Eight days into the New Year prizefighting mourns its first casualty of 2022. Arest Saakyan, aged 26, passed away from a cerebral edema yesterday in Tolyatti, Russia, as a fatal consequence of his last professional bout – an eight round knockout loss to Igor Semernin on December 26 in the very same city.

Saakyan vs. Semernin – scheduled for eight – was the main event of a tiny local show, organized by a relatively new promoter Mikhail Chudnovets of the RAVE Promotions. BoxRec lists this particular card as just the second one for Chudnovets.

On paper, the fight should have been even. Semernin (3-0, 3 KOs), 21, from Belgorod, Russia, was a relative novice, who had kicked off his pro career in late 2020. Saakyan’s record was less impressive but he had more experience coming in: 6-2, 5 KOs. And he hadn’t been stopped before.

According to Svetlana Petoryan, Arest’s sister, it was a bit more complicated. Saakyan took the fight on a short notice.

“He was forced to lose 14 kilograms in a very short span of time”, said Petrosyan to REN TV.

Saakyan is a Tysonesque, stocky fighter of relatively short stature (5’8’’). The bout took place slightly above the super middleweight limit but it wasn’t the lightest weight Arest had previously fought at, and the weight was within his usual weight range.

The scorecard indicates the fight wasn’t even, although scores vary enough not to conclude certain one-sidedness: 70-63, 69-65, and 68-66 – for Semernin at the time of stoppage (1:21 of the eighth round).

However, Svetlana Petrosyan isn’t sure.

“On the 19th minute… It had been bad… Commentary crew said it should have been stopped at that moment. But no one had halted the contest. They saw he wasn’t in [good] shape. It was obvious the fight should have been stopped because he had been too bad [of shape]. He was out of it at that moment”, added the grief-beaten sister.

The footage of the fight can be found in YouTube. Saakyan started bad, allowing Semernin to land several crisp shots in the first round, some of them rocked Arest. The following three rounds were even. Saakyan, giving up much in height and reach, pressed the action and threw hard swings, often missing a lot but also landing some shots cleanly. Semernin used lateral movement and constant footwork not to be a stationary target but was a bit too defense-minded. 

The first worrisome moment occurred at the beginning of the fifth, when Saakyan was wobbled badly by several left hooks and uppercuts of Semernin. He was stormed all over the place, and it was during that moment, when commentator Aik Shakhnzarayan – himself a strong pro with solid credentials, who was once ranked by major sanctioning bodies, and continues fighting as the Russian lightweight champion – indicated the fight should be stopped at the moment.

Meanwhile, Saakyan weathered the storm and continued fighting, outpunching Semernin by the end of the fifth. The early moment had something in common with the WBO light heavyweight fight between Juergen Braehmer and Russian challenger Dmitry Sukhotskiy in December 2009. Sukhotskiy, himself a solid puncher, managed to land a huge series of blows that had Braemer all but done in one of later rounds. At some moment, he landed about ten unanswered power shots – yet the fight wasn’t stopped. Braehmer got through and cruised to a unanimous decision over twelve rounds. Saakyan did not look any worse than Braehmer at the seemingly similar moment.

Arest looked to recover fully by the end of the round and he boxed his way during the seventh stanza, although his trademark aggressiveness lost its steam and was quite ineffective. Shakhnazaryan acknowledged Arest’s mild success and cheered for his teammate and compatriot, not mentioning the rocky moment of the fifth rather than being impressed by Saakyan’s durability.

The second dangerous moment happened in the seventh round. Igor Semernin landed several hard shots – mostly left hooks and left uppercuts but also his right hand – to wobble Saakyan once again. It was worrisome but the Russian-Armenian got through that peril as well and recovered enough to create some late offense.

Although Arest Saakyan had facial marks (particularly a gash under his left eye), nothing indicated he was out of the fight when the bell for the eighth and final round rang. He touched his opponent’s gloves and the fight was underway until the midst of the second minute. Semernin pinned Saakyan to the ropes, landed some weak, measuring shots, and then connected with a huge left hook to the whiskers. Saakyan wobbled badly and went down, being unable to hold the ropes. He was counted out.

Saakyan was unable to get up and was taken to the hospital, where a subdural hematoma was diagnosed. The emergent surgery went as planned and was successful, but a severe cerebral edema developed, and the fighter was placed in a coma. The fallen boxer and his family were supported by both local and national boxing community. Russian Boxing Federation also delivered support but – despite all the efforts – Saakyan had never regained consciousness and lost his life on January the seventh, the date of Orthodox Christmas.

Arest Saakyan was born in Vardenis, Armenia - but he called Novosibirsk, Russia, his home. He started his pro career in Thailand, going 4-0, 3 KOs, before relocating himself to Russia in late 2019. He had never been stopped, and he was praised for his will and character, always fighting to the very end even when chances the victory were slim.

The fallen fighter was assisted by well-known Russian coach Victor Petrochenko during this fight. Petrochenko is best known for guiding Dmitry Pirog to (and through) the WBO middleweight championship in early 10’s. He is also the trainer of the perennial multi-division contender Maxim Vlasov.

The fight was officiated by referee Andrey Dorovskoy, who had been working both as a judge and as a referee for four-plus years (BoxRec lists 44 bouts officiated by him) – a reasonable experience for a clash of this level.

From what can be seen from footage, there’s no indication that either Dorovskoy or Petrochenko failed their duties by any means. Saakyan survived some very rocky moments during the fifth and the seventh, but he recovered and continued with his usual aggressive style. The fight was even before those moments too, arguably giving Saakyan the benefit of a doubt during perilous seconds to be allowed to fight on.

The bout itself wasn’t one-sided. Respected veteran judge Alexander Kalinkin (over 1,000 listed fights as a judge) had it 68-66 – for Semernin – at the time of stoppage, which can be the most precise description of what was going on. The finish itself was fast, initiated by a single power punch rather than a prolonged beating.

Nevertheless, both Russian Boxing Federation and Tolyatti city administration will initiate an investigation and certain legal proceedings to define if the event itself was properly run, organized and medically supported.

“Arest Saakyan has passed away tonight. My deepest condolences go to Arest’s family and his relatives. We share this pain with you and we mourn Arest with you. May he rest in peace," said Igor Semernin via Instagram.

The farewell to the fallen warrior is set for January 10 in Togliatti. He will be buried in Yerevan, the capital of his Motherland the day after. He will be dearly missed.