By Alexey Sukachev ( Click Here For Part One )
Go West… Nah, stop. Turn around. Go East then. It’s just the right time.
And it’s just that time when it’s pretty darn hard to imagine modern boxing without fighters from what was once called the “Evil Empire”. And, yes, I’m talking about the former USSR and the present array of once united and now independent states. More than 25 world champions (counting only so-called “major belts”), a lock on the sport’s glamour division, several heated rivalries, a few of dominating masterminds, and now – with the Kostya Tszyu’s arrival to Canastota – we have our first ever Eastern European Hall of Famer (Purists will call for Laszlo Papp but it’s an ultimate exception and Hungary’s placement in Eastern Europe is also a subject at large).
Twenty one years since the first Soviet amateur stalwarts diffused onto the Western (and partly onto the Far Eastern) fight scene, it’s finally a time to give a detailed look back and to remember the cream of the cream of post-Soviet prizefighters. The moment is chosen perfectly, contained by two 20th anniversaries – one which is mentioned above and another one (the dissolution of the Soviet Union) coming this year.
It was an interesting yet provocative challenge as a number of deserved candidates by far exceeded a number of places even in the prolonged version of the list. I decided to assess their achievements using a specifically designed formula. To do so, I have limited myself (and fighters correspondingly) only to major and semi-major titles and only to elite opposition.
By semi-major titles I mean top continental trinkets (EBU, NABF, OPBF and USBA) and the IBO title, which has gained a bit of recognition recently. For each victory in a fight, which had any of these belts at stake, a winner got 0.5 points. WBC, WBA and WBO interim belts were also treated as semi-major thus giving corresponding victors 0.5 points for each successful fight. A 0.25 bonus was set for a win by knockout in a semi-major battle.
Four major alphabet titles (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO) were priced at 1 point each (for a victory) and all belts were set additive. NYSAC and NBA regalia gave their holders 2 points for each victorious fight. The undisputed “World” championship cost 4 points instantly. A win by a knockout in a major title fight gave a 0.5 bonus.
By “champion” (aka “elite opposition”) I recognized every fighter, who had won a piece of world championship at least once in his life. WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO titleholders as well as NYSAC/NBA and “World” champions were taken into account. Importantly, interim champions were treated on even terms with “full” champs.
A win is a win but a win over a former (or future) champion is one achievement worth to be taken into account. However, you cannot find two similarly accomplished champions as they differ much through their achievements. A following solution was introduced: for every major title, held by a champion (on separate occasions), his value was increased by a single point. Points gained were divided by two for a win in a non-title fight (regardless were there any “minor” belts at stake or not). A knockout over a titleholder gave its creator 0.5 points in a title fight and 0.25 – in a ranking bout.
Kostya Tszyu kayoed Zab Judah in two. Three major titles were at stake (WBA/WBC/IBF – 3 points in total); Judah was (or would be) a three-time world champion with five belts at his disposal (WBO and IBF junior welterweight, WBC/WBA/IBF welterweight) – 5 points; a stoppage win gives Tszyu 0.5 bonus points. Summing up these achievements we get: 3+5+0.5 = 8.5 points – a bonus, got by Tszyu for defeating Zab Judah.
As almost every ranking method, this one is rather subjective and can be even called biased. But at the end, its purpose wasn’t to give an ultimate and impeccable list of champions sorted strictly by their accomplishments (which is impossible) but rather to select a group of those fighters, who are worth of being remembered specifically. And as every other list this one is opened for any discussion, ignorance, and acceptance etc.
Who have been taken into account? Three groups of fighters were considered by the author; although two sets can be subjects of controversy.
1. Fighters from 15 republics of the former USSR: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan;
2. Fighters, which were born in the Soviet Union, who either retained a considerable connection with its boxing school (maybe via various ex-Soviet trainers) or competed for one of ex-Soviet (or Soviet) national teams in amateurs. Such fighters as Kostya Tszyu, Vic Darchinyan or Robert Stieglitz fall in this category.
3. Fighters, which were born in what was once known as the Russian Empire or in one of future Soviet Republics. Louis “Kid” Kaplan and Benny Bass are two prominent exemplars with David Montrose and Anton Raadik being two other notables, which were mentioned in this research.
While the last two groups are surrounded by controversy to a degree, the author chose to give them a chance – firstly, for completeness, and, secondly, to compare their achievements with those of present day warriors.
So, without further ado we start from those pugs who…
Failed to make the list
There’s quite a body of such fighters. One champion – Yuri Nuzhnenko – is also presented. Nuzhnenko, a capable pressure fighter, was (and is) competitive at Euro level but hardly can be ranked any higher than that. Yet he was able to get his portion of title in December 2007 when (in the biggest win of his career) he travelled to France to closely outpoint local veteran Frederic Klose over twelve for the WBA interim welterweight title. Despite a subsequent elevation to a “full” title, Nuzhnenko has never been considered a champion since firstly Miguel Cotto, then Antonio Margarito and, finally, Shane Mosley held a so-called “WBA Super” title. He hasn’t helped himself either barely getting past limited Boricua Irving Garcia in his first “title” defense and being defeated by fellow compatriot Vyacheslav Senchenko in April 2009 to lose his regalia. Nuzhnenko has never defeated a champion nor he held any continental titles and earned just a point to go deep under our radar.
Meanwhile, a cutoff was set at 1.5 points which helped us to select 51 fighters. The only one of them (and it was a hard choice) who was left outside despite getting a necessary number of points is Ukrainian Sergey Devakov, a two-time European super bantamweight champion with a stoppage win over British Spencer Oliver among others. With 1.25 points two more boxers are outside looking in – an almost forgotten Estonian Anton Raadik, who was a notable figure on European and American middleweight scene in 40’s and even fought thrice in the Soviet Union (not the former USSR but present and thriving!), and Ukrainian heavyweight banger Vladimir Virchis.
Among those, who didn’t make it, several more accomplished fighters can be mentioned, including cruiserweight kayo artist Denis Lebedev (Russia, 0.75), 2000 Olympic gold medalist Mohummad Abdullayev (Uzbekistan, 0.75), 1988 Seoul boxing champion Vyacheslav Yanovskiy (Russia/Belarus, 0.5), Uzbek heavyweight Timur Ibragimov (0.5) and notable promoter and former European champion Alexander Yagupov (Russia, 0.5) as well as a number of other deserved candidates.
Tonight we shall pay attention to the second group of fighters, which are ranked between the 37th and the 26th positions.
37. Gennady Golovkin (Kazakhstan)
Weight class: middleweight
Record: 20-0, 17 KOs
Years active: 2006-…
When speaking about such a rare talent as Gennady Golovkin, it’s hard to digress from his stellar amateur career to the reality of pro boxing. Fortunately, Gennady made it lots easier with his recent achievements which, though not significant in terms of opposition, gave him enough points to make it to the list. Based on his unpaid career he should be higher in this list nevertheless.
An unsullied force of nature Golovkin amazed amateur boxing community with his aggressive fan-friendly style which coupled well with sound technique and underrated physique. The Kazakh fighter (of half-Russian origin) captured first place at world (2003), junior world (2000) and Asian (2002) amateur championships as well as a silver medal at 2004 Summer Olympics. Wins over current pro hopefuls Yordanis Despaigne, Andy Lee, Andre Dirrell, Matvey Korobov and a brutal knockout of reigning super middleweight star Lucian Bute punctuated his rarely seen talent.
As a pro, Gennady signed with UBP and kicked of his paid career in 2006 with a series of knockout wins. He did fairly well in 2007 and got five wins over credible opponents in 2008 before mounting another strike of early kayos in January 2009 with a blistering beatdown of Javier Mamani. However, Golovkin felt that UBP is holding him back in favor of long-time WBA champion Felix Sturm. A departure, which is yet to be finalized legally, followed and now the Kazakh fighter competes under guidance of little-known Oleg Hermann. This year saw him rising to championship heights, which gave him points but little credibility as both Columbians Nelson Julio Tapia and Milton Nunez were considered gimmies for much more talented Golovkin. The next year can be significantly different as Gennady will match his skills against evenly touted Frenchman Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam somewhere in winter and more lucrative opponents to follow soon.
36. Dmitry Sartison (Kazakhstan/Germany)
Weight class: super middleweight
Record: 27-1, 17 KOs
Years active: 2003-…
Unlike Golovkin, Sartison, who is also of Kazakh origin, has never been a notable figure at unpaid ranks though he did get some honors, mostly at local level. However, that didn’t prevent him from mounting a glorious pro career which is probably at its peak now,
Sartison started slowly though. He debuted in 2003 and took the first three years to adjust himself to a pro game. He finally emerged as a contender in 2007 after winning a close decision over tough Venezuelan Gusmyr Perdomo. That probably wasn’t enough to get a shot at title but Sartison used an inside track to find a road to Copenhagen for a brave but doomed attempt to defeat division’s best fighter at the time in Mikkel Kessler. Dmitry fought bravely but wasn’t in the same league with the Dane and suffered a kayo loss after a lengthy beatdown.
Fortunately for himself, the Kazakh German bounced back from total obscurity into shades of his weight class a year after. He stopped Croatian Stjepan Bozic (1.5 points) to get a “regular” WBA title and further improved his ledger this July after a hard-fought win over Khoren Gevor (1 point). Though not being considered by many to be a legitimate champion (with Andre Ward holding a “super” title), at 30 Sartison has some time to prove skeptics wrong with his future fights. Nothing is solidified for him yet.
35. Zaurbek Baysangurov (Russia)
Weight class: light middleweight
Record: 25-1, 19 KOs
Years active: 2004-…
Baysangurov is another example (see also Alexander Povetkin’s entry) who has promised more than he has yet achieved. At 25, however, this Kiev-based fighter of Chechen origin has enough time to make necessary corrections and to reach some really meaningful results. He lacked that kind of finesse before but he is still in this list which speaks much of his natural talent.
Fighting mostly under the radar of world boxing community, 21-year old Baysangurov put his name in a title mix with a sudden yet telling domination over perennial contender Marco Antonio Rubio to get the WBC international title. In the best fight of his career so far Baysangurov displayed sound boxing skills, fighting maturity and a fan-friendly slugging style. Unfortunately, he evolved into a brawler with a lack of defensive skills later in his career. He barely got past Husseyn Bayram in July 2007, then suffered an injury and lost another half a year. After two title defenses Zaurbek got his chance in December 2008 against American underdog Cornelius Bundrage but being under-trained and psychologically hampered he suffered an upset fifth-round TKO.
Bundrage went on to become a world champion this summer, while Baysangurov is currently on a “rehab mission”. He still has to improve his skills and get back to the basics but his talent and uncanny ability drives him through even when blemishes are well within in a sight, which was the case in Eromosele Albert and recently Richard Gutierrez fights. The Chechen native still can make it to the top but changes in either his camp or his fight approach could be useful.
34. Oleg Yefimovich (Ukraine)
Weight class: featherweight
Record: 19-2, 11 KOs
Years active: 2005-…
Some fighters should be much higher in this list. Little-known (even across the borders of former soviet republics) Donetsk-based featherweight Oleg Yefimovich could have probably never made our logbook hadn’t he acquired a vacant European 126 lb belt in 2008 against previously undefeated Spaniard Sergio Blanco. Yefimovich himself was once-defeated coming into that fight with a single loss to yet-unbeaten Uzbek veteran Alisher Rakhimov. He covered up that setback with several quality wins over fellow compatriots Yuri Voronin and Stanislav Merdov and Juan Garcia Martin to erase those bad memories before moving onto European scale.
Fighting exclusively in Donetsk mostly against limited opposition; Yefimovich retained his title four times (Esham Pickering being the most notable challenger) before suffering a somewhat dubious loss to unheralded Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht. Not the best title run in history but due to selected criteria this Ukrainian boxer-puncher gets his pass in.
33. Levan Kirakosyan (Russia/Armenia)
Weight class: super featherweight
Record: 33-6, 26 KOs
Years active: 1999-…
Kirakosyan’s career was a roller coaster from the very start, and now, at its possible finish, it’s obvious Levan could have this bigger than just becoming a two-time European super featherweight titlist. With a scorching punching power and awkward approach (which seems to be a usual case for Armenia-born fighters – look at Arthur Abraham and Vic Darchinyan for further proofs) Kirakosyan was a major player in his weight class during the 00’s – yet only at European level.
The very beginning of his paid activities wasn’t successful, as he lost a road fight to Ibrahim Vural. Kirakosyan, who kicked it off at a senior age of 26, bounced back well, picked up a few victories along with the Russian 130lb title but things didn’t start to develop well until he relocated himself to France. Since then Kirakosyan fought almost exclusively in Western Europe. His domestic assets were placed in Toulon but France was only a starting ground and a citadel for this kayo artist. His biggest wins (and a pair of his sorriest losses) came across English Channel. It’s where he twice knocked out highly touted Brit Carl Johanneson in a span of two years and did the same to Scott Lawton in February 2010. It’s also where he was stopped by Michael Gomez in 2004 and comebacking Steve Foster a couple of months ago – a possible and of his career.
The win over Lawton started his second European reign which saw a single title defense against Spaniard Fransisco Nohales. His first title run was similar – Kirakosyan destroyed Portuguese Antonio Joao Bento to get a prestigious belt, defended it once against Johanneson before dropping a convincing decision to aforementioned Sergey Gulyakevich a bit later. This inconsistency finally precluded him from getting any world recognition. Still Levan has several sound victories against European and international fighters (Guiseppe Lauri, Remigio Daniel Molina, Athanas Nzau and Nacho Mendoza can also be added to this list) to give a note of himself.
32. Vyacheslav Senchenko (Ukraine)
Weight class: welterweight
Record: 31-0, 20 KOs
Years active: 2002-…
Patience, diligence and determination helped Senchenko to cope with a lengthy, sometimes annoying and sometimes desperate road to international glory and worldwide recognition (sorts of). That wasn’t an easy track but thanks to Vyacheslav’s supporters from Union Boxing Promotion it was almost exclusively domestic and as straightforward as it could possibly be. A world title with a couple of defenses ultimately came as a reward for his praiseworthy commitment.
Ukrainian’s career cannot be defined as illustrious or as eye-popping. For six years since his pro debut in 2002 this Sydney Olympian (lost in the first round of the competitions) was fed up with journeymen of different origins but mostly from the former USSR and (partially) from Western Europe. Five minor titles – WBC CISBB, IBF I/C, IBF International, EBU-EE and WBA I/C – were acquired down the road and defended several times to get Slava some high ranks.
His opposition turned to a better in July 2008, when he defended his belt (obviously in Donetsk where he fought all but five of his bouts including last twelve) against durable Frenchman Frederic Klose and defeated him more convincingly than fellow compatriot and WBA champion Yuri Nuzhnenko. An all-Ukrainian encounter between two welterweight veterans was steadily built and heated up by irreconcilable rivalry between local Union Boxing Promotion and Kiev-based K2 East Promotion, which led to the first ever major title fight between two compatriots to be held in former soviet republics. On April 10, Senchenko came out as a winner after a hard-fought but entertaining scrap becoming firstly a “regular” champion and a year after (when Shane Mosley was defeated by Floyd Mayweather) a full one.
The Ukrainian retained his belt twice – firstly against Japanese Motoki Sasaki and then (this August) versus Venezuelan Charlie Jose Navarro. Both fights weren’t walks in the park for Senchenko though both opponents weren’t world class by any means either. It’s obvious that despite his impressive record and a major title Senchenko isn’t a major player in his weight class held down to a limited recognition among hardcore fans and his partisan crowd. However, he can prove the skeptics wrong if he wins a somewhat bigger fight. Nothing is resolved yet but rising Mexican star Saul Alvarez was mentioned as a possible opponent for such a bout, which will saw the champion as a big underdog against younger, fresher and presumably much more talented challenger.
31. Sergey Kobozev (Russia)
Weight class: cruiserweight
Record: 22-1, 18 KOs
Years active: 1990-1995
A sad hero of one of the most tragic stories about post-Soviet boxing, Kobozev was deemed to be the next huge star to come out of the former USSR. Physically strong but skillful, with a pretty face and TNT in his fists this cruiserweight started his pro career in the Soviet Union and soon was noticed by American managers for his crushing power and ring maturity. In 1991 he debuted in the States and moved only into one direction since then… and up to his tragic death. “There’s no doubt he could have been a heavyweight contender”, recalls Norman “Stoney” Stone, a flamboyant former coach of future two-time heavyweight champion John Ruiz.
Ruiz was once of Kobozev’s most accomplished victims. Two unbeaten fighters collided in a heated encounter on Aug. 8, and the ex-Soviet pugilist came out as an owner of ten-round split decision for his better punching and superior activity. Ruiz wasn’t the only champion to be defeated by “The Russian Bear”. About a year later Kobozev delivered a frightful beating to ex-WBA titlist Robert Daniels who was on his comeback trial but chose to retire in his corner after the eighth round. This win got him the USBA cruiserweight title, which he later defended successfully against long-time contender Andrew Maynard. In a year and a few fights Kobozev got his first title chance but failed to overcome tough Argentinean Marcelo Fabian Dominguez in a bid for the WBC interim cruiserweight title. Kobozev lost a split decision but he has never lost his pride. Sadly, he lost his life instead.
After a loss to Dominguez, Kobozev was offered $100.000 and another fight at title. However, while finances wasn’t there the big Russian made some money on the side, working as a bouncer in one of Russian Brighton Beach restaurants. It was where he got confronted by three Russian thugs – Alexander Nosov, Vasiliy Ermikhine and Natan Gozman who were connected to the godfather of Russian mobsters Vyacheslav Ivankov. Kobozev threw Nosov out of the club for an attempt to threat one of musicians. Four days later he paid with his life for this deed. He was never paid off for his talent, unfortunately.
30. Denis Inkin (Russia)
Weight class: super middleweight
Record: 34-1, 24 KOs
Years active: 2001-…
One of the most obscure champions in the history of his weight class Denis Inkin will always be in the shade of bigger, more fabulous names that competed alongside the Russian boxer-puncher who will struggle to get props he is probably due.
Inkin got a very good if not stellar amateur career, winning 300+ bouts and two world military championships but never shone at a bigger level. In 2001 Denis finally solved out it was better to make a little move out and turned pro in his hometown of Novosibirsk. For the first four years the Russian battler was steadily building up his record against limited opposition. Yet at least two quality wins came along his way with a stoppage of rugged future European champion Mger Mkrtchyan in his second only career fight and another stoppage of much more acclaimed but much more shopworn former champion Julio Cesar Vasquez three years later. A victory over tough British journeyman Ovill McKenzie looks better in a long run but other than that Inkin’s opposition was almost non-descript.
With a nice 21-0 record and without any ranks at all, another change was in need and Denis took necessary risks by signing with German powerhouse Universum Box-Promotions. It was when his best quality – an everlasting patience – got in and settled him down with high expectations and feelings Inkin had got after relocating himself to Germany. The Russian fought through a number of unworthy opponents the next four years but also got a tough job done against undefeated prospects Jozsef Nagy and Kenny Konrad and knocked out Malik Dziarra (27-2 at the time) in four. The win which got him up however was another stoppage, which came his way in autumn 2006 when he dominated former interim champion and perennial contender Mario Veit to finally establish himself as a real challenger for super middleweight crown.
He had to wait two years before reaching the goal as all the slots were taken by much more stellar fighters in Joe Calzaghe, Lucian Bute and Mikkel Kessler who weren’t interested in giving Inkin a chance – mostly for financial reasons. With his patience and modesty the Russian waited for his opportunity and, when it came, he didn’t let it go. In September 2008 he faced rugged Columbian Fulgencio Zuniga and outpointed him closely to get a well-earned twelve-round unanimous decision for a vacant WBO belt. He would lose it just four months late in a grueling battle with teammate Karoly Balzsay which he lost closely but in clear-cut fashion. Inkin has never fought since then and, though no announcement has ever been given, he is thought to be retired by now.
All in all, it was a good run by a solid fighter but Inkin was just not of the highest level to be remembered for a long time. His quiet and unpretentious personality didn’t help him either as he is mostly forgotten even in Russian boxing community.
29. Yuri Romanov (Belarus)
Weight class: lightweight
Record: 21-2, 14 KOs
Years active: 2002-2004, 2006-2008
In one of the saddest stories of modern post-soviet boxing, Belarus has almost lost one of the biggest talents ever to come out of the former USSR. This is the story of Yuri Romanov, who was meant to be nothing at starters, quickly developed in a star-in-making and, unfortunately, was forced to fade out by a chain of circumstances, which occasionally are epitomes of what is wrong with the Sweet Science over Eastern Europe as a whole.
Romanov’s start could hardly be any quicker. Having made his debut on April 11 in 2002, he found himself in his first title fight less than a month after that. With a record 3-0 Romanov, still a couple of months shy of his 20th birthday, went in neighboring Poland to lose a close unanimous decision to much more experienced Krzysztof Bienias (11-1 at the time) in what was seen by many as a controversial outcome. Romanov came back to Belarus and quickly padded his record with six wins in four months. He was 9-1 after that and had never won over a guy with a victory in his ledger not to speak about a positive record. Still he was somehow brought in London to face 27-year old world-ranked contender Steve Murray in what was considered to be a horrible mismatch… Nine and a half rounds later Romanov came out as a winner to begin his widely successful run over top British lightweights of 00’s… Four months later and just nine months into his pro career, Romanov appeared in United Kingdom for the second time to completely wipe out highly regarded technician Bobby Vanzie dropping him five times in eight rounds before a stoppage. In 2003 Romanov also won over Nigel Classen in St.
Petersburg and outpointed 28-5 Steve Conway to further deepen his reputation of a terror for Brits. With 17-1 record, four regional titles at his disposal and #1 WBO rank in October 2004, a future looked bright for 22-year old Belarussian. It would have never been so though…
Romanov’s team was as solid as it could be. Valery Kaplia, top Belarussian promoter, and Philippe Fondu backed him and supported an entire system. It just seemed that Yuri was developing faster than his team could follow him. Nobody’s fault but Romanov’s career got stuck for a while and he was forced to miss almost a year and a half. His comeback wasn’t lucky as well as he lost a close decision to Graham Earl, his only loss to a British fighter. Romanov came back in November 2006 to create a scintillating upset by knocking out 31-0 Spaniard Juan Carlos Diaz Melero in three to capture his European crown in what was a losing effort before that. Romanov followed it up with three title defenses, stopping Bulgarian Tontcho Tontchev (37-4), former two-time world champion Stefano Zoff (43-11-3) and yet another Brit Jonathan Thaxton to become the best European lightweight around; his last fight being held in early April 2008.
It was obvious a title challenge was ahead of him but it has never come. Romanov was named as an opponent for Paulus Moses for a WBA title. His name arose as a possibility for a vacant IBF lightweight belt both against Fernando Angulo and Ali Funeka. Romanov tried to relocate himself to the States but firstly visa issues and then some mysterious mismanagement led to a limbo what was once a highly promising pro career. At 28 with just two close losses, Romanov is probably finished with the sport. For a last year and a half there were no news of him; his boxing path most probably being sadly over for (hopefully) better days in some other works.
28. Alexander Gurov (Ukraine)
Weight class: cruiserweight
Record: 40-6-1, 34 KOs
Years active: 1993-2007
Alexander Gurov, one of the biggest hitters in the history of cruiserweight division, was also doomed with a weak chin which didn’t cope well with his fan-friendly slugging style which prevented him from making a transition from European onto world boxing scene. Still, this very tall (6’6’’) Ukrainian was a major factor at 200lb waters during the second half of 90’s and through 00’s winning a European crown of four different occasions.
Gurov made a jump start to his career in 1993 drawing with future world title challenger Valery Vikhor and knocking out former world title challenger Andrey Rudenko in two easy rounds. In January 1995 13-0-1 Gurov travelled all way up to Levallouis-Perret to take out respected European champion Norbert Ekassi in less than a round. It was a roller coaster for the Ukrainian heavy hitter since then. He lost his title in three rounds to Patrice Aouissi at the same place in just two months but then came back and hit his rival with a thunder in a rematch to end an upside down year of 1995 in a good way and once again with the European crown. Gurov then relinquished his continental regalia for a world title challenge which ended in a horrible disaster when WBA champion Nate Miller quickly annihilated a stiff-legged Ukrainian in two brutal rounds on Feb. 22 in 1997. Gurov quickly regrouped continentally but was destroyed once again – this time by Terry Dunstan to lose his EBU bid.
It looked like Alexander was on his way deeply down but it wasn’t an end of the road for the Ukrainian puncher as someone thought. Gurov resurged himself and loaded up a lengthy five-year long streak of kayos (12 over 5 years since 1998 till 2003). They mostly came against non-descript opposition but a breakthrough year of 2001, which saw Gurov stopping both Torsten and Ruediger May for a variety of minor titles including his third European belt, delivered him another title chance – this time against Frenchman Jean-Marc Mormeck. Gurov put forward a tremendous effort but wasn’t good enough even to last a distance losing the fight via the eighth-round TKO. At 32, this seemed like an end of the road for the Ukrainin but he found some more steam in his engine to get a win over Vincenzo Rossitto for his fourth European title before losing it after a devastating right hand of David Haye in just 51 seconds in December 2005. Gurov made another run at the continental title, got his last significant victory over tough American Shaun George before being held to a majority decision by Vincenzo Cantatore in his penultimate fight.
Gurov wasn’t a world class performer. He got enough abilities to compete at this level, he was strong enough and his punch was at least A, or A- in comparison with cruiserweight limit. However, a weak chin and a considerable lack of speed resulted in his continuous setbacks at the very top of the game.
27. Alexander Zolkin (Russia)
Weight class: heavyweight
Record: 28-3-1, 19 KOs
Years active: 1990-2000
Before Oleg Maskaev and alongside Sergey Kobozev there was Alexander Zolkin, one of the best Russian heavyweights of all the time. Big (6’5” and with his usual combat weight varying from 230 to 250 pounds) and technically sound fighter Zolkin was really capable of becoming a champion of the world but the timing wasn’t right and circumstances also weren’t in his favour. Still he mastered out a nice pro career to become the first ever Russian heavyweight to fight for a piece of the heavyweight championship.
Zolkin was among those Soviet fighters who formed the first wave of Russians to come out of the USSR to fight overseas. Zolkin was slowly transforming himself from an amateur stalwart (and not the best one in Soviet ranks) to a nice-built well-developed professional with fundamental assets. Zolkin’s first notable win came against 37-12-1 Bahamian veteran Andros Ernie Barr in his fourth fight. Six fights later Zolkin stopped his first former titlist Rickey Parkey (IBF cruiserweight champion) in the tenth and followed it up with a win over solid heavyweight gatekeeper James “Quick” Tillis before losing to still-near-his-prime Tony Tubbs in ten. Another loss was soon to follow – this time against perennial heavyweight contender Mike “The Bounty” Hunter on split decision which was sandwiched with the first loss by a victory over another former champion JB Williamson.
The next couple of years were extremely successful for a big Russian. In 1994 Zolkin defeated former contenders Frankie Swindell and Carl Williams, knocked out solid Yahya McClain in three and avenged his loss to Mike Hunter. In 1995, he followed it up with four more wins, including knockout of Rocky Pepelli and Bert Cooper to get his NABF title and then avenged his other loss to Tony Tubbs. A shot at title loomed for Zolkin but a chain of circumstances led to several huge delays before Riddick Bowe finally left the scene for Nigerian Henry Akinwande. Held back by injuries and inactivity, Zolkin prompted to a slow start, was knocked down in the fourth, bravely fought his way back but was ultimately stopped on cut in the tenth.
That shot at title proved to be the only one for the Russian. He was forced to fight managerial problems and injuries but tried to come back nevertheless. After a chain of quality wins in 1999, he made a draw with Eliecer Castillo in January 2000 to end his solid if not good career and to hang his gloves.
26. Boris Sinitsin (Russia)
Weight class: super featherweight
Record: 46-8-1, 24 KOs
Years active: 1992-2005
“And let me also introduce one of our most underrated fighters Boris Sinitsin, our long-time champion and a wonderful man”, said Roman Karmazin during his 2005 Moscow summer presser after his breakthrough win over Kassim Ouma. Sinitsin bashfully stepped out of the shades in Arbat casino, where the presser was held, nodded and quickly stepped back into the twilight. His pro career was much more illustrious but he has never come into a spotlight to get his well-deserved props. At least, it wasn’t so at world level.
As is the case for a majority of Russian fighters, Sinitsin made his first ride against almost unknown local fighters all across the Commonwealth of Independent States. As a 10-1-1 pushover he was brought in Rotterdam as an opponent for 34-3-1 former amateur star Regilio Tuur and went life-and-death with him being set to a controversially wide scoring (99-92, 99-95 and 100-96) for a local boy despite knocking him down in the second. Tuur went up to capture a vacant WBO super featherweight belt in a half a year, which he defended six times over two years; Sinitsin went down with his second loss in a row against Manuel Calvo. However, it was an end of a big 1994 which finally brought some recognition for the Russian fighter. Boris relocated himself to Italy for a two fights and this did a trick as he was able to defeat 25-4-1 Stefano Cassi and 20-1 Giorgio Campanella for the IBF I/C belt at 130lbs.
Sinitsin returned home and milked his record against nobodies for two year. That gave him a small but tiny profit and a good record but he lost some skills and also some experience which resulted in his one and only stoppage loss to 32-0 Julien Lorcy in November 1996 and then a points loss to 25-1 Djamel Lifa a year later. Sinitsin regrouped and in 2000 started his five-year long run of success which included winning the EBU belt on three separate occasions and several high-profile victories, partially against 37-0 Dennis Holbaek Pedersen (KO 3), 26-1 Pedro Miranda (UD 12) and 18-1-1 Craig Doherty (MD 12). Notably, all of Sinitsin’s title (7 in total) wins came abroad as he lacked a powerful a manager of promoter behind his back. His run of success ended in July 2005 when he was lopsidedly defeated by Scottsman Alex Arthur to lose his European regalia.
Much alike Alexander Gurov, Sinitsin wasn’t a world-class performer although it’s a big shame he has never got a single shot at title despite being a leading force on European boxing scene for more than a decade. He is also one of the most unheralded Russian fighters but his dues are paid well in our list.