By Jake Donovan
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are 34 and 39, respectively, and ruling the heavyweight division with an iron fist.
Bernard Hopkins was a month shy of his 46 when he came within a round of once again making history, this time as the oldest fighter to ever capture a world title.
It took Steve Cunningham nearly ten years to gain the full respect his career deserves, but at age 34 is now recognized as the best cruiserweight on the planet.
Juan Manuel Marquez is still running strong as lightweight king at age 36. At the same age, Sergio Martinez has never been at a higher point in his career as he prepares for the second defense of his World middleweight crown this defense.
Standing opposite Martinez this Saturday night is yet another thirtysomething who hopes to prove that youth isn’t limited to one.
As was the case for Martinez a year ago, a win this weekend will mean that life begins at 35 for Sergiy Dzinziurk.
“I’ve mentioned before that 30 is just a number,” states Dzinziruk (37-0, 23KO), who just recently celebrated his 35th birthday. “I feel like I’m 20 years old and I want to keep fighting and winning titles. I’m very comfortable at my age.”
Part of the approach towards his hoping to hit his stride during his mid 30’s has to do with his rate of activity, or lack thereof. Dzinziruk’s five-year run (and counting) as junior middleweight titlist is second only to Chris John for the longest current title reign in the sport.
Yet despite such a long stay at the top and a career now 12-years deep, Dzinziruk has managed to fly way under the radar.
Such is the case when most of your reign takes place overseas and averaged out to barely more than one ring appearance per year.
Most of time spent out of sight came from a sense of loyalty towards Universum Boxing, with whom he signed shortly after a successful run in the amateurs which included a record of 195-25 and a spot on the 1996 Ukraine Olympic boxing squad.
Despite such lofty credentials, Dzinziruk barely rated on the boxing food chain for much of his first six or so years as a pro. True he was undefeated and a fast-rising contender, but even wins over former title challengers Andriy Pesrtiav and Mamadou Thiam weren’t enough to capture the attention of anyone outside of whatever following he enjoyed in his adopted homeland of Germany.
That appeared to change when he upset fellow ’96 Olympic boxer Daniel Santos to begin a lengthy reign at junior middleweight.
However, where challengers miserably failed, inactivity and the politics of the sport proved to be opposition too strong to overcome.
Dzinziruk hasn’t fought more than twice in any year since 2006 and managed to spend more than a year on the inactive roster.
The stretch away from the ring came after the realization that his present situation wasn’t going anywhere. To his credit, the Ukrainian southpaw tried to change that, planning to break free from Universum in favor a stateside run, specifically a desired showdown with Paul Williams in what would’ve marked his stateside debut more than a year ago.
Instead, the only fighting he would do was in the courtroom. Riding out the legal system left him celebrating his 33rd and 34th birthdays without adding another win to his name. Not only was he high-risk and low-reward, but his career had seemingly hit a wall.
That appeared to change last year, once he broke free from his contract with Universum. Relocating to the states, Dziniziruk entered a co-promotional pact with Gary Shaw and Artie Peullo, with the promise of activity and exposure, namely premium slots on cable giants HBO and Showtime.
His stateside debut came last year on Showtime, defending his alphabet title with a 10th round stoppage of fringe contender Daniel Dawson. It was a steady enough performance to where he was able to showcase his skills, but not enough to where it was believed he could become a household name on his own.
Fortunately for Dzinziruk, help was on the way.
Shaw went to work on a number of deals with HBO, including an agreement to get his recent import onto their airwaves, no matter whom against.
The move provided the network with the ability to dictate to Martinez whom he would next face, which brought about this weekend’s bout.
Questions were asked why such a fight was shoved down the throat of one of the few fighters willing to take on any and all comers without having to put a gun to his head. It was never argued that Dzinziruk lacked the talent, but a career spent at junior middleweight and non-existent marketability value was hardly the ideal scenario for a world class champion fresh off of a Fighter of the Year campaign.
As was the case a couple of years ago when he realized that change was needed in his career, Dzinziruk doesn’t pretend to believe that he was anyone’s first choice for this weekend’s assignment at Foxwood Casino’s MGM Grand in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
“Yes, I’m a 154-pounder but I’m going to fight at 160 and let’s see what happens. I feel very confident with this weight.”
The opportunity presented to him also has him confident that his career – now in its 13th year – will finally take a turn for the better. Of course, it will require a win against one of the very best in the game today.
At the very least, it helps that he matches the middleweight king in taking care of his body, allowing him to get better as he grows older.
“I don’t do anything out of the ordinary except live a clean life. I’ve had the same training regimen and have just added to it with experience. The main thing is discipline. If something is not right, I don’t do it.
Fighting is my life, my world. All I know is how to box. I make sure my lifestyle – my health – I take care of. I love fighting and want to win a few more titles. I have great discipline.”
What he hopes to have after this weekend is possession of the middleweight crown, as well as the latest example of 35 becoming the new 25 in regards to the sport at its highest level.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .