By Jake Donovan
Regardless of Saturday's outcome, Denis Lebedev will remain a cruiserweight champ.
The defending unified titlist squares off versus unbeaten mandatory challenger Murat Gassiev, with both boxers making weight ahead of Saturday's hotly anticipated clash at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow, Russia. Lebedev (29-2, 22KOs) was just under the 200-pound cruiserweight limit, checking in at 199.7 lbs. Gassiev (23-0, 17KOs) came in at a trim and ready 198.3 lbs. for his first world title fight.
The stakes, however, are much lighter than was anticipated by the challenger and his team when initially signing on for the bout.
As suggested by BoxingScene.com Director of Operations Rick Reeno earlier this week, the World Boxing Association (WBA) "Super" cruiserweight title will not be at stake this weekend. Lebedev and his promoter - Andriy Ryabinsky's World of Boxing - successfully lobbied for just the International Boxing Federation (IBF) to be on the line this weekend, while having the WBA recognize the bout as a non-title affair.
Gassiev - who became the IBF mandatory with a frightening 1st round knockout of Jordan Shimmell this past May - and his team were caught off guard by the move, but will still move forward with the bout in present form.
Lebedev, meanwhile, has his work cut out for him both on Saturday and in the months ahead. By agreeing to cling on the to WBA belt by any means necessary, the 37-year old southpaw will now inherit another mandatory challenger for his next title defense, as - regardless of Saturday's outcome, short of a career-threatening ending - he will be on the hook to face the forthcoming winner of the ordered consolidation bout between "regular" titlist Beibut Shumenov and "interim" beltholder Yunier Dorticos.
In regard to the bout itself, it will mark Lebedev's first defense of the IBF belt. He claimed the strap in a 2nd round knockout of Victor Ramirez in their unification bout this past May.