By Jake Donovan
A lesser man would’ve mentally packed in and come to the conclusion that another crack at a world title just wasn’t in his destiny.
Denis Shafikov has grown accustomed to dealing with heartbreak and setbacks. It wasn’t easy waiting out postponements and cancellations, but the lightweight contender is finally ready for a second shot at a lasting impression. He faces Rances Barthelemy in a vacant title fight, which headlines the season finale of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Spike TV this Friday in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“It was a quite frustrating,” Shafikov admitted to BoxingScene.com of the long wait for his second career title fight.
Shafikov (36-1-1, 19KOs) was due to face then-lightweight titlist Mickey Bey, first in May and then rescheduled for July before getting canceled altogether. Bey was displeased with the purse offering for what would have been a showcase fight in Las Vegas on the eve of Floyd Mayweather’s 12-round win over Manny Pacquiao in the richest fight in boxing history – and more importantly, a weekend where more media coverage was in town than for any other single event.
The fight was then set to take place this past July in Macau, China. Shafikov was looking forward to returning overseas, as the site played host to his lone career loss, dropping a disappointing 12-round decision to Miguel Vazquez in their title clash last February.
The southpaw from Russia had won two straight heading into what was meant to be his second crack at the belt, but Bey withdrew altogether, vacating his belt as he didn’t like the idea of having to defend on the road and on another promoter’s (Top Rank) show. Had he come to his senses earlier, he could have just as easily defended at home on a Mayweather Promotions card.
Shafikov remained on the Macau show, settling for late replacement Roy Mukhlis whom he stopped in three rounds. He now gets to fight for that vacant title, although it meant training for a new opponent.
“You prepare for a certain opponent and then it gets canceled,” Shafikov says of what he’s endured over the past few months. “Then he gives away with his belt. There's only so much time you can train.
“It was frustrating but I was confident that all of the bases covered. Now on Friday, it will happen. We will go out there with the intention of becoming the new lightweight champion of the world.”
Getting to this point also meant knowing when to slow down and then pick it back up in training camp, which is where Shafikov benefits from the team by whom he is surrounded.
Leading the charge is top cornerman Abel Sanchez, who is best known these days for his work with unbeaten unified middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin. His role for the past year or so in getting Shafikov ready for Friday’s fight was just making sure his fighter remained ready without overkill.
“I'm not a big believer in overtraining,” Sanchez said in guarding against the suggestion that Shafikov could have burned himself out prior to fight night. “You can overspar, but in all sports you train all year round. We do the things necessary to stay in basic shape.”
It will take more than the basics in the ring to get past Barthelemy, an unbeaten boxer from Miami by way of Cuba who previously reigned as a super featherweight titlist. He has since moved up in weight, all the way up to 140 lbs. before dropping back down for the opportunity to earn a belt in a second weight class.
Shafikov is very familiar with his opponent and fully expects a stiff challenge. As is often the case with the 5’5” boxer expects a tall order awaiting him on Friday.
“I'm used to being the shortest guy on the block,” Shafikov notes of facing the 5’10” Barthelemy. “I'm resigned to the fact that I'll always be fighting taller guys.”
Height aside, he knows that winning the belt on Friday evening will come only through hard work.
“I saw the fight with Antonio DeMarco in June,” Shafikov notes of Barthelemy’s most recent performance, a 10-round shutout win this past Father’s Day in Las Vegas. “Barthelemy is a world-class boxer with a tremendous amateur background. He truly belongs on this stage.”
Shafikov has always believed he belongs on this stage, but made sure to correct everything that went wrong the last time he made it to this point.
“Denis had a setback and it put it in his head that it would never happen again,” Sanchez noted of what went wrong versus Vazquez. “His mental attitude is among the best of guys that I've trained. He just wants to go, go, go.”
The fighter himself was far more direct in the mistakes he previously made and the fight-night demeanor he carries moving forward.
“With Vazquez, we made the mistake of expecting him to fight one way and it turning out to be another fight entirely,” Shafikov admits. “Now with the preparation I've had, we should prevail. What Vazquez did - he changed his ways for that fight He neutralized his strength. I will never be overconfident going into another fight.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox