Elite athletes make many sacrifices on their journey to the top of their sport. Boxers are no exception. Super welterweights Madiyar Ashkeyev (8-0, 4 KOs) of Kazakhstan, 29, and Bakhram Murtazaliev, 25, (11-0, 9 KOs) of Russia, and middleweight Meiirim Nursultanov (5-0, 4 KOs), 24, of Kazaskhstan have spent most of the last year away from family and friends while training at the Boxing Laboratory in Oxnard, California.
The trio admits they are sometimes homesick. So, they have created their own boxing family in California, and rely on each other. "We all know each other five, six years. We've been to tournaments (together), and on the national team. We do as much as we can for each other to make life in America easier," said Ashkeyev.
All three fighters are in the last days of their preparation for their appearances on the non-televised undercard of the upcoming showdown between two-time Light Heavyweight World Champion Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) versus Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) and WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) versus Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs).
"We talk with each other about things, and it really helps to have the same team. We understand each other," says Murtazaliev.
"We are the type of people who like to push each other: run faster, lift more weights. We speak the same language. We motivate each other, we help each other to get better," added Murtazaliev. "We're not jealous of each other. Everyone can reach their goals."
The rising stars say they also look to Kovalev, who trains alongside them at the Boxing Laboratory, as a role model, mentor and a "big brother" figure. "Kovalev is a huge motivation for us," said Ashkeyev. "He tells us what's coming our way - what's hard, what's easy, what to do. We are always learning as much as we can. It's nice of him and it's good for us."
During their rare days off, Ashkeyev, Murtazaliev, and Nursultanov say they take advantage of all that Southern California has to offer. "We go out to explore the beautiful cities - Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara," said Murtazaliev. "We try not to be at home and try to spend our time in a better way than sitting at home, at our computers."
Despite being thousands of miles from home, working hard and doing their best to navigate life in a strange language, they wouldn't want to be anywhere else. "We're showing our team (at the Boxing Laboratory) is the best in the world," said Nursultanov. "There is no gym in the world with so many world champions."
Nursultanov said all three fighters love to interact with fans back home and their new fans in the United States on social media. "You can always follow us on social media, we like to show how we train, what we do when training. We hope it's helpful for future boxers and future champions all over the world."