By Keith Idec
It took nearly 12 full rounds, but Murat Gassiev finally silenced Yunier Dorticos on Saturday night.
Russia’s Gassiev dropped Dorticos three times in the 12th round and stopped the previously unbeaten, trash-talking Cuban with just eight seconds remaining in their thoroughly entertaining cruiserweight title unification fight at Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia. Referee Eddie Claudio stopped their World Boxing Super Series semifinal at 2:52 of the 12th round, once Gassiev sent Dorticos through the ropes while scoring his third knockdown of that final round.
The 24-year-old Gassiev improved to 26-0 (1 NC), produced his 19th knockout and displayed an iron chin against a dangerous opponent who had knocked out 95 percent of his foes. The unbeaten champion retained his IBF cruiserweight title and won the WBA cruiserweight championship from the 31-year-old Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs).
His victory over the Miami-based Dorticos moved Gassiev into the WBSS cruiserweight final against Oleksandr Usyk.
“He did a great job,” Gassiev said of Dorticos. “He’s a great champion. He’s really a very hard hitter. I respect him a lot. I hope he’s good, he’s healthy after [the] fight and good luck with his professional career.”
Gassiev and Ukraine’s Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs), who owns the WBC and WBO cruiserweight titles, will meet May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Usyk out-boxed Mairis Briedis (23-1, 18 KOs) to defend his WBO title and take Briedis’ WBC crown in the first WBSS cruiserweight semifinal January 27 in Riga, Latvia, Briedis’ hometown.
Gassiev has now scored two impressive knockouts in as many fights in the WBSS. In the quarterfinals, Gassiev stopped Poland’s Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-4-1, 37 KOs) with a body shot in the third round October 21 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
This fight was much harder than Gassiev’s victory over Wlodarczyk. He didn’t just display power while wearing down Dorticos, though.
Gassiev was patient, smart and effective defensively against an aggressive opponent that rarely stopped moving forward and throwing hard shots of his own.
Dorticos took countless power punches from Gassiev throughout the bout. He withstood getting buzzed during the fifth and 11th rounds, before finally succumbing to Gassiev’s onslaught in the 12th round.
Gassiev crushed Dorticos with a left hook that sent Dorticos to his back with 1:25 left in the fight. Dorticos got up and answered Claudio’s count, but Gassiev drilled Dorticos with another left hook that dropped him a second time 23 seconds later.
A disoriented Dorticos tried to survive until the final bell, but Gassiev wouldn’t allow it. A fight-ending combination by Gassiev knocked Dorticos out of the ring with 17 seconds to go.
“I didn’t feel I [would] finish him because he has the heart of a warrior and he never gave up,” Gassiev said. “He took punches, but he continued fighting.”
Gassiev’s previous vicious assault damaged Dorticos in the 11th round, in which he hit Dorticos with left hooks to the head and body, as well as right hands. He hurt Dorticos with a left uppercut and a right hook that doubled Dorticos over and forced him to hold Gassiev.
By the end of the round, though, the resilient Dorticos was throwing hard punches that made Gassiev reluctant to open up too much.
At the start of the 10th round, Gassiev pressed the action and began lighting up Dorticos with left hooks and left uppercuts. A determined Dorticos continued to take Gassiev’s punishing punches well, but clearly was losing the bout by then.
Gassiev snapped back Dorticos’ head with a left uppercut with a little over two minutes remaining in the ninth round. He added another left uppercut about a minute later and connected with a left hook to Dorticos’ body several seconds thereafter.
Dorticos and Gassiev each had his moments in the eighth round. They took turns during that three-minute stretch landing to the body and head, though neither fighter seemed hurt at any point.
Gassiev landed a hard left hook to Dorticos’ body early in the seventh round. He cracked Gassiev with an overhand right to the head later in the seventh.
Dorticos seemed to start slowing down at the beginning of the sixth round, a round after Gassiev buzzed him. Dorticos became busier as the sixth round continued, but he didn’t seem to have the same snap on his punches as he did during earlier rounds.
Gassiev finally affected Dorticos with his hard punches late in the fifth round. That’s when he landed an overhand right and a left hook that made Dorticos clinch briefly.
Dorticos backed Gassiev into a corner with just over two minutes left in the fourth round and landed an overhand right. Gassiev drilled Dorticos with a left hook to the head just before the midway mark of the fourth, but Dorticos continued to take Gassiev’s hardest shots well.
Dorticos came forward throughout the third round, but he didn’t land many clean punches in those three minutes. Gassiev hit Dorticos with a right hook with about 10 seconds to go in the third.
Gassiev protected himself well in the second round, when Dorticos continued pressuring him. Gassiev had a lot of success in the final 30 seconds of the second round.
He landed a right hook and followed it with a short left uppercut to Dorticos’ head. Gassiev connected with another right hook before the second round ended.
None of those punches prevented Dorticos from coming forward and throwing power shots of his own, though.
Dorticos came after Gassiev early in the first round, but Gassiev kept his hands held high and countered by banging away at Dorticos’ body. Gassiev also landed an overhand right to Dorticos’ head late in the first round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.