By Alexey Sukachev
They say we often don’t see wood for the trees. That is exactly the curious case of Kirill Pchelnikov. It wasn’t until the last year or so, when one of the most notable representatives of Russian boxing community finally made his mark as one of the country’s top promoters or maybe, just maybe, the most influential of them.
Pchelnikov, who promotes or co-promotes such notables as former WBO middleweight champion Dmitry Pirog, heavyweight rising star Vyacheslav Glazkov, super middleweight contender Maxim Vlasov and a number of other competent boxers, is usually a man of few words. One, who is completely different in this department, is Nikolay Baklanov, the right hand of Mr. Pchelnikov and the vice-president of his promotional company.
Baklanov, a young guy who looks more of a clubber than a boxing enthusiast, yet possesses uncanny knowledge of the fight game, is in perpetual motion, mercurial and vibrant at the very same time. “Man, I can’t make it now. I’m so sorry”, he answered after being asked of an interview. “I have promised my friends to drive them back home. Please, feel free to phone me after the midnight”. And I complied, dialing him well after kids are finally got to sleep.
Still, when the story was going to be summed up, he returned my call – three days after the initial talk. “Kirill is online now, and he is willing to talk”. The chance was there, and losing it was no option. Below is the combined conversation with two leading men of the state’s most willing promotional company, which does it best to bring Russian boxing back into prosperity.
“EVERYONE HATES EVERYONE IN RUSSIAN BOXING”
- Kicking off from what isn’t the most pleasant question to answer: what is the current state of the game here in Russia?
Pchelnikov: “Looks like nobody wants to work properly here. It’s bad. It’s really bad. Russia possesses a very strong boxing tradition; Russian fighters are doing best to help our Homeland to reach for its glory. Still there are those who don’t want to cooperate. That makes me sick! Those people are sitting here and there, their lifetime work is worth of 500 dollars at the very best but they behave themselves as prima donnas.
The degree of hatred in Russian boxing is very high. Part of the problem is those men, who were put to guide local boxing community but they have been doing very little over years except for alienate one promoter from the other, all of them from the fans and boxers from both fans and promoters. That’s sad. Everyone hates everyone in Russian boxing, and that’s sad”.
- You’ve said it is just an integral part of the problem. What are other issues to blame for?
Pchelnikov: “Russian prizefighting is deeply unprofitable. What else can I say when I lose up to 50,000 USD every time I make an event worth watching?! I remember arranging a huge show in Moscow the last May (Dmitry Pirog vs. Nobuhiro Ishida). Only lighting cost me over 40,000 USD, and total expenses were over 350,000 USD. I got nothing back. Nothing!
TV isn’t very kind to me too. However, neither me, nor my men are those who will go begging at a church’s parvis. So be it. If nobody wants to help, if those TV bigwigs aren’t paying any attention to what is really going on in Russian sport and shout nonsense loud – so be it! I’ll do everything myself. I have the power. If I need to invest ten times more funds into the game, I’ll do it for sure. I started the process of terraforming local prizefighting and nothing stops me from getting this job done to the very finish”.
- You have previously worked with German Titov and you have even formed a unified promotional group – KP> Promotions. However, the last time your partner has arranged a quality card was long ago. What is going on? Are there any issues in what seemed to be the most fruitful partnership in Russian boxing community? (Rumors are widespread that KP is experiencing issues with GT and won’t fund him in future).
Baklanov: “We have started to implement an entirely new concept of promotional business in boxing. The purpose of our work now is to centralize our boxing company and to come back strong in Moscow and Moscow Region, the heart of the state. We have previously invested money into other promoters and helped them financially. We have achieved some success going this way. But this approach is limited, and we have abandoned it. And, yes, there were some financial issues but I won’t go into the details.
Our concept now is to pit well-matched fighters against one another in frenetic tournaments for fans’ pleasure. We won’t contract anyone for long terms but we shall give worthy fighters enough opportunities to develop their skills by battling opponents of corresponding levels and skill assets. Padding records with useless cannon fodder is the lost highway for boxers, and we won’t head this way. We shall make quality match-ups between local fighters and foreign opponents. And Russia isn’t the only priority. Signing an agreement for intensive partnership with our German partners Pavel Chibisov and Irene Kostenko was the first step into big Europe. More steps will follow soon”.
Pchelnikov: “I have no issues with German Titov. He has some financial issues. I have supported him financially in the past the same way I continue to support Sergey Kostenko’s activities in Southern Russia. They have accomplished a good deal of work; they have achieved some success in building up local fighters and fan bases in the certain regions of Russia. Their work isn’t profitable unfortunately, which is an unpleasant and common feature of the Russian Boxing. And I cannot afford wasting my money time and again. There will be no dealers at the moment, and I intend to do everything myself.
That doesn’t mean I won’t work with Titov in future. I will. As soon as he’s ready and willing, I’ll support him. Yet, I think he and other promoters should have a glaring look at their activities, they need to resolve their issues”.
- In his interview with me Alexey Titov, the son and the matchmaker of German, claimed that GT Promotions own partial rights for a number of co-promoted boxers. Is this true?
Pchelnikov: “It is (true). I want to underline the certain thing: there’s no conflict between me and German. And, indeed, we have co-managerial and co-promotional ties with a number of local stars and standouts. We help them to build their careers up regardless of whom they are promoted by. We are here to help them, not to ruin their future. Once again, I’m opened to any offers and discussion. If I see one deserves the support I shall surely offer it”.
Baklanov: “There are fighters, whose only promotional agreements are with us; there are those, who are co-promoted either by us and German or by us and Artie Pellulo; and there are those who are co-guided either by Titov and Pellulo or by Titov alone. The latter group includes super bantamweight Andrey Isaev, featherweight Vyacheslav Gusev, welterweights Dmitry Mikhailenko and Ruslan Provodnikov, light heavyweight Vasily Lepikhin”.
- You have mentioned Artie Pellulo in the last statement. I heard numerous rumours of him trying to prevent your activities in Russia, which involve co-promoted fighters. I remember him blocking the Vlasov vs. Gevor bout in the Klitschko vs. Charr undercard (the fight would have been a part of K2-promoted tourney on Sep. 8, but was conducted two months later). What’s the deal?
Baklanov: “I’ll tell you something. We are building our company on mutual faith and trust with fighters. We aren’t exploiting their labour. We don’t do this. Unlike us, Americans are neatly tied with various contracts and agreements. That is their choice and their style of operating. We are different to them in what we value as real.
On to Pellulo. The guy wrote a letter to every major sanctioning body in order to prevent our local activities. That was an open letter to Kirill (Pchelnikov), widespread by international media, and my boss answered in style. Despite co-promotional ties with Pellulo our relationship couldn’t be considered normal”.
Pchelnikov: “Artie has undeniably helped some of our boxers to get into the spotlight in America. But he doesn’t work diligently enough to develop them. He is a tricky person. He can be very nice, so mellifluent with me, but his further actions are speaking more of his real intentions. He couldn’t get fights for our fighters in the States, so he has found nothing greater than to prevent them from fighting at home. His open letter was nonsense. We have not contracts with his fighters; we just don’t sign any, because everything here is based upon trust. And we don’t interfere with his plans regarding American TV. All I do is that I’m inserting fighters in my cards if other “promoters” or “managers” are unable to secure them good fights abroad. Fighters’ careers and their future are of the greatest importance to me.
We do have some co-promotional rights – like 30/70 in my favour – but we are planning to take some time and to reach exclusive agreements with our top fighters. Maxim Vlasov is the first one to go this way; Alisher Rakhimov could be another one to follow soon.
This is a major problem, you know. It’s much more complicated than one could think of. A number of our fighters tend to fly overseas, sign an agreement and then to find themselves in a promotional thistle. They are way too indiscriminate and naïve, which force them to pay a double price where a single one is the limit”.
“WE SHOULD AVOID CROSSING GLAZKOV’S AND MAGO’S PATHS”
- Okay, let’s go to the certain fighters, and we shall start from the boxing’s glamour division. It’s a weight class, where you have a rising star. Tell us about it.
Baklanov: “Indeed, we have. His name is Vyacheslav Glazkov, he is 14-0, with 10 KOs, and he a big test this past Saturday night against Malik Scott. This was a terrific fight”.
"As I’ve already told you, we aren’t playing for keep. It’s not our style at all. Glazkov had a banner year in 2012, defeating rugged veterans Gbenga Oloukun and Konstantin Airich and stopping Tor Hamer within four rounds of action. Hamer was overly hyped coming into that fight but Slava did a fine job too.
We have a great faith in him. He had a vast amateur experience; his credentials are simply superb (Glazkov was 2008 Beijing super heavyweight bronze medalist). And at 28, he is ready to shine.
- Malik Scott isn’t the first-pick choice for an opponent. Despite his gaudy record, he is slick, not very fun to watch and rather dangerous. Why did you pick him?
Baklanov: “Glazkov is co-promoted in the States by Kathy Duva, who is a great woman and a good promoter. She did her best to find a suitable opponent for Vyacheslav. Each time she tried to sign a good, top-10 fighter, nobody accepted our challenge. Glazkov is fighting whoever is left and who isn’t afraid of him”.
- One man, Magomed Abdusalamov (16-0, 16 KOs) says he is willing and ready to take on Glazkov. He has a perfect record, not overly experienced and ranked pretty high by the sanctioning bodies. Why not fight him?
Baklanov: “We should avoid Mago’s collision with Slava. Certainly, not because we are not confident Glazkov will pull it off. He will. But it’s the principle of my boss, Kirill. He doesn’t want young and talented up-and-comers from Russia (Glazkov is originally from Ukraine) to fight each other. They should be moving parallel, not towards each other. There are lots of foreign fighters to battle against. Why do we need to ruin one of these rising careers? It makes no sense.
However, we have never interfered with Mrs. Duva and her work. This is the ethics of boxing business. So when her efforts to secure the Mago fight failed, we just accepted it and left our joy in secret”.
- You have another sound name in your team, a former world champion Oleg Maskaev (37-7, 28 KOs). “The Big O” has just come back and stopped Owen Beck in three. Does he has something left, or is this a swan song?
Baklanov: “At 43, you can hardly imagine Oleg has much left. But he is eager to once again challenge for the title. Surely, the chances are slim he will be even allowed to contend but as soon as he has enough power to bring people to the seats and crush second-tier opponents – that’s fine for us. We shall see if he is ready for something bigger soon. His next fight will be held in May in his second homeland of Mordovia, in Saransk”.
- Let’s go down to the cruiserweight division. WBC #6, WBA #7 and IBF #11 Grigoriy Drozd (36-1, 25 KOs) has been competing under the aegis of GT&KP Promotions for a long-long time. Now, at 33, he is fighting in Vladimir Hryunov’s shows. Has he left you, or have you decided not to extend your deal with him?
Baklanov: “Both versions aren’t fully correct. Drozd is a great person and a good fighter. For a number of reasons – both personal and health-related – he was forced to miss almost two and a half years out of the ring. Then he came to us and asked if we were ready to give him a chance at some other hands. And we choose not to interfere with his plans. He wants something new, and we let him go. The best luck to him! He has earned it”.
“WE WERE READY TO PAY MARTINEZ AS MUCH AS 2M”
- Another of your fighters worth following by is Maxim Vlasov (25-1, 12 KOs). He is ranked #9 by the WBC and WBO, and #10 by the IBF. What is next for him?
Pchelnikov: “First of all, we want to break ties with Artie Pellulo in terms of Maxim’s future. He is already 26, and he hasn’t fought on American TV for almost two years. If he doesn’t fight in the States, we want to put him in something big here, in Russia. Maxim got good wins over Khoren Gevor (32-8) and Geard Ajetovic (21-7-1). Yet both are second-echelon fighters now. Maxim needs bigger challenges. All what is left is the guy, who has just swept Nicola Sjekloca away (Sakio Bika). We want Vlasov to fight super middleweight champions this year. Even if he isn’t yet ready for the chance, we should try and get it anyway.
As for his very next bout, we are targeting April 6 in the Lyubertsy, Moscow Region. We are closing the deal with former world title challenger Ruben Eduardo Acosta (26-8-5, 9 KOs) of Argentina. Not the greatest challenger of all but he is good enough for Maxim to hone his skills”.
- Vlasov is a long-time sparring partner of your brightest gem – Dmitry Pirog (20-0, 15 KOs). Dmitry’s stock has sky-rocketed after his upset kayo of Daniel Jacobs in America. Yet, two and a half years after that the future doesn’t look very positive for Dmitry…
Pchelnikov: “Dmitry is undeniably the best project in the history of Russian boxing. He is free-minded, articulate, intelligent, and he is a great boxer. His story is sad though. He has been suffering from the spine trauma since the Maciel fight. Just when we thought he was ready to go, when we had booked a huge arena in Krasnodar and announced media activities to reveal his next opponent, he suffered the same injury once again. It was right during the penultimate sparring session…
… We still want Dmitry to come back. He is the best Russian fighter period. When he is healthy, he is very hard to deal with. His victory over Daniel Jacobs can only be compare with Oleg’s (Maskaev’s) kayo over Hasim Rahman and the devastative performance, shown by Kostya Tszyu in his debut on American soil. Unfortunately, we cannot yet reveal Dmitry’s next plans. Things didn’t look particularly good now but we shall sit and wait for Pirog’s full recovery”.
- There’s one hard question I want to ask you. Pirog wasn’t injured prior to the Maciel fight, and he has fought twice more after that. Why have you chosen to arrange those fights in Russia, not in America?
Baklanov: “This is the position of our company. Choosing from low-profile opponents and little money in the States and big money and even slightly bigger fighters here in Russia, we have selected the latter. That doesn’t mean Pirog didn’t want to fight overseas. He was crying for that. But nobody – I’ll repeat this one – nobody dared to pay us money, Dmitry is worth of. And he wasn’t offered good opponents. Surely, we should have taken Triple G’s fight if not an injury. But look at Golovkin – he is fighting those, who, we have already defeated convincingly.
There’s the myth that we were offered big money and big names on HBO and rejected them. It’s not true. Moreover, it was us who had offered colossal sums to the combatants to fight in Russia. For example, those sums, which were circulating in BoxingScene articles two years ago, were correct. We used You and your portal to make a public offer. We were ready to pay as much as 2 million to Sergio Martinez, but his team sadly rejected the offer.
It makes us feel as if we aren’t welcome overseas. Nobody is really interested to see Russian boxers overseas due to a plethora of factors. But we have the Russian market, and it’s getting stronger no matter what. Here is the land, we want to invest in. Our mission is to build up a firm boxing structure to rely on later, and to catapult both prizefighting and its industry in Russia. Defending titles for good money in the Homeland is the integral part of this strategy”.
“PREPARE FOR FISTICUFFS ON MARCH 16”
- Going back to your boxers, what can you tell us about Sherzod Husanov (17-0-1, 8 KOs), who has just defeated Pavel Semjonov in Troitsk?
Pchelnikov: “Let’s be honest. Sherzod was out for two and a half years due to various reasons, mostly promotional and financial. Against Semjonov he looked shitty. He was rusty and slow, and fighting like this will not do him any favours. I’ll look at him carefully and then decide what to do next. Husanov will be back on March 9 in Germany to take part in our first co-promotion with our German partners. His opponent will be Fatjon Murati (13-2-2, 3 KOs), and this fight will be scheduled for ten rounds.
On the side note, rising promoter Kazbek Aslambekov is trying to bring up a card, featuring WBO light middleweight champion Zaurbek Baysangurov in his next title defense, on March 23 in Moscow. Surely, we won’t let Husanov fight Zaur right now, as he isn’t ready. But we have firmly set our sight on Baysangurov. He is one of our main targets for Sherzod, though it depends on him if he gets it”.
- I heard rumors of a big card, which you plan for March 16 in Noginsk, Russia. Can you please tell us the details?
Baklanov: “That’ll be a great card – believe me! The main event will see WBO #4 lightweight Alisher Rakhimov (25-1, 12 KOs) fighting WBC #5 Denis Shafikov for a the Sher’s WBC Baltic title. That’ll be helluva fight, and I consider Ali’s chances pretty high even though Shafikov is presently on fire.
The entire show will be co-promoted by KP Promotions and Ural Boxing Promotions. The co-feature will see another epic battle – this time between Ural’s Aslanbek Kozaev (23-0, 7 KOs) and Russian welterweight champion David Avanesyan (13-1, 6 KOs).”
Pchelnikov: “And that’s not all! We have prepared some big surprises for local fans. Fariz “The Warrior” Kazimov (13-2-1, 4 KOs) will set a trap and provide a very nice test to 20-year old Chelyabinsk talent Konstantin Ponomarev (18-0, 9 KOs). Also on the card are light welterweight Fedor Papazov (9-0, 7 KOs) and featherweight banger Ayup Arsaev (13-0, 8 KOs) in separate fights. Prepare for great fisticuffs!”
- Tell us more about your young breed. Who do we need to look after?
Baklanov: “There’s plenty of good fighter to select from and to look after. Give a special look to light heavyweight Ilshat Khusnulgatin (8-0, 4 KOs), light welterweights Papazov and Aik Shakhnazaryan (4-0, 1 KO). The latter can very well be the most talented of the crop. Papazov took Vasily Lomachenko to hell when they fought in the amateur ring, and Khusnulgatin is very much like young Vlasov. He is of the same stature, he is trained by Vlasov’s and Pirog’s coach Victor Petrochenko, and he has a long road in front of him”.
- Are there any new signings?
Pchelnikov: “We have just struck a deal with Uzbek heavyweight Ahror Muralimov (13-0, 11 KOs). He is 25 and fortunately he forgot to sign any deals with American promoters. Muralimov has very heavy hands. He will showcase them also on March 16 in Noginsk, Russia”.
“THERE’S NOBODY TO TAKE FROM THE RUSSIAN NATIONAL TEAM”
- There were rumours of KP signing a deal with no other than Ukrainian light heavyweight Ismayl Sillakh (17-1, 14 KOs). Is this true?
Pchelnikov: “We have some talks, but this situation is too complicated. Sillakh has unresolved problems with his American manager and promoter. We planned to get him a tune-up test against Dima Kudryashov (7-0, 6 KOs) in October, but Ismayl failed to appear. I’m not one to blame him. He has business issues he needs to take care of. We shall see and wait what is going on there”.
- Russian amateur national team didn’t look very good during 2012 London Olympics but one of our fighters – Yegor Mekhontsev – won a gold medal in the light heavyweight class. Do you have any plans to sign either him or any of his teammates?
Pchelnikov: “Truth be told – no, I don’t have such plans. Amateur boxing is very sick in Russia. It doesn’t look good – believe me – specifically in comparison with our former compatriots from Ukraine. Our amateur program is being methodically broken down by local officials and their ill-wised approach. Honestly, there’s nobody to sign there. There are two fighters, who are ready to shine: Mekhontsev and Beterbiyev – but by signing them you will sign their fathers and relatives, and that’s not the best move if you don’t cry for a headache, of course”.
- There’s an ongoing battle between two local boxing authorities: Professional Boxing Federation of Russia and Russian Professional Boxing Board. Whom will you support in this war?
Baklanov: “We shall support nobody. We aren’t into this. It’s just the politics of boxing and nothing else – but these things we don’t want to be involved in. Personally, I have good relationship with both Mikhail Denisov and Igor Mazurov, and their confrontation doesn’t bother me much.
For example, Igor Mazurov has helped us tremendously during our preparations for Pirog vs. Ishida fight. But PBFR is only authorized to sanction WBA/IBF/WBO fights in Russia. We have a number of fighters, whom we want to guide through the WBC. We ask Mikhail for help in these cases. We are opened to work with everyone who wants it – depending on their abilities and our interests”.
- One last question, I cannot avoid asking you. There’s a notorious figure in Russian boxing, named Rodion Pastukh (9-0, 9 KOs). He is 38 years of age and he holds a minor title in the cruiserweight division. Nothing special, but his dubious fame gets bigger and bigger, since he has proclaimed himself the WBC champion of the world (which he is not) and challenged Yegor Mekhontsev to fight him, promising to knock the Olympic champion out in quite a manner. He is often showcased on the cards of your chief Krasnodar partner Sergey Kostenko, and his wins are somewhat suspicious too. Would you like to give any comments?
Pchelnikov: “I know Rodion personally. I don’t want to comment on his boxing skills and his matches, but I’ll tell you that I know many young guns, which aren’t as talented in boxing as Rodion. As a person, he is simply great. He is a friend of mine. He is doing a great job of helping children and setting charity foundations. When people started to taunt him on the web, he took the bit between his teeth, which wasn’t thoughtful enough. But he is a good man”.
- Any closing thoughts?
Pchelnikov: “Russian boxing needs a steady structure to rely on. I have been fighting for years to build it, and I reached for some success in doing so. The level of hatred is still shocking to me, and I’m struggling to unify the efforts of various partners, companies and enthusiasts in order to make this building firm. But I’m not one to pull back. If I need to invest ten times as much money as I’ve already done, I’ll do it. Austin Trout has asked me to include him in one of my shows, and it’s not a joke, man. I’ll accomplish this task and I’ll help Russian boxing to once again become prosperous”.