By Jake Donovan
He knew it was a risk to enter the fight with Rakhim Chakhkiev at less than 100 percent, but Junior Wright would rather go down fighting than to have pulled out of their clash last May.
It simply wasn't his night, as he suffered a one-sided 8th round stoppage to the Russian cruiserweight, who in turn was knocked out by Ola Afolabi in his very next fight.
The win by Afolabi put him in line for a fourth crack at longtime rival Marco Huck this weekend in Germany, while Chakhkiev is forced to rebuild.
As for Wright, a little rest and rehabilitation came after his loss, undergoing surgery and having since returned to win two straight. The latest adventure came on February 20, scoring a1st round knockout of sub .500 Jim Franklin in an off-TV bout before the cameras began rolling for a CBS Sports Network telecast from Sloan, Iowa.
“While training for my world title fight with Rakhim Chakhiev in 2015, I had an injury but still went ahead with the fight. After the match I had surgery and now I am 100 percent,” Wright (15-1-1, 12KOs) told BoxingScene.com over the weekend after posting his latest win. “I feel ready for all the top cruiserweights in the world, from what I see there is not much out there to worry about in the division.”
It might take a big win or two in order to get the other cruiserweights to look his way. The Chicagoland bruiser does bring leverage to the negotiating table, however, as he carries a Top 15 ranking with the World Boxing Association (WBA). Given the sanctioning body's current mission of consolidating its titles, a number of elimination bouts are expected to materialize in the coming months.
Whatever comes of the series, Wright and his team remain confident of big things to come.
“I've always felt that Junior Wright is one of the best cruiserweights in the world and most definitely among the very best American cruiserweights today,” insists Dmitriy Salita, a former 140 lb. contender during his fighting days whose active Salita Promotions roster has Wright chief among its clients. “I believe he has the tools to compete with and beat the best fighters in the cruiserweight division.”
A big fight will have to be secured in order to prove to the masses there's more than just potential to his career. One such target his team has in mind is reigning WBA regular titlist Beibut Shumenov.
Despite its consolidation plans, the WBA is in position to order Shumenov to make at least a voluntary defense, as he's been out of the ring since a disputed 12-round win over B.J. Flores (who is also on Wright's hit list) last July to win the vacant title. He was due to face former WBC champ Krzstzof Wlodarczyk last December, but was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Awaiting the 32-year old Kazakh boxer somewhere down the road will be a crack at the winner of the forthcoming unification bout between Denis Lebedev and Victor Ramirez. Still, at least one title defense will have to come between now and then in order to avoid being stripped of the belt.
That's where Wright hopes to come into the picture.
“I would love the opportunity to fight Beibut Shumenov for a world title,” insists Wright . “He is one of the dominant champions and his fights happen in the U.S. so I feel there is no home-turf advantage, no jet leg to worry about. I feel very confident in this fight and my abilities!”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox