated this trick at 2000 Sydney Olympics avenging his loss to Chanet and being defeated only by an all-time great Felix Savon in the final. The last chance was dropped a year later in Belfast where Sultan defeated Kubrat Pulev in WC quarterfinals but lost decisively to Odlanier Solis in the semifinal to get held to a bronze medal.
At 27, the Dagestani native from a remote village of Tlyarata chose not to wait for the next Olympics and turned pro overseas in May 2002. It’s curious that despite its shortness a career of the Russian heavyweight saw at least four major steps of development and one huge change in his boxing style. The first step which lasted for a year since his pro debut saw a brawler in the ring although against somewhat limited opposition. In less than a year Sultan got six wins (five of them by way of knockout) before relocating himself back to Russia for the second part of his pro boxing life. In the former USSR Ibragimov has slightly increased his level of competition fighting durable journeymen or experienced veterans. Five more wins and Team Ibragimov, now with Russian oil tycoon Suleyman Kerimov behind his back and under a guidance of Seminole Warriors Boxing, moves their pupil back to the States.
It took Ibragimov less than a year and a half to make a rapid run into the ranks (notably of the WBO ranks) as he took out eight increasingly tough and capable opponents starting from Ivuarian Onebo Maxime in August 2004 and culminating in a crowd-pleasing grudge war with giant Lance Whittaker in December 2005. Whittaker was clocked fairly easy but under some cocky circumstances (a major brawl during the presser); however, Ibragimov’s most hard opponent was Nigerian journeyman Friday Ahunanya who tested his surviving skills (getting him down with a straight right in the third) before being defeated on a relatively close technical decision. Sultan’s rise ended in July 2006 with another breath-taking and gutsy but this time limited performance in the WBO eliminator versus old dog Ray Austin. Ibragimov boxed his usual self inducing a brawl, fighting in frenetic style and going in close quarters with bigger opponent but failing to get a major blow and eating too many punches himself. A lucky draw taught him a nice lesson while saving his top position at the WBO ratings.
Feeling an offence isn’t enough to get Sultan to the top, his handlers dropped infamous ring criminal Panama Lewis as his chief trainer and hired defensive specialist (as all Mayweathers are) Jeff Mayweather to teach him some new tricks and to revive his long-forgotten amateur skills. The “New Ibragimov” showed up for the WBO showdown with flamboyant asthmatic Shannon Briggs in June 2007. Ibragimov, unlike his previous performances, chose to box than to slug and wisely fooled a dangerous punches, circling around him, getting much of his southpaw stance and penetrating Briggs hole-ridden defense with straight rights. A win over the American got the Russian into a heavyweight mix of champions and his Team immediately started looking for unifications. Ruslan Chagaev was brought as a name but illness and health issues of the Uzbek WBA champion prevented a fight from being made although it was one move from being signed. In what was clearly the biggest ever boxing tournament on Russian soil, Ibragimov took on a real legend (though an old one) in Evander Holyfield and overcame the old warrior’s spirited performance to get a convincing unanimous decision – once again working as a boxer and not a brawler.
Ibragimov’s run was closed just four months later when he did get the unification he wanted but this time against a fighter too good and too skilled for him. On February 23 (Russian Armed Forces Day), Sultan “collided” with heavyweight mastermind Wladimir Klitschko in a triple IBF/WBO/IBO championship which turned to be one of the sorriest stinkers of recent memory. Ibragimov chose to box against a better boxer, and the Younger Brother preferred not to slug with a fighter who had a questionable chin which produced a dreadful fight where both fighters didn’t take any chances at all. A wide decision for Wladimir Klitschko was a fair but unsatisfying result and… it was Ibragimov’s last career fight. Feeling himself empty at his peak capabilities and achieving a possible maximum of his career, the Russian heavyweight chose to close this page of his life and did quietly so. Rumors circulated he could fight more but Ibragimov has never announced such plans himself. He ended his boxing career in style and turned to politics in his Homeland. A short but a nice run for a small and fairly limited heavyweight who will be remembered for some thrillers produced and some heart shown.
15. Wladimir Sidorenko (Ukraine)
Weight class: bantamweight
Record: 22-3-2, 7 KOs
Years active: 2001-…
Titles held: WBA (2005-2008, 6) + minor: EBA (2004, 1) and WBC International Silver (2010, 0).
Three biggest wins: Joseph Agbeko (21-0) – MD 12, 2004; Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (24-0) – UD 12, 2006; Nobuto Ikehara (27-1) – UD 12, 2008.
Of a trio of highly skilled Ukrainian masters, who entered pro ranks shortly before or shortly after 2000 Sydney Olympics and signed with Universum Box-Promotion, notable bantamweight titleholder Wladimir Sidorenko was the latest (he debuted as a pro in November 2001 at 25). However, he was the first of them to become a world champion and he was also the first Ukrainian, aside giant Brothers, to achieve such a feat, out-timing fellow friends Sergey Dzinziruk (for merely a year) and Andrey Kotelnik (for more than three years).
It wasn’t a light road to overcome but Sidorenko mastered his game brilliantly under rather unfriendly circumstances. Firstly, he was a rare European gem in a world of Asian and Latino fighters who have dominated the lightest weight classes for several decades. Being relatively short even for a bantamweight he started his pro career in the same weight class, he had competed in during his amateur days, but later moved up to 118lbs where more money and more reliable competition were of higher occurrence. Secondly, this Energodar native fought a vast majority of his career in Germany. Not the best choice for a fighter of his weight, because divisions less than 154lbs are barely looked after in possibly Europe’s most important boxing hotbed. Finally, at 25 and having a wear of more than three hundred amateur fights around his waist, Sidorenko had little time for procrastination.
Nevertheless, “The Other” Wladimir took a couple of years to adjust himself to the prizefighting (Giovanni Andrade was the biggest name in his ledger during this period) before emerging as a world-ranked contender in a breakthrough year of 2004. Sidorenko consecutively outpointed skilled Nicaraguan Moises Castro, virtually unknown Ghanaian Joseph Agbeko and 41-year old Venezuelan veteran Leo Gamez. Don’t be confused though. Agbeko (21-0), fighting for the second time outside the Black continent, took a three-year long vacation after his narrow and close loss to Sidorenko (1 point) to comeback as one of the strongest bantams in recent memory and now two-time IBF champion of the world. Gamez (2.5 points), who can be named Evander Holyfield of lower weight classes for his preservation and longevity alongside five championship belts in four weight classes, after two decades of competition was still in a pretty good shape (which he proved a year later giving a tough job for rising Thai enforcer Poonsawat).
Wins over Agbeko and Gamez made 28-year old Ukrainian busy-hitter a mandatory challenger for a title vacated by Danish general Johnny Bredahl. Sidorenko realized his chances perfectly outworking an interim champion Julio Zarate (2 points) for a vacant WBA belt in February 2005. Gaining more recognition and getting more fights was a harder work as German fight fans weren’t particularly interested in a small foreigner without a money punch in his bag. Sidorenko marched forward nevertheless. He retained his belt for the first time in October the same year by easily outboxing Venezuelan Jose De Jesus Lopez (1 point) before going into a limbo against two world-class operators soon thereafter. Panamanian Ricardo Cordoba (future WBA interim super bantamweight titleholder) fought Sidorenko twice in just a year (in March 2006 and in March 2007) both times being held to a draw (no points for that). Each time a mutual controversy arose as both camps claimed injustice and cried robbery. However, Sidorenko proved his superiority indirectly in his best career performance in July 2006. It’s when the Ukrainian technician took on strong-built Thai Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym and used some smart footwork and undeniable toughness to keep the Asian fighter at bay for twelve rounds en route to a wide unanimous decision. Poonsawat was the WBA interim champion at the time and went on to become a highly respected WBA super bantamweight beltholder which corresponds to 3 points for the Ukrainian. Sidorenko also got an easy stoppage of barely capable Frenchman Jerome Arnould (1.5 points) and scored a fine road win over Japanese Nobuto Ikehara (1 point) on the same card with the long-time WBC master Hozumi Hasegawa.
A major unification between two recognizable champions was in talk but negotiations didn’t end in any signed papers. What was even worse for the 31-year old Ukrainian, he had reportedly got into promotional mess with Universum and ended fighting a highly awkward WBA mandatory Anselmo Moreno. Boxing out of the defensive the Panamanian was able to frustrate slightly fading Ukrainian and got him out of his track while peppering him with stinging right jabs and sharp counters. As a result, Sidorenko lost both his steam and his belt on a unanimous decision. He tried to regain his belt a year later but failed in a spirited performance losing a close split decision. This fight proved to be the last one for the Ukrainian under Universum aegis. He also took a year-long vacation but it didn’t help him much after, Sidorenko tried to come down in weight (a shutout over Tanzanian Mbwana Matumla at super flyweight limit) but then was seduced by large money to fight Nonito Donaire. It was a brave decision but totally a doomed one. Dwarfing his slower opponent the Filipino Flash made a human punching bag out of the Ukrainian easily destroying him in four painfully one-sided rounds.
It’s hard to imagine Sidorenko has anything left after more than two decades of fighting. He could be back for some money in future but he will never be an elite fighter anymore. Nevertheless, this small Ukrainian has nothing to be ashamed of. He was one of rare Europeans to compete in the same league with world’s best little fighters. He was a respected champion as well. And let’s not forget his classy performance at unpaid ranks. Sidorenko was 290-20 as an amateur with two European gold medals and the bronze medal of Sydney Olympics (with wins over future stars Daniel Ponce De Leon and Omar Narvaez on his way up). This is a legacy to be proud of.
14. Vasily Jirov (Kazakhstan)
Weight class: cruiserweight/heavyweight
Record: 38-3-1, 32 KOs
Years active: 1997-2007, 2009
Titles held: IBF (1999-2003, 6) + minor: WBC International (1998, 0); WBC Continental Americas (1999, 0); WBO NABO (2003-2004, 0).
Three biggest wins: Arthur Williams (30-4-1) – TKO 7, 1999; Dale Brown (19-0-1) – KO 10, 1999; Jorge Fernando Castro (119-7-3) – UD 12, 2002.
If one wants to find an ultimate example of a fighter, who had everything at his hands, realized his unique share of talent to a degree in the first half of his career and then disappointingly faded out in the second, it’s no need to go any further than Vasily “The Tiger” Jirov. Still the best Kazakh professional around (and one of the greatest Kazakh amateur fighters as well) was deemed to be one of the biggest cruiserweight dominators of all time but sadly succumbed to the perils of this sport’s glamour division, let himself into a mental exhaustion and, while still officially active, ended his career being largely forgotten.
Expectations were sky-high before Jirov had ever turned to the paid ranks. Being held to bronze medals and third places for a majority of his amateur career, the Kazakh Russian finally arrived as a superstar of unpaid ranks with a horrific performance at 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Jirov stopped future light heavyweight champion Julio Cesar Gonzalez, outpointed future cruiserweight contenders Pietro Aurino and Troy Ross before getting his biggest victory in the semifinal, defeating Antonio Tarver on points (15-9). The final bout proved to be a stellar moment for the Kazakh fighter, who took the gold medal alongside the Val Barker’s trophy to come out as the biggest star of US-staged Olympic Games and to stay afterwards in America.
Having signed with young Bulgarian manager Ivaylo Gotzev, Jirov was moved as fast as he should have been at the initial part of his pro career. He notched eleven consecutive knockout wins in 1997, added seven more wins in 1998 (five kayos) and stopped two more opponents on his way to the first title shot. No familiar names though except for 19-1-1 Rich LaMontagne and heavyweight journeymen Art Jimmerson and Onebo Maxime. However, somewhat soft touches haven’t affected the outcome of his collision with IBF cruiserweight titleholder Arthur Williams who was stopped in seven fairly one-sided rounds in June 1999 (2.5 points) to start a three-and-a-half-year reign of terror over his part of cruiserweight kingdom.
Numbers can lie of how powerful and hardly beatable was Jirov at his cruiserweight prime. Even despite some decrease in his vastly superior boxing skills – mostly due to trainers who overly relied on his natural punching power – the Kazakh body-murderer was all goods and by far better equipped than almost all of his opponents. He also had some cherry bombs in his left hand – a unique weapon to go with for a southpaw fighter. An underrated hand speed at close quarters and some built-in toughness made up for a dominating cruiserweight in the golden era of 190lbers (it was before the weight limit was moved up). Jirov domination specifically looked great on paper – stoppage wins over Dale Brown (1.5 points), Saul Montana (1.5 points) and Julian Letterlough (1.5 points) were solid, knockouts of Terry McGroom (with an exemplary liver hook – 1.5 points) and Alex Gonzalez (1.5 points) – terrifying.
On the other hand, as good as it looked statistically; Jirov’s career was marred with some promotional problems. He was also a rare guest at prime cable channels fighting in relative obscurity which was a shame for American networks in a long run as it was hard to find more exciting fighter than the Kazakh bomber in early 00’s. Another blemish in his resume is a quality of opposition. Except for Argentinean Jorge “Locomotora” Castro, a veteran of 129 (!) fights whom we cruised over to a unanimous decision (2 points), none of Jirov’s opponent had ever been a champion and most of them ended their days as nothing more than glorified journeymen. A low-key nature of his weight class didn’t help Vasily either. Jirov tried to make up for inferiority of his opponents with increased activity. He fought four non-title ten-rounders during his cruiserweight reign, including a decision over former titleholder Adolpho Washington (0.5 points).
April 2003 fight night with all-time great James Toney proved to be a pinnacle of entire Jirov’s career. A win over former P4P stalwart, who was on a solid way back into ranks, would have instantly propelled the Kazakh warrior deep into P4P considerations. With such name on his ledger (at least 3 points) Jirov could have reached for entirely new horizons of money and recognition. But it was a loss instead and a major, defining setback of his professional boxing life. It wasn’t a hapless and one-sided loss and, believe it or not, it was possibly more of a curse in a long run than a fast knockout defeat. On the positive, Toney vs. Jirov fight became a classic, a FOTY candidate and very well one of the best affairs in a short history of under-heavies.
A subsequent move to the heavyweight was as expected and it was ill-wised. Jirov didn’t let his body grow into a new division and he turned to be just a big cruiserweight fighting real heavyweight. With his questionable defense and some lack of footwork he was handicapped from the very beginning. More important is the fact that Toney loss has also affected his confidence. His memorable loss to Joe Mesi, which turned to be a drama for his opponent too, didn’t fully ruin his career but after a come-from-behind knockout defeat from hard-charging hands veteran Michael Moorer Jirov wasn’t even remotely the same. He tried to revive his career but it ended with a shameful draw with ancient Orlin Norris and later one with life-and-death affair against mediocre journeyman Luke Munsen. Two comebacks in 2007 and 2009 ended in two fast stoppages of trialhorses and, though not officially retired, Jirov’s career looked to be over. A sorry end for a fighter, who was just one fight removed from a possible greatness but who has never crossed that thin line between a good and an outstanding boxer.
13. David Montrose aka Newsboy Brown (USA/Russia)
Weight class: flyweight/bantamweight/featherweight
Record: 66-14-8, 11 KOs
Years active: 1922-1933
Titles held: World Flyweight (California recognized, 1928, 1); California bantamweight (1931-1932, 1); Orient bantamweight (1932, 0).
Three biggest wins: Frankie Genaro (41-4-3) – PTS 10, 1925; Midget Wolgast (65-5-1) – PTS 10, 1930; Panama Al Brown (86-8-8) – PTS 10, 1931.
One of the best flyweight/bantamweight contenders in the Golden Era of the lightest weight classes, Newsboy Brown is the first (of the three) entrée in this list who doesn’t hail either from the USSR or from one of the former soviet republics in a restricted sense. Born David Montrose somewhere in Smolensk region of the Russian Empire to a Jewish family (interestingly neither his exact birth date, nor the precise date of his death are presently known for sure), this little (standing just 5’1” during his boxing prime) kid immigrated overseas while still a teenager to start a new life of hope in America.
He learned to fight at an early age selling newspapers on the street corners of Sioux City, Iowa. A childish way of financial survival made its second and unusual appearance several years later when Montrose decided to give a try at prizefighting. In a funny accident, a ring announcer forgot his real name and introduced a starting pro just as “the brown-skinned newsboy.....Newsboy Brown”, which became his second and actually his boxing-first name for years to come.
Montrose/Brown, who started his pro career in 1922, at 16, with five pugilistic affairs with fellow-townsman Connie Curry, first made some waves two years later when he got his hand on experienced Texan Kid Pancho (49-9-6 at the time) and cruised over him to twelve-round newspaper decision. He repeated this trick one time more in 1924 and also fought Pancho to a draw in between. That year Brown travelled a lot across the States before finally finding his habitat in Southern California the next year. He started it huge with a memorable draw against future flyweight mastermind Fidel LaBarba before losing to George Rivers and tying with dangerous Filipino Young Nationalista. It’s when his real power had finally started coming into life. In a strange way Brown’s rise coincided with the opening of legendary Olympic Auditoruim in Los Angeles, the place where he became a massive attraction. For a year and a half after that Newsboy was almost unstoppable earning huge victories over future flyweight beltholders Frankie Genaro (twice) and ‘Corporal’ Izzy Schwartz, knocking out and then outpointing Nationalista in rematches and fighting to another draw with LaBarba.
In 1927, Brown emerged as a bona-fide flyweight contender but sadly failed to realize his remarkable potential in universally recognized way. His losses to Willie Davis and Frenchy Belanger weren’t shameful by any means as they came in his opponents’ backyards and were very narrow but a defeat of the hands of already beaten Izzy Schwartz was a bitter setback for Brown as it happened in a bid for a vacant NYSAC title. Newsboy came back with zeal the next year defeating respected contenders Johnny McCoy and Speedy Dado to receive some recognition as the best flyweight in the world (but limited to the Western coast of the United States). He tried to gain a wider accept and travelled all way to London to come back with empty hands after a sorrow loss to Johnny Hill in a transcontinental fight.
Newsboy Brown gained a few pounds an entered bantamweight ranks to put together a nice almost lossless two-year run which included several notable wins, including one over formidable flyweight master Midget Wolgast (65-5-1 at the time) who was nearing his prime. Tommy Gardner and Ernie Hood were among his other victims in this period. The next year (1931) proved to be a pinnacle of Brown’s career at least in terms of the level of his opposition. Newsboy started it with a loss and a knockout win over familiar opponent in Speedy Dado to take Californian bantamweight title, and then split a pair of twelve-round decisions with tough Frenchman Eugene Huat before closing the year extremely strong. Montrose firstly retained his belt against undefeated Young Tommy (19-0-1) and then got his career defining win over all-time great Panama Brown (86-8-8), who was still in his fighting prime but without a title at stake as Brown insisted this bout will be fought in overweight.
Newsboy ended 1931 the fourth-ranked bantamweight contender in the world but moved up in weight to meet the penultimate year of his career at featherweight limit. Not before changing his Californian title for the Orient belt after a loss to Tommy in rematch and a pair of wins in Philippines. The year, however, was defined by a trilogy with outstanding Baby Arizmendi. Both fighters got their wins in non-title ten-rounders but in October the Aztec warrior proved to be too much for the Russian-Jewish opponent, decisively beating him to the punch and almost knocking him out in a bid for Californian version of the 126lb world title. Brown was already on the downslide at the time of his third fight with Arizmendi losing to faded former champion Spider Pladner just a couple of month before. Force wasn’t with Montrose anymore but he dug deep to produce one last hooray by outpointing future featherweight champion Chalky Wright before being vaporized by Rodolfo Cazanova in the last fight of his illustrious career, and his only stoppage loss.
All in all, Newsboy Brown’s achievement didn’t look particularly great (on paper) among other contestants in this list. Let’s not forget though that this Jewish kid was competing in era of truly great flyweights and bantamweights. And he was on the same level with them scoring several major wins. Even though he has never won a full and undisputed title, David Montrose could and should be considered a real champion. At least here.
12. Sergey Dzinziruk (Ukraine)
Weight class: light middleweight
Record: 37-0, 23 KOs
Years active: 1999-…
Titles held: WBO (2005-…, 6) + minor: WBO I/C (2003-2004, 1); EBU (2004-2005, 2).
Three biggest wins: Daniel Santos (29-2-1) – UD 12, 2005; Lukas Konecny (36-2) – MD 12, 2008; Joel Julio (34-1) – UD 12, 2008.
A late bloomer is the possible the best description for one of the best hidden gems in professional boxing nowadays. Sergey Dzinziruk was always a couple of inches behind his opponents and even his teammates in terms of development and much needed accolades. It has paid off in a long run. The Ukrainian technician preserved himself well over the course of his professional career to slowly establish himself as the best junior middleweight in the world and to get a major chance for stardom against another late achiever in Sergio Gabriel Martinez.
Meanwhile, Dzinziruk’s paid career started as tedious as it can ever be. Turning pro in early 1999, Dzinziruk had been travelling well across Europe fighting mostly in Poland and in the United Kingdom as well as in Kazakhstan and native Ukraine for four years before signing contract with Universum Box-Promotion to continue his performance in Germany. Despite considerable activity (20 fights – 20 wins) Dzinziruk was anything but a familiar name before relocating himself into European boxing hotbed. Journeymen Mike Algoet (18-5 at the time) and Yuri Tsarenko (5-2-1) were the most recognizable in his ledger during this period.
The level of opposition rose significantly after Dzinziruk started to perform under Universum’s colours. Impressively, the Ukrainian stand-up southpaw boxer-puncher paid little attention to the change loading up an impressive string of nine kayo victories. Wins over Argentineans Marcelo Alejandro Rodriguez (KO 2) and Ariel Gabriel Chavez (TKO 7) rewarded him with the WBO I/C junior middleweight title while the fifth-round stoppage of fading veteran Andrey Pestriayev reminded Russian and Ukrainian fans about Dzyna’s presence. More victories were right around the corner. In July 2004, Dzinziruk destroyed former world title challenger Mamadou Thiam (0.75 points) in three one-sided rounds to capture the European title vacated by Roman Karmazin. In several months Dzinziruk added two more defenses of the top continental belt, stopping another Frenchmen Husseyn Bayram (0.75 points, KO 11) in a rough fight and then clearly outpointing Jimmy Colas (0.5 points), also of France, dropping an iron-chinned boxer twice to punctuate his victory.
It was when Dzinziruk got his WBO #1 ranking and became an obligatory challenger for long-time champion Daniel Santos. The Rican fighter didn’t hesitate to travel to Dzinziruk’s adopted homeland and paid dearly for his braveness. Dzinziruk, using his trademark laser-sharp right jab and straight left hands produced one of the best performances in his career, knocked Santos down in the 8th and finally got a narrow (115-112 x3) but a well-deserved decision over an underrated, three-time and two-division world champion (4 points instantly). Sergey’s WBO title reign, which is still in run after five and a half years since his victory over Santos, started from that point. Unfortunately, as was a usual case of Universum-promoted fighters, Dzinziruk’s opposition wasn’t satisfactory. Sebastian Andres Lujan (1 point), whom “The Razor” dominated over the course of twelve rounds, was a solid contender but the same cannot be said about Russian Alisultan Nadirbegov (1 point for almost a shutout win) and Brazilian Carlos Nascimento (1.5 for knocking him out in eleven). Meanwhile, the Ukrainian stylist wasn’t active enough. It took him two and a half years to make the first three defense of his title. Proposed unification with fellow titlist Roman Karmazin had also fallen through. Things turned to a better side only in 2008. Firstly, Dzinziruk got a majority nod over tough Czech competitor Lukas Konecny (1 point) in a rugged, tough fight. The verdict was thought to be a gift to Dzinziruk by many of ringside observers while Boxingscene saw it narrowly (115-114) in his favour. Then the Ukrainian master got another big win – this time a convincing decision against Columbian Joel Jair Julio (1 point) who had previously lost just once and was on a winning streak since 2006.
Another lengthy hiatus followed right after Julio win. Dzinziruk got in promotional fuss with his handlers at Universum and was also left inactive by a chain of circumstances. A major fight with rising kayo artist James Kirkland was discussed but the troubled American ended 2009 in jail, not in the same ring with the Ukrainian. It took almost a year for Dzinziruk to bail out of his contract with Universum and to sign with Gary Shaw. And it took him even longer to get another fight. Finally, in May 2010 Dzinziruk headlined the ESPN-televised card and showcased his best skills against 34-1 Australian Daniel Dawson. The Ukrainian looked as sharp and as dominant as ever pulling off Winky Wright (against Tito Trinidad) by sticking his jab into Dawson’s face all night long and punishing him mercilessly with straight left hands with an increasing effectiveness before the tenth-round stoppage (1.5 points).
With 13 points to his resume Dzinziruk stays tall in our list. He got the only significant victory in 2005 against Santos but relied masterfully on his longevity and resilience and it has finally paid off when the Ukrainian master got an inside track to world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez whom he faces this weekend. Many experts consider the WBO light middleweight titlist to be a clear underdog. It can look that way but don’t write Dzinziruk off too soon. And don’t be fooled by his lower-than-deserved #8 ranking by The Ring. Unlike aggressor Kelly Pavlik and free-swinging but open-chinned Paul Williams, this tricky southpaw with Olympic pedigree can become a tactical nightmare for the Argentinean superstar. A win over Martinez can both give Dzinziruk 4 more points in our rankings and suddenly catapult him into an unexpected stardom when he nears twilights of his career.
11. Arthur Abraham (Germany/Armenia)
Weight class: middleweight / super middleweight
Record: 32-2, 26 KOs
Years active: 2003-…
Titles held: IBF middleweight (2005-2009, 10) + minor: WBA I/C middleweight (2004-2005, 3).
Three biggest wins: Kingsley Ikeke (23-1) – KO 5, 2005; Edison Miranda (26-0) – UD 12, 2006; Edison Miranda (30-2) – TKO 4, 2008.
As we near the top-10 of our rankings, Arthur Abraham’s name suddenly pops up to create some controversy around the choice. Firstly, is it correct to name Abraham a descendant of post-Soviet school of boxing? No, at least not entirely correct. Abraham took up boxing after his father immigrated from his native Armenia in search for better life for him and his children. He was already a teenager, not a boy, to achieve any notable honours as an amateur fighter. And, unlike another Armenian fighter, who will appear later on this list, Abraham’s entire boxing career was a product of German boxing school. On the other hand, he remains very much Armenian in his core. And speaking about his boxing pedigree, it’s necessary to note that Ulli Wegner and some other coaches of Team Sauerland came out of the German Democratic Republic, which can also be named a soviet republic to a certain degree. Given that (and also bearing in mind Vitaly Tajbert, Dmitry Sartison and Robert Stieglitz), we shall give King Arthur a benefit of a doubt in this case. More interesting is the question how we can render and assess Abraham’s achievements at this point of his boxing life. Let’s look at it his career as a whole.
From the first glance one can see four different stages of King Arthur’s boxing path. He debuted as a pro in August 2003 as a 23-year old. As is the case for a majority of Sauerland’s fighters, he was developed promptly and scored fourteen consecutive knockout victories in 2003 and 2004. No familiar names can be found here except for tough Australian Nader Hamdan (36-1 at the time), who was stopped by Abraham for the first and only time in his lengthy career. 2005 marked the second part of Abraham’s transformation into a world-class fighter and became a breakthrough year for the stocky, powerfully-built Armenian banger. It was an active year for King Arthur and it was the first year he faced off some adversity to overcome. Stoppage wins of Argentineans Luis Daniel Parada and former WBO titlist Hector Javier Velazco (0.75 points) were impressive; dirty mauling affair against Canadian spoiler Ian Garnder was ugly (Gardner was down three time but frustrated Abraham all the way to lose a competitive decision), and a quality victory over recent world title challenger Howard Eastman proved to be a learning experience for the German. The end of the year was marked with an easy blowout of lanky Nigerian Kingsley Ikeke (1.5 points), which gave Mr. Abraham his first and only major title (IBF middleweight).
The next three and a half years was a time of Abraham’s rise to power and quite possibly a peak of his career. He started his title reign with a dominant performance over another Australian veteran Shannon Taylor (1 point), and then ousted rugged Ghanaian Kofi Jantuah (1 point) in a rough fight before running into hard-punching trash-talking Columbian power puncher Edison Miranda. At the end of the day, we could possibly consider Miranda as the defining opponent of Arthur Abraham’s entire run. Miranda was undefeated (26-0), hyped and extremely confident going into the fight which turned to be the middleweight classic (of sorts). With a badly broken jaw and without an ability even to close his mouth Abraham endured several intentional headbutts, a handful of grazing Miranda blows and fought on a sheer will to clinch a hotly disputed (and now almost forgotten) unanimous decision in his favour (1 point). As good as this win was, Abraham paid a major price, was forced to miss eight months and to implant titanium plates to his jaw. Sauerland managers were wise to give him an easy run of fairly meaningless defenses right after that. Knockouts of barely deserving Sebastian Demers, Wayne Elcock and Elvin Ayala (1.5 points each) was diluted with a frightening kayo of more competent fellow expatriate Khoren Gevorgyan (also 1.5 point) and helped Abraham to sharp his skills and to re-build his confidence.
The next fight gave no points to Abraham but it can be praised as maybe his best single performance in years when the Armenian grinder landed overseas for the first time to impressively knock out dangerous Miranda in an anticipated rematch. Unfortunately for him, the fight was fought overweight and Miranda, his presently defining career victim, has never won a world championship despite giving a pair of tries. Abraham came back to Germany right after that to pick apart former beltholder Raul Marquez (2.5 points), to outtough durable LaJuan Simon (1 point) and to stop spirited Mahir Oral (1.5 points) late into the fight.
In 2009 it became clear that Abraham struggled too much to make the middleweight limit. And it was when Ken Hershman’s brilliant idea of picking together the cream of the cream of the super middleweights came across to give the Germany-based Armenian a unique chance to transform him into a superstar. The beginning was scary convincing when Abraham walked down former undisputed (and we mean “really undisputed”) four-belt champion Jermain Taylor (2.25 points as it was a non-title affair) before almost trampling him down into the canvas with a frightening right cross.
The follow-up, however, wasn’t as successful. Abraham lost a majority of rounds to pure boxer Andre Dirrell, who proved what many people had thought about before: he can barely stand a chance against a competent technician with both foot and hand speed. The German fighter looked plodding and found no better way to resolve an issue than to knock out a sitting opponent in an ill-wised attempt to save the fight. It didn’t help him much – DQ 11. He followed it with the crushing defeat from Brit Carl Froch. Aside from being a unanimous decision it can be seen as a knockout loss for Abraham’s self-confidence, his stock and his future prospects.
No spring chicken at 31, Abraham has peaking and immensely gifted 2004 Olympic champion Andre Ward ahead of him in what can be a swan song of his career. Chances are slim that Abraham will create any problems to Ward, and the third loss (almost in a row) will signalize a step back and out of title picture. The win, on the other hands, as improbable as it seems now will immediately bounce King Arthur back to the elite of his weight class and P4P considerations. In two months we shall see which path he will follow.
It was an interesting yet provocative challenge as a number of deserved candidates by far exceeded a number of places even in the prolonged version of the list. I decided to assess their achievements using a specifically designed formula. To do so, I have limited myself (and fighters correspondingly) only to major and semi-major titles and only to the elite opposition.
By semi-major titles I mean top continental trinkets (EBU, NABF, OPBF and USBA) and the IBO title, which has gained a bit of recognition recently. For each victory in a fight, which had any of these belts at stake, a winner got 0.5 points. WBC, WBA and WBO interim belts were also treated as semi-major thus giving corresponding victors 0.5 points for each successful fight. A 0.25 bonus was set for a win by knockout in a semi-major battle.
Four major alphabet titles (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO) were priced at 1 point each (for a victory) and all belts were set additive. NYSAC and NBA regalia gave their holders 2 points for each victorious fight. The undisputed “World” championship cost 4 points instantly. A win by a knockout in a major title fight gave a 0.5 bonus.
By “champion” (aka “elite opposition”) I recognized every fighter, who had won a piece of world championship at least once in his life. WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO titleholders as well as NYSAC/NBA and “World” champions were taken into account. Importantly, interim champions were treated on even terms with “full” champs.
A win is a win but a win over a former (or future) champion is one achievement worth to be taken into account. However, you cannot find two similarly accomplished champions as they differ much through their achievements. A following solution was introduced: for every major title, held by a champion (on separate occasions), his value was increased by a single point. Points gained were divided by two for a win in a non-title fight (regardless were there any “minor” belts at stake or not). A knockout over a titleholder gave its creator 0.5 points in a title fight and 0.25 – in a ranking bout.
Kostya Tszyu kayoed Zab Judah in two. Three major titles were at stake (WBA/WBC/IBF – 3 points in total); Judah was (or would be) a four-time world champion with six belts at his disposal (WBO and IBF junior welterweight (twice), WBC/WBA/IBF welterweight) – 6 points; a stoppage win gives Tszyu 0.5 bonus points. Summing up these achievements we get: 3+6+0.5 = 9.5 points – a bonus, got by Tszyu for defeating Zab Judah.
As almost every ranking method, this one is rather subjective and can be even called biased. But at the end, its purpose wasn’t to give an ultimate and impeccable list of champions sorted strictly by their accomplishments (which is impossible) but rather to select a group of those fighters, who are worth of being remembered specifically. And as every other list this one is opened for any discussion, ignorance, and acceptance etc.
Who have been taken into account? Three groups of fighters were considered by the author; although two sets can be subjects of controversy.
1. Fighters from 15 republics of the former USSR: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan;
2. Fighters, which were born in the Soviet Union, who either retained a considerable connection with its boxing school (maybe via various ex-Soviet trainers) or competed for one of ex-Soviet (or Soviet) national teams in amateurs. Such fighters as Kostya Tszyu, Vic Darchinyan or Robert Stieglitz fall in this category.
3. Fighters, which were born in what was once known as the Russian Empire or in one of future Soviet Republics. Louis “Kid” Kaplan and Benny Bass are two prominent exemplars with David Montrose and Anton Raadik being two other notables, which were mentioned in this research.
While the last two groups are surrounded by controversy to a degree, the author chose to give them a chance – firstly, for completeness, and, secondly, to compare their achievements with those of the present day warriors.