By Alexey Sukachev
WBC heavyweight champion of the world Vitali Klitschko could hardly find an easier (and less satisfying) end to his fight with 2004 Olympic gold medalist Odlanier Solis than the one which came his way this Saturday night. A right hook, which barely touched, Cuban’s whiskers produced a sudden impact on his knee (not sure which one – the left or the right) and forced Solis to crumble down in pain to be counted out in the very first round. Bam! Another knockout victory for the Big Brother and another victim fails to get up until the count of ten. But what does it mean in terms of historical meaning and how can it change the place of Vitaly among the best fighters from the former Soviet Union and (previously) Russian Empire? The answer is here tonight – in the fifth part of our ranks.
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 prizefighting. 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.
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).
Tonight we are nearing the very top of our rankings. Five fighters from various countries and of different backgrounds will be presented in the fifth part of the story. The lowest ranked of them is barely making this top-10. The highest ranked, on the other hand, who surely needs no introduction and even mentioning his name, crushed through another kayo victim this Saturday night in front of a huge crowd of (booing) German fans and continues his way up in our ranks even despite the fact that he is just months short of his 40th birthday.
The approach to the composition has also considerably changed in comparison with previous parts of the work. Two highly acclaimed Russian boxing experts – Andrey Bazdrev (Sports.ru and the official portal of Professional Boxing Federation of Russia) and Alexander Belenkiy (“Sport-express”) – gave their insights and share their feelings about the best post-Soviet pugilists. New sections have been added to fully assess each of the champions
Selection and scoring criteria are listed below the main text. 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 last article of the series (which will also answer fans’ questions about old-timers and their place in history). Stay tuned!
10. Nikolai Valuev (Russia)
Weight class: heavyweight
Record: 50-2, 34 KOs
Years active: 1993-2009
Titles held: WBA (2005-2007, 3; 2008-2009, 1) + minor: Russian (1999-2000, 1; 2002-2003, 0); PABA (2000-2003, 5); WBA I/C (2004-2005, 5); NABA (2007-2008, 0).
Champions defeated: 4 – Marcelo Fabian Dominguez (2004); John Ruiz (2005 and 2008); Sergey Liakhovich (2008); Evander Holyfield (2008).
Three biggest wins: John Ruiz (41-5-1, 2005) – MD 12; Sergey Liakhovich (23-2, 2008) – UD 12; John Ruiz (43-7-1, 2008) – UD 12.
Points: 18.50 (1.00 - Marcelo Fabian Domiguez, 6.00 - John Ruiz (on two occasions), 1.50 - Owen Beck, 1.50 - Monte Barrett, 1.50 - Jameel McCline, 0.5 0- Sergey Liakhovich, 6.50 - Evander Holyfield (with 5.50 penalty due to fighting an extremely faded version of the legendary champion).
Trivia: The highest (7'0") and the heaviest (up to 350 pounds) boxer ever to gain (partial) recognition as the world champion... Valuev also became the first ever Russian heavyweight titleholder outquicking Oleg Maskaev for eight months... Was born in St. Petersburg on Aug. 1973... Took up and gave up basketball and disk throwing before switching to the fight game... Has an amateur background which includes a fight against Russian top unpaid heavyweight Alexei Lezin, a considerable threat at his time... He was trained by Oleg Shalaev, flamboyant Manvel Gabrielian and Alexander Zimin. Valuev is a celebrity in Russia thanks to his imposing looks combined with intellegence and surprisingly soft manners... Starred a movie in 2008... Has a son and a daughter with wife Galya.
Career: Debuted at 20 in Germany... Had been fighting for almost ten years rather as a circus artist than a serious prizefighter scoring 32 wins (25 by knockout) and fighting all around the world, including Australia, Germany, South Korea, Czech Republic, Japan, USA and, not surprisingly, Russia... His most notable results during this time were unanimous decisions over Toakipa Tasefa (27-2-2) and a tough one against rising Taras Bidenko (3-0); also got Russian and PABA trinkets around his waist... Signed with Sauerland Event in 2003 and blized through heavyweight ranks in just two years remaining freakingly active at the same time... Got stoppage victories over formidable Paolo Vidoz and past-their-primes veterans Attila Levin and Clifford Etienne and a gift against Larry Donald with highly dubious majority decision... Outperformed none other than John Ruiz in a disputed fashion to take his WBA belt on another majority decision in December 2005... Retained his title thrice easily beating overmatched Owen Beck and Monte Barrett into submission before Jameel McCline retired due to a knee injury in Valuev's third defense of the title...
Being 46-0 and a few wins aside from Rocky Marciano's impressive record lost to Ruslan Chagaev to lose his recognition... Quickly regroupped under Alexander Zimin's guidance with two easy wins and then got two more relatively disputed victories over John Ruiz (UD 12) and ancient Evander Holyfield (MD 12) to wrestle back previously owned WBA heavyweight title... Failed to get it on with Ruslan Chagaev under much talked-over and once again contorversial circumstances... Was defeated (controversially according to some opinions) by David Haye in November 2009, lost his belt for the second time and hasn't fought since then.
Style: Standing tall at 7'0" and with a wingspan of 7'1" is a HUGE problem for almost every undersized or relatively slow heavyweight... Slow on his feet and with his punches but rather difficult to be avoided thanks to his size... Jab is rather lazy but with around 320 pounds of weight it becomes more of a damaging power punch which slowly disintegrates opponent's defense... Doesn't have a single knockout punch and isn't eager to mix it up relying more on his jab with a rare use of his right hand... Defense is underrated as he is easy-to-hit... Durable and rugged but can be rocked by a well-placed power punch (as Haye did in the last round of their encounter).
Bazdrev's take: It doesn’t matter if you believe he won his fights vs. John Ruiz, Larry Donald and Holyfield or you think he lost them. It doesn’t matter that he was the first ever Russian to regain the title after losing it and he is a two-time world champion. It doesn’t matter as well that he lost to Chagaev and Haye by split decision. He will always be remembered as the biggest and one of the most horrible heavyweights of all time. The truth is, he is not that bad. He still has some goods to beat the top guys including the Klitschkos, and this is sad if the fight will never be made. The public will pay to see Valuev and Klitschko just posing against each other and then break the canvas, tear the ropes and fall out of the ring.
Valuev was a regular fighter in the 90s, with one exception – he was so big that he didn’t care about getting caught. His first trainer and manager was trying to make him lose weight and move more (that didn’t stop him from throwing multi-punch combinations), Gabrielyan made him use his strength although it wasn’t enough to beat the great all-round boxer as Ruslan Chagaev. The last chapter in his career under the guidance of Alexander Zimin was not as successful as it was supposed to be. Zimin was trying to make Valuev box – use the jab, the movement – and Nico is a little different than Nazarov or Arbachakov. But this is also why he is so popular as a public figure in Russia. With the exception of Klitschkos he is the only well-known boxer for general public; he is shown on TV on a regular basis and is well presented in the press. The sad thing is that you can hardly find a person that had seen him fighting. The timing is great for a comeback here in Russia: either in rich and glamorous Moscow or in his native cold and always raining St. Petersburg. Nico should think again – it’s not about the money, he is not going to earn much. This is history – possibly the greatest part of it.
Belenkiy's take: We can say anything about Nikolay – and it’s true that he has a significant number of haters – but we cannot deny the fact that he is our first heavyweight champion with no one else being in a clear proximity of such an achievement in the nearest future. So, his place in the history of boxing is secured, and he will be much more appreciated in future than he is treated today. An objective assessment of Valuev is spoilt majorly by wrong expectations of fans and experts. Giant fighters before Valuev weren’t given any credits though they had tried to. Advantages of such physical stature are much out outweighed by its disadvantages – a considerable loss of coordination and velocity. Nikolay often said to me that he would have been eager to exchange some of his extra inches and pounds for a bit more speed and quickness.
Nikolay is a two-time heavyweight champion of the world; even despite times are different now from what they once were. Interestingly, Valuev has much more recognition (and I remember speaking with Kostya Tszyu about that) amongst other boxers than he has with fans and some media. Valuev’s story isn’t finished yet, and I hope he will return to the ring after chains of injuries and will show some more of his reservoir in future. Anyway, he secured his place in history – that’s for sure! And his history doesn’t end at this point. I’m quite sure Valuev will soon be back to the squared circle, and we shall see more of him. He has some unfinished business to resolve.
Critical assessment: Clearly not the most deserved beltholder in the recent memory, clumsy and sometimes even laughable Nikolay Valuev accomplished a fascinating deal of transforming himself from bizarre attraction into a heavyweight champion of the world. His championship reign was short and will hardly be remembered but Valuev’s look and his entourage will last for long in memories of those who see him stepping over the ropes. Two wins over John Ruiz were very close but deserved in their entirety. And don’t forget Ruiz is one of the most underpreciated fighters of his generation. Those four, who challenged Valuev in his title defenses (including an ultra faded version of Evander Holyfield), weren’t even remotely deserving of doing so in better days of the sport’s glamour division but weren’t less inferior than some other “elite” heavyweights of the present. And also bear in mind that Valuev did beat four former champions – at least nominally – which isn’t too bad for any fighter as taunted as the Russia’s first heavyweight beltholder.
Valuev get as much points as Arthur Abraham does but, though his championship days were considerably shorter than those of the middleweight killing machine, we give the giant Russian the benefit of the doubt for his persistence, activity and his significance for the Eastern European boxing. And don’t forget that he is also “penalized” (5 points) for his win over Evander Holyfield – not because of a nature of the victory but because of the advanced age of his opponent. Without that penalty “Nico” could have very well been much higher in this list.
9. Yuri Arbachakov (Russia)
Weight class: flyweight
Record: 23-1, 16 KOs
Years active: 1990-1997
Titles held: WBC (1992-1997, 9) + minor: Japanese (1991-1992, 1)
Champions defeated: 4 – Roland Bohol (1990); Muangchai Kittikasem (1992 and 1993); Hugo Rafael Soto (1994) and Chatchai Sasakul (1995)
Three biggest wins: Muangchai Kittikasem (20-1, 1992) – KO 8; Yun Un Chin (27-0, 1992) – UD 12; Chatchai Sasakul (20-0, 1995) – UD 12.
Points: 18.75 – (0.75 – Rolando Bohol; 7.00 – Muangchai Kittikasem; 1.00 – Yun Un Chin; 1.00 – Ysaias Zamudio; 1.00 – Nam Hun Cha; 2.50 – Hugo Rafael Soto; 1.00 – Oscar Arciniega; 2.00 – Chatchai Sasakul; 1.00 – Raul Juarez; 1.50 – Takato Tokuchi)
Trivia: The first ever Russian world champion… Born in 1966 in a small town of Ust’-Kizes. Arbachakov is of Shorian (a small ethnicity in the southwestern part of Siberia) ancestry which results in his Asian looks… One of the first Soviet fighters to turn pro in February 1990 and one of the six ex-Soviets to sign with Keichiro Kanehira… Fought all but one of his fights in Japan… Nicknamed Yuri Ebihara for a close resemblance to WBC flyweight champion of the past Hiroyuki Ebihara… Was trained by famous coach Alexander Zimin (who also trained Orzubek Nazarov, Vyacheslav Yanovski and Nikolay Valuev among others and now trains 25-0 bantamweight Alexander Bakhtin)… Became world champion fighting in an undercard of Mickey Rourke’s third professional contest… Is married to a Japanese woman Kayoko… Failed to find himself in his second Homeland and came back to St. Petersburg in 00’s… Now works as an official. Learn more about Arbachakov in a story by “Boets” TV channel (in Russian) here.
Career: Amateur career wasn’t exceptionally successful at the start but later Arbachakov turned into an outstanding fighter. 1989 was a breakthrough year for the Soviet flyweight as he won Soviet, European and world championships within a year. Final amateur record is 165-21… Signed with Japanese promoter Kanehira and debuted under his aegis on Feb. 1, 1990, at Kokukigan. Streamrolled through his first ten opponents including KO 2 win over former IBF champion Rolando Bohol in his sixth fight… Captured a vacant Japanese flyweight belt in July 1991, which he defended once… 12-0 and just two years in his pro career challenged two-time world titleholder Muangchai Kittikasem and knocked him out in an eight-round thre-knockdown thriller to become the WBC champion of the world… Stopped Kittikasem in a road rematch (TKO 9) to start the most successful year of his career, which also saw him defeating potent American Ysaias Zamudio and long-time Asian champion Nam Hoon Cha in convincing fashion. Sandwiched two wins over Kittikasem with a unanimous decision over tough Korean Chin… Opposition considerably downgraded in the latest part of his reign (including unworthy Mexicans Juarez and Arciniega) but Arbachakov still got huge victories over prime version of Hugo Soto and rising Thai Sasakul… Defeated dangerous Takato Tokuchi in a rough fight but severely damaged and broke his right hand to miss more than a year after that… Came back rusty and indifferent to lose his belt to Sasakul in a rematch… At 31, he ended his short yet illustrious career right after that citing fatigue and lack of determination.
Style: A sound technician with fundamentals skills… Physically strong and had an extreme reservoir of stamina and vigor… Had a good-to-great chin; has never been knocked out and was knocked down just a couple of times with flush punches… A potent left hook on his way out was overshadowed by an extremely dangerous right hand which created a majority of his knockouts… Didn’t like to work opponent’s body but was handful in doing so… Had a nice timing and could work both with single punches multi-blow combinations… After throwing a leading right hand sometimes left himself opened for a counterpunch… A constant mover with a tremendous footwork but could also plant his legs to hit harder than usual.
Bazdrev's take: Arbachakov, along with Orzubek Nazarov and Nikolay Valuev is another Russian boxer trained by Alexander Zimin. He was the first ever Russian champion in professional boxing and it didn’t hurt his popularity at all that he was fighting out of Japan and he was not very fun to watch. 11 WBC flyweight title fights and the only loss – to Chatchai Sasakul whom Yuri had previously defeated (Sasakul then lost the green belt to Manny Pacquiao). Arbachakov emerged as a star in the amateur days, winning a world championship in Moscow in 1989. Later, the fighter known as Yuri Ebihara established himself in the professional ranks and left boxing for good after losing the title. Yuri is training fighters in St. Petersburg now and he is true celebrity there. No one will ever ask him, why the Japanese promoters have never let him try his luck in fights across the ocean. They simply don’t care.
Belenkiy's take: Oppositely to (Orzubek) Nazarov’s case, I feel that Arbachakov has done everything he could have possibly done. Competing in one of the lowest weight classes, where there’s no shortage of outstanding Japanese, Thai and/or Korean champions, he fought the best flyweights around and was rather successful in doing so. Surely, there were good fighters left outside but one can never defeat every worthy opponent of his era – that’s simply impossible. As for probable unification, they are very hard to be arranged in flyweight and in bantamweight, especially when you are guided by the Japanese promoter. Nevertheless, my personal impression is that Arbachakov has done enough to honestly earn his highest merits and there’s nothing what could have been accomplished aside his achievements.
I remember speaking with Yuri shortly after his only loss to Sasakul and I noticed how philosophical he was about it. “I was on the very top and I was the best, so there was the only road and it led me down”. So, we shouldn’t put any blame on his Japanese handlers. Indeed, Arbachakov has been (legally) fooled in terms of his financials but he has fully realized him in pro boxing. As for his injury I don’t feel it cut his career short. He was lucky to do so much without suffering any health issues. And he was also at the time (unlike Nazarov) where injuries started to take toll on him. He had already reached his prime which he admitted during that conversation.
Unfortunately, flyweight isn’t that weight class where you can achieve a true greatness. Even the best flyweights of all time are remembered sporadically and more by experts and fellow boxers than by fans. That’s why, and sadly so, Arbahakov will be largely forgotten with the time. But he will be forever remembered in Russia as the country’s first champion.
Critical assessment: Arbachakov, one of the most dominant and, sadly, one of the most obscure champions of his era, has Hall-of-Famer labels all over him but will most probably end as one of the most deserved candidates who have never got their due recognition. The first reason is his weight class, clearly not the most popular among others. Secondly, his Japanese promoters both prevented him to fight overseas and, at the same time, refused to put him into any unification – a pity choice since WBA Thai master Saen Sor Plonchit was a respected champion who was eager to travel to Japan for right money and IBF’s Danny Romero and Marc Johnson could drastically enhance his legacy if he would have been victorious against them.
Still Arbachakov remains a memorable figure for both Russian and foreign boxing experts. The first ever in many cases Yuri build a legacy on quality over quantity. He twice beat such an established little champion as Thai Kittikassem and twice defeated rock-solid Koreans Cha and Chin in a golden era of Korean boxing. Both Soto and Zamudio were legitimate top-ten contenders while Tokuchi was a Japanese beltholder and also an established fighter. Finally a win over young but experienced Sasakul should also be praised for Arbachakov. As for longevity, Yuri could probably compete more but he hated to see himself a journeyman and made a proud decision to stay retired after the first loss – a proud choice of a real champion.
8. Orzubek Nazarov (Kyrgyzstan)
Weight class: lightweight
Record: 26-1, 19 KOs
Years active: 1990-1998
Titles held: WBA (1993-1998, 6) + minor: Japanese (1991-1992, 2) and OPBF (1992-1993, 5)
Champions defeated: 3 – Dingaan Thobela (1993 and 1994); Joey Gamache (1994) and Leavander Johnson (1997)
Three biggest wins: Dingaan Thobela (29-1-1, 1993) – UD 12; Joey Gamache (36-1, 1994) – TKO 2; Leavander Johnson (26-1-1, 1997) – TKO 7
Points: 22.00 – (4.00 – OPBF title reign; 8.00 – Dingaan Thobela; 3.50 – Joey Gamache; 1.50 –Won Park; 1.00 – Dindo Canoy; 1.50 – Adrianus Taroreh; 2.50 – Leavander Johnson)
Trivia: Represented Kyrgyzstan as a pro and remains the one and only Kyrgyzstan prizefighter to win a portion of the world title. However, Nazarov is an ethnic Uzbek… Alongside Arbachakov, Yanovskiy and three more Soviet boxers turned pro in 1990 under Kanehira promotion and spent the largest part of his career in Japan… He was trained by Alexander Zimin (alongside Yuri Arbachakov and several other boxers)… His alias was “Gussie” in a name of the dominant WBA junior flyweight champion Yoko Gushiken… Was shot in arm in a criminal-related incident in his native Kyrgyzstan, when a car he was in was attacked by gunmen. Nazarov wasn’t related with local mafia unlike two other passengers… Nazarov was elected in Kyrgyz parliament in 2007.
Career: Amateur record is 153-12; his career in unpaid ranks was punctuated by a gold medal in the 1987 European championship.s He was also the bronze medalist of the 1986 Reno world championships… Turned pro on February 1st, 1990, in Japan… Gradually became a dominant Asian lightweight of early 90’s by capturing firstly Japanese and later a prestigious OPBF 135lb titles; scored 14 KOs (including five 1st-round stoppages) in 17 fights on his way up and had just one fight against an opponent with losing record; his victims included Pinoys Ernie Alesna, Boy Ligas and Francis Velasquez and Thai Daomai Sithkodom among others… Travelled to Suuth Africa in October 1993 to defeat underrated local 3-time former/active/future champion Dingaan Thobela in a rough fight to capture the WBA lightweight title; repeated this trick half a year later – this time in dominant fashion… Debuted overseas in late 1994 with a frightening display of skills in a two-round blowout of 36-1 former two-time champion Joey Gamache to effectively unify his title… Came back to Japan for three subsequent defenses against unworthy Asian challengers (one Korean, one Filipino and one Indonesian)… Ventured to the States for the second time in May 1997 to whip future (and sadly passed) IBF champion Leavander Johnson in seven one-sided rounds… Promotional discrepancies led to a lengthy hiatus (two non-title fights were conducted in this period) before Nazarov inked a deal with Acaries brothers to continue his career in France… Looked rusty and, more to it, suffered a detached retina during his seventh defense against Jean-Baptiste Mendy. Chose to continue fighting anyway despite an impaired vision under the danger of losing it fully but lost a close unanimous decision… With his vision deteriorated at 32 years of age and with some considerable wear and tear, he ended his career after his first ever professional loss.
Style: A southpaw stand-up boxer-puncher with a huge power in both hands… Left hands to the solar plexus (watch a knockout of Won Park) and to the head were extremely dangerous… Cut angles perfectly… Had a huge frame and was a relatively big lightweight with immense physical power… Disciplined and tactically aware but could be taken into exchanges… Possessed a solid chin… Combinational puncher.
Bazdrev's take: Nazarov was stopped by Tszyu in the amateurs, and later by Jean-Baptiste Mendy’s thumb in the eye as a professional. After being knocked out by Tszyu (whom he had previously defeated) he went pro and after he tore his retina – Orzubek left boxing for good in 1998. Almost a decade later he became a politician in Kirgizia and was elected to the Parliament. Nazarov is a bodypuncher with devastating power in his both fists, especially the left.
Nazarov is in a way too celebrated here in Russia. Maybe it’s because he is great to watch and his title fight against Joey Gamache (TKO 2 victory) was shown plenty of times on Russian TV. He carried the power from the rings in Soviet Union to the Japanese, South African and American squared circles, where he was too much for Leavander Johnson, Gamache and others. His career was not a very short one and lacked some big names, that held titles in the lightweight division, like Stevie Johnston, Freddie Pendleton, Rafael Ruelas, not to mention Oscar De La Hoya. That’s the business side of our sport. Perhaps, Nazarov was in a way too dangerous for his own good. And now even his most devoted fan can only guess if Nazarov could stand up to expectations. Maybe he was just simply not that good.
Belenkiy's take: I’m afraid this champion will become more and more underrated as time passes by. Unfortunately, due to an eye injury in Mendy fight Nazarov was forced to leave boxing before he had a chance to fully realize his potential. Also he has been done a disservice by his Japanese promoters, who often rejected big lucrative fights in favour of easier title defenses against barely deserving challengers while Nazarov was in his prime. I don’t fully get them (promoters) because Orzubek was ready to tear any fighter apart.
However, he was a long-time champion of the world and earned many accolades for his remarkable performances. But, you know, Orzubek is an unlucky person. He competed at a wrong place in a wrong time and he will be caught by an unfortunate chain of circumstances regarding his place in the history of boxing as well. Nazarov will be remembered just as one of the champions of his time, which doesn’t speak much of his real potential. When he signed with Acaries brothers he could have turned himself into European and then probably into an international star. Sadly, he has been sidelined by an injury so we shall never know how good he really was. He hasn’t got any chances for huge showdowns against likes of Miguel Gonzalez, Stevie Johnston or Shane Mosley under a Japanese promotion and he has been force to lose his chance under the French aegis.
Critical assessment: An impressive and crowd-pleasing fighter with a tremendous potential Orzube Nazarov will fall short in the history of the lightweight division. He was a proud champion but his title reign, despite its longevity, was short in terms of defenses – he retained his title just six times and fought one or two times a year. Unfortunately for him, his promoters were either unable or unwilling to unify his WBA title with any other major belts at the same time though there was a handful of quality champions at the time including such names as Miguel Angel Gonzalez and Philip Holiday who were open-minded enough and not so powerfully promoted to be taken into consideration. Stevie Johnston and Shane Mosley were trickier to get in the same ring with, and the same can be said about WBO champion Artur Grigorian. Any victories of such fighters would have effectively increased Nazarov’s legacy.
The Kyrgyz native prompted to a very good start of his championship reign with wins over majorly forgotten but classy little fighters Thobela (twice) and Gamache. His last defense – road domination over late Leavander Johnson was also fascinating but the mid section of his title run is padded with likes of Adrianus Taroreh and Won Park – definitely, not a Hall-of-Famer resume. It’s worth noting, however, that Nazarov has never been tested and has never faced an adversity. When he faced one he lost and there is no shame in that because he was fighting with just one eye on. He will be remembered as a very solid champion but more as an enigmatic figure whose real potential has never been realized.
7. Artur Grigorian (Uzbekistan)
Weight class: lightweight
Record: 38-1, 22 KOs
Years active: 1994-2004, 2009
Titles held: WBO (1996-2004, 17) + minor: WBO I/C (1995, 1); German International (1994, 0)
Champions defeated: 3 – Antonio Rivera (1996); Raul Horacio Balbi (1997); Stefano Zoff (2002)
Three biggest wins: Antonio Rivera (34-9-2, 1996) – KO 12; Marco Rudolph (13-0, 1998) – TKO 6; Antonio Pitalua (30-1, 2000) – UD 12
Points: 26.00 – (2.50 – Antonio Rivera; 1.50 – Gene Reed; 1.00 – Marty Jakubowski; 2.50 – Raul Horacio Balbi; 1.00 – David Armstrong; 1.50 – Marco Rudolph; 1.00 – Giorgio Campanella; 1.00 – Oscar Garcia Cano; 1.50 – Michael Clark; 1.50 – Wilson Galli; 1.50 – Sandro Casamonica; 1.50 – Zoltan Kalocsai; 1.00 – Antonio Pitalua; 1.50 – Angel Jose Perez; 1.00 – Aldo Nazareno Rios; 1.50 – Rocky Martinez; 2.00 – Stefano Zoff; 1.00 – Matt Zegan)
Trivia: Was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1967… Is of Armenian ancestry; his parents are coming out of troubled Nagorno-Karabakh region… Known as “King Artur” long before Arthur Abraham got to be known under the same name… Finished his pro career in 2004 but came back for a single fight in 2009, outpointing Bulgarian (and also of Armenian ancestry) Kirkor Kirkorov to honor his long-time promoter Klaus-Peter Kohl and his Universum Team… Was trained by Fritz Zdunek… Now works as a trainer for Universum Box-Promotion.
Career: Wasn’t an amateur star but was a good, solid performer at unpaid ranks. Became a silver medalist of 1991 Sydney world championship (losing to Marco Rudolph in the final) and also took part in 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics winning nothing… Signed with Universum Box-Promotions and turned pro in May 1994… Was raised exceptionally fast (8 wins in 1994 and 10 more in 1995) but mostly by being fed with no-hopers, trialhorses and journeymen at best with Oscar Palomino and Paul Kaoma being rare exceptions… Acquired a vacant (vacated by Oscar De La Hoya) WBO lightweight title in April 1996 with the last-round knockout of former IBF featherweight champion Antonio Rivera and kept it untouched for almost eight years, making record-breaking 17 defenses of his regalia… 15 of his title defense took place in Germany, and two more – in Hungary… An average record of his opposition in title fights is solid 28-3… Notable defenses of the belt he owned: 2nd – UD 12 over 101-2 journeyman Marty Jakubowski; 3rd – TKO 11 over future WBA champion Raul Balbi; 5th – bitter amateur rival Marco Rudolph (13-0) stopped in six rounds; 8th – undefeated American Michael Clark knocked out in five; 12th – close UD 12 over tough Mexico-based Columbian Antonio Pitalua (30-1); 16th – UD 12 over former champion Stefano Zoff; 17th – controversial MD 12 over undefeated Pole Maciej “Matt” Zegan (24-0)… Lost his title in a one-sided yet spirited effort against prime Brazilian kayo artist Acelino “Popo” Freitas in his first and only fight overseas, dropping a convincing UD 12. Effectively retired soon after that.
Style: Grigorian wasn’t gifted with a special physical stature, tremendous strength or punching power, and he wasn’t the quickest fighter in the world… However, his sheer determination and dedication to the sport resulted in him reaching the very maximum of his athletic abilities. King Artur has never been in a bad shape throughout his lengthy career always coming top-conditioned and full concentrated on his next opponent… Technically sound southpaw with an underrated power in his left hand… Took a punch well but not exceptionally well (was floored several times in his career)… Often misbalanced which also played against him… Footwork was effective but the speed wasn’t there… Can both dominate his opponents with a volume or be effective as a counterpuncher.
Bazdrev's take: Artur Grigorian, WBO lightweight champion captured the vacant title in 1996 and defended it 17 times in the period of 8 years before he was dethroned by Acelino Freitas. A good amateur, a southpaw, nice mover and hard-hitter, not a great finisher… there was never much variety in his attack – but he didn’t need it for the most part of his career. Not until he met Acelino Freitas. He was not as fast and his defense was not very good, he often had found himself off balance with his hands down. The thing is – younger Grigorian possibly would have pressed Freitas, countered him and tagged with wicked shots coming in. He lost to Brazilian via unanimous decision and we can only guess… Grigorian met some good fighters on his way, including Raul Balbi, former champ Antonio Rivera and Rocky Martinez. No big names, no big money, no recognition outside Europe. 19 title fights, 18 victories, 10 inside the distance. If you think this is so common – think again.
Belenkiy's take: Artur was an extremely long-time WBO champion of the world, but the World Boxing Organization wasn’t quite the same sanctioning body as it is right now. It was a semi-major title, and not really a prestigious one. So, with all due respect to Artur who is really a nice guy, he hasn’t fought any of the best fighters of his generation. He tried to and he could have been possibly competitive against them but the fact is that he has never faced a true challenge.
Girgorian will be remembered as just another lightweight champion with partially padded record. However, his legacy can also raise its stock with time and he will be appreciated more due to the fact that WBO now is much more powerful than it was in Grigorian’s prime. Today World Boxing Organization is considered as a vital part of the Major Four, so the perception (maybe a mis-perception) is that Grigorian was a dominant figure in his time and that he is probably on the same board with such champions as Marco Antonio Barrera or Joe Calzaghe (both of whom were dominant champions at the same time with Artur) which is surely not correct as they were champions with or without the purple belt.
Klaus-Peter Kohl did what he should by slowly raising Artur’s stock with a string of easy title defenses allowing him to earn some mild but constant money in Europe rather than to risk his career overseas which was quite a smart move also it wouldn’t be much appreciated in a historical sense.
Critical assessment: Grigorian is a nice example of a Universum-guided WBO titleholder, who dominated his version of the world championship with a number of partially laughable and partially solid defenses. His 18-bout title winning streak looks exceptionally good on paper (which also was the case for such fighters as Dariusz Michalczewski and Zsolt Erdei) but is heavily padded inside. By no way Artur was the dominant champion of his era and a big “if” question pops out every time when his real potential and his chances against who’s who of the lightweight class (including such fighters as Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley, Paul Spadafora and Jose Luis Castillo just to name a few). At this point of view his 7th position in all-time post-Soviet ranks is mostly a compliment and a natural consequence of the chosen method of point’s evaluation.
Nevertheless, Grigorian wasn’t all that bad. He had a number of quality wins, which are listed above; he avenged his most disappointing amateur loss and he got the better of several fighters who would later transformed into bona-fide contenders (like Antonio Pitalua). All in all, King Artur enjoyed a nice career but definitely not an IBHOF-worthy (unlike smaller Arbachakov and maybe concurrent Nazarov).
6. Vitali Klitschko (Ukraine)
Weight class: heavyweight
Record: 42-2, 39 KOs
Years active: 1996-2004, 2008-…
Titles held: WBC (2004-2005, 1 and 2008-…; 6) + minor: EBU (1998-1999; 2 and 2000-2001, 0); WBO I/C (1998, 0); WBA I/C (2001-2003; 3)
Champions defeated: 6 – Herbie Hide (1998); Orlin Norris (2001); Corrie Sanders (2004); Samuel Peter (2008); Juan Carlos Gomez (2009) and Shannon Briggs (2010)
Three biggest wins: Corrie Sanders (39-2, 2004) – TKO 8; Samuel Peter (30-1, 2008) – TKO 8; Chris Arreola (27-0, 2009) – TKO 10
Points: 26.50 – (2.75 – EBU title reigns; 3.50 – Herbie Hide; 1.50 – Ed Mahone; 1.50 – Obed Sullivan; 0.75 – Orlin Norris; 2.50 – Corrie Sanders; 1.50 – Danny Williams; 2.50 – Samuel Peter; 2.50 – Juan Carlos Gomez; 1.50 – Chris Arreola; 1.00 – Kevin Johnson; 1.50 – Albert Sosnowski; 2.00 – Shannon Briggs; 1.50 – Odlanier Solis)
Trivia: One of the most celebrated fighters from the former USSR… Was born in Kyrgyzstan in the family of a military man (his father was Soviet Air Force colonel)… Has an extensive kick boxing background (suffered his only knockdown by part-time boxer Pele Reid in 1992)… Nickname is “Iron Fist” (“Eisenfaust”)… Trained by Fritz Zdunek… Married to former athlete and model Natalia Yegorova (two sons and a daughter)… Has a Ph.D in Sports Science… Vitali is a Hero of Ukraine (2004); awarded by the Order of Merit (2008 – highest degree), the Order for Courage (2004), the Federal Cross of Merit (2010)… UNESCO representative… Supported the Orange Revolution both publically and personally (by wearing an orange ribbon during his fight with Danny Williams)… Has his own political party named the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR means PUNCH in Russian)… Ran for Major of Kiev seat but lost to Leonid Chernovetskiy; remains an active politician nevertheless.
Career: 195-15, with 80 KOs, as an amateur… 1995 Berlin World Championship super heavyweight silver medalist (lost 3-12 to Alexei Lezin) and 1995 Military World Championship super heavyweight gold medalist (overcame Lezin with a score 10-6)… Turned pro under Universum guidance in November 1996 and was tremendously active for the next two years (ten kayo wins in both 1997 and 1998)… Started his career with 27 straight knockout wins… Notable names defeated on his way up include Julius Francis (18-6, TKO 2), Dicky Ryan (46-3, TKO 5) and Jose Ribalta (39-14-1, TKO 2)… It took Vitaly less than five rounds to capture a vacant European belt and to defend it twice in four months… Destroyed two-time WBO heavyweight champion Herbie Hide in two rounds to start his first reign as a champion; stopped undefeated Ed Mahone and veteran Obed Sullivan in the first two defenses… Retired on his stool after the ninth round of Chris Byrd fight in April 2000 due to a shoulder injury resulting in a TKO loss. Klitschko was well ahead on all three scorecards at the time of stoppage…
… Dominated rugged German Oak Timo Hoffmann to take back his European title in 2000… Moved on with four back-to-back stoppages of former champion Orlin Norris, perennial contenders Larry Donald and Vaughn Bean and avenged his brother’s loss to Ross Puritty in dominant fashion… Challenged world’s best heavyweight Lennox Lewis as a late sub and produced possibly the most memorable heavyweight thriller of this decade; outboxed the champion early in the fight but was stopped on a cut after the sixth round… Came back with a short annihilation of Kirk Johnson and then avenged his brother’s second loss by beating down Corrie Sanders for Lewis’s WBC belt... Defended his title once against overmatched Danny Williams dropping him four times to score the eighth-round TKO… Was twice scheduled to fight then-interim champion Hasim Rahman but several days before the fight retired due to a chain of severe injuries… Was named WBC Emeritus champion to have an inside track to the title in case of the possible un-retirement.
… Indeed, came back out of retirement in sensational way, stopping reigning champion Samuel Peter in a one-sided beatdown almost four years past his last fight… Cruised over six opponents in his second run as the WBC champion of the world, including barely eligible Kevin Johnson and Albert Sosnowski, faded veteran Shannon Briggs, Cuban stars Odlanier Solis and Juan Carlos Gomez and a prime version of Chris Arreola.
Style: Highly unorthodox and highly awkward fighter… Possesses an overwhelming physical stature (stands 6’8” and weighs around 250 lbs) and superior physical power and strength to all other active heavyweights (maybe except for his brother)… Quick and has good reflexes despite his size… Keeps his left hand dangerously low but is very hard to be cleanly tagged despite that… Has one-punch knockout power but mostly relies on an accumulation of punishment… Can throw highly unusual punches from different angles looking amateurishly and even laughable but painfully effective at the same time… Often misbalanced and had previously a tendency to stumble under chaotic pressure… Has an A+ chin and has never been knocked down as a pro despite taking clean power punches from renowned punchers… Intimidating and can overwhelm his opponents psychologically… Injury-prone… Always well-conditioned and has seemingly endless stamina.
Bazdrev's take: Are you tired of Klitschko? Or his nonsense title defenses against the likes of Sosnowski, Briggs and Kevin Johnson – who are completely hopeless. Vitali wasn’t a great technician and strategist before he left boxing after the series of injuries. But Klitschko was the one who proved to be strong and immovable. He was respected. Fearless. Tough. Second best to Lennox. And he is an old guy now, hopeless and uninteresting. He had nothing left to do, nothing to prove – but he spoiled his image and who can be sure now that Vitali is ready to take on the world one more time. Time is ticking away, there’s no country for old men, but I constantly see Vitali in search of it. That’s not the best part of boxing. Klitschko will definitely be more useful being ambassador of boxing, using his popularity in former Soviet countries. Klitschko – Valuev farewell fight to start with?
Belenkiy's take: If one looks at a number of conducted defenses, titles won, opponents defeated and the other stuff like that, Vitali is sitting in an inferior position in comparison with Wladimir. But I think Vitali wouldn’t have lost those fights Wladimir has been defeated in. He would have conquered his brother’s conquerors. Vitali had a lengthy kick boxing career, he has a considerable wear on him and he was pursued by injuries. But there’s no way I can rate him lower than his brother in terms of his boxing abilities.
Maybe his awkward technique looks ugly at one’s glance but go get him. You’ll fail for sure. I’m not quite objective here; Vitali is a good friend of mine, but I think that my arguments are valid here. He is one of the best heavyweights. I recall he was winning a fight versus Lewis. Surely, Lewis wasn’t in top shape, and he was old, but Vitaly was winning it handily and, other than an injury, he would have probably defeated Lewis. Anyway, Vitaly showed once again there’s no boxer in the world whose victory over him would be guaranteed. Vitali Klitschko is an outstanding champion of his era. Like Hopkins, he is a late bloomer, who wasn’t appreciated in his past; he has been constantly underrated even by me.
As for their legacy, it’ll continue to grow up. I noticed there appeared a number of complimentary articles about Klitschko brothers recently, and their all much similar. Many experts say they (Klitschko brothers) would have beaten everyone, including Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. Their recognition is still lower than I expect it to be in the future. Time will pass by, and nostalgia will appear. Many will remember this present time as the Klitschko era and rightfully so.
Critical assessment: Vitali Klitschko is a beacon of both love and hatred in post-Soviet boxing community. Beloved for his achievements, overwhelming durability, an insuperable toughness and irrepressible power of his punches he is also disliked for his promotional approach, “slave offers”, and his unusual, robotic-like fighting style. Both parties (which can be separated geographically between Russian and Ukraine to a certain degree) offer various weighty arguments to support their points of view, and a dispute goes on and fuels up with each conducted fight.
The fact is that Vitali Klitschko is a part of the boxing’s most dominating heavyweight family. With his younger brother Wladimir he is just one haye away from becoming an undisputed two-head champion of the world, a tremendous achievement of the post-Soviet fight scene. However, Vitaly’s toughness and his accomplishments are hardly realizable. Think about it – his record could have been 44-0 as you read this one; he led in both of the fights he lost, and both of his “knockouts” were medically-forced; he lost as much as combined 14 rounds on all judges’ scorecards throughout his career and he wasn’t on the losing side in any of his fights. And at almost 40, his legacy can continue its growth with such fighters as Tomasz Adamek, Nikolay Valuev and David Haye still being seen near the horizon.
Definitely a Hall-of-Famer, Klitschko could have been someone even more accomplished hadn’t he retired for good four years before coming out blazing in recent years. Add eight-ten more defenses of the green belt, and you would see a champion of epic proportions. Vitaly isn’t on the same board with the greats of the past but he is still damn close to them even in the times of trouble of the sport’s glamour division.
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 was 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.