By Alexey Sukachev
Six years after the start of his career, Anton Novikov, a 24-year old pressure fighter from Kopeysk, Russia, has never been this close from challenging the elite of one of the sport's most intriguing weight classes.
The unbeaten welterweight is now one fight away from that goal, after dominating Karlo Tabaghua over 12 rounds Saturday evening in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Scores were 120-107, 120-108 and 120-109, all in favor of Novikov. Boxingscene.com scored it 120-108 for Novikov, now 26-0 (10KO).
Southpaw Novikov has fought thrice this year, winning twice in Russia and adding another victory overseas. More important is the fact that Novikov has drastically improved his stamina and physical prowess after spending much time in American gyms.
"The Pick Hammer" - Novikov is called - applied his mauling, pressurizing style to dangerous Tabaghua, 28, from the first round. The Abkhaz native, who is now based in Sweden and owns a win over Jackson Osei Bonsu while trekking throughout Europe on his way up, is no slouch and quite a hard nut to crack. He was taking Novikov's punches well but fought mostly defensively.
Novikov has also found a hole in his opponent's defense for his left uppercut, which landed onto Karlo's chin time and again. Tabaghua answered with overhand right hands and also used some dirty tricks and wrestling to clear his way on the inside.
Both boxers were fit and ready for a rumble throughout all twelve rounds. Both started their careers as welterweight but ventured to the north, fighting all way up to the super middleweight division for Tabaghua (lost a wide decision to Piotr Wilczewski) and to the middleweight class for Novikov (held the WBC Youth 160lb title in 2009 and 2010), before coming back to their natural weight class.
The same pattern held true for both fighters throughout the contest. Novikov was much more active connecting Karlo's guard with five-six-seven punch combinations. Even though a majority of those blows were neglected, repulsed or shifted by Tabaghua's tight guard, some of them landed indeed. The Abkhaz was much less active and his punches weren't troubling Novikov, except for a left hook, which opened a cut over Anton's right eye in the seventh. That cut did no hard to Novikov and no good to Tabaghua either.
As the rounds went by, Novikov's dominance got more and more clear. Tabaghua was down at the end of the eleventh, which was correctly ruled a slip by referee Daniel Van De Viele and lost the last round convincingly.
At the end, all three judges awarded a shutout unanimous decision to the local hero. There was a case to be made for a couple of rounds that could have been scored for the Tabaghua, who falls to 18-4 (13KO) but has yet to be stopped.
The win puts Novikov in direct line for a title shot in 2013, if the WBC's rules are properly enforced. His championship's prospects are remained to be seen however - both due to sportive and promotional issues.
Still unbeaten Russian welterweight Alsanbek Kozaev (23-0, 7 KOs) presented himself a fine gift the next day after his 25th anniversary. Kozaev, a slugger with considerable finesse and relevant speed, outhustled and outbrawled determined Uzbek import Behzod Nabiyev (21-3-1, 15 KOs), then cut him badly over one of the eyes and then put another bad gash onto his foe's face with a help of accidental headbutt. The fight was stopped in the ninth, and a unanimous technical decision has been awarded to Kozaev.
27-year old Nabiyev has been fighting in his native land and neighboring Kazakhstan for five and a half years since his last visit to Russia, a cut-induced stoppage loss to Arman Sargsyan in May 2007. However, he proved emphatically that his record, despite considerable padding, wasn't that deceiving as someone would have thought. Nabiyev mixed it hard with Kozaev, trying to land lethal right hooks, but Kozaev's speed allowed him to avoid real danger on the inside in the opening round. The Uzbek fighter showed good resistance in taking unanswered punches at the beginning of the second and landed his share of leather to. Kozaev was taking hard bombs but his chin sustained the damage, and soon he began to outbox his rugged but raw opponent. Nabiyev didn't wilt under Kozaev's pressure but he started to lose rounds, missing much with his wide blows even while fighting toe-to-toe. Kozaev improved his footwork over the time and dominated what was left of the second part of the game. Nabiev's face was a bloody mess at the end of the eighth stanza.
Scores after the stoppage was signalized by Daniel Van de Viele of Belgium were: 89-83 (twice) and 89-82 - for the Russian. BoxingScene had it 87-84 - also for Kozaev, who acquired vacant WBC CISBB and WBC Baltic 147lb titles and is expected to enter top-15 of the WBC ranks after tonight's win. With the win Aslanbek has also continued his run over former compatriots, adding Nabiyev to already defeated Belarussian Andrey Abramenko (17-1-2) and Belgium-based Armenian Sasha Yengoyan (21-0-1) on his opponent's turf - all of these wins coming this year. Kozaev has also blitzed through James Ventry in one to impress some experts overseas as well.
Azerbaijan's Rauf Aghayev (10-1, 3 KOs), who came into the ring under the Russian flag, achieved the soundest success of his young career by winning a hard-fought decision over faded ring veteran Yuri Voronin (27-17-2, 18 KOs). Aghayev acquired a vacant WBC Baltic super bantamweight title in this fight.
Southpaw Voronin, 39, once a competitive fringe contender, had lost his previous seven and was fighting with a damaged right hand. Yet he was able to land his powerful left hook sporadically. Every time he connected flush with his strong left, Aghayev, 29, fully felt the power of the Ukrainian. In the second round, one of those left bombs put the Azerbaijani down but Voronin, feeling pain, was unable to follow it with more shots to put Aghayev in a more serious trouble. A majority of rounds was fought in brawl between two willing contestants. However, Aghayev's youth and freshness aided him much; Voronin feeling his every punch very good. The Ukrainian got fatigued down the stretch with less and less of his left hooks and crosses landing on Aghayev's chin. He was able to cut the Azerbaijani over his left eye in the eighth but that was his last success. Aghayev ended the fight in a wild assault but was unable neither to knock Voroning down or to break his will. Final scores were: 98-90 (twice) and 97-91 - for Rauf Aghayev.
In a battle of two undefeated cruiserweights, 19-year old Vladikavkaz native Murat Gassiev (8-0, 4 KOs) overcame tough resistance of less experienced but older Ivan Serbin (2-1), 27, winning a unanimous decision over six rounds. That was the first victory over an opponent with the winning record for Gassiev, who started his career at the age of 17 - a usual feat of Ural Boxing's fighters.