By Alexey Sukachev
Over the last few years a number of Russian fighters have either debuted on American soil or relocated to the States in search for better career opportunities. Some of them have signed deals directly with American-based manager or promotional companies. Others chose to retain links with their Russian handlers in order to develop their fan base at home while staying active and honing their skills against local opponents.
One particular team, which is very active with their fighters on the American market, is Chelyabinsk-based Ural Boxing Promotions, which combines Ossetian and Uralic schools of boxing within the same group. UBP’s brightest prospects – IBF #1 lightweight Denis Shafikov and light welterweight Anton Novikov – both fought for major titles in 2014, narrowly losing both (to Miguel Vazquez and Jesse Vargas correspondingly) in close fights. Other gems – like undefeated 22-year old welterweight Konstantin Ponomarev and 21-year old cruiserweight Murat Gassiev – are also making some waves overseas.
BoxingScene caught up with always-friendly UBP director Alexey Vasiliev and his
American partner Leo Korolinski, a manager of several top-notch UBP pugilists, to know more about UBP’s present status and the team’s closest plans.
BoxingScene: “Tell us more about fighters UBP is working with right now”.
Vasiliev: “We are presently working with Anton Novikov (29-1, 10 KOs), Denis Shafikov (35-1-1, 19 KOs), Konstantin Ponomarev (27-0, 13 KOs), Murat Gassiev (20-0, 14 KOs), Evgueny Pavko (7-0-1, 3 KOs), Soslan Tedeev (6-0, 5 KOs), Alexey Zubov (6-0, 4 KOs) and Bakhram Murtazaliev (4-0, 2 KOs). The first four are being managed (and in case of Denis Shafikov – co-managed) by our good friend Leo Korolinski”.
BoxingScene: “Let’s start from Anton Novikov, who fought against Jesse Vargas for the WBA light welterweight title last August, and who looked pretty good in a wider-than-it-really-was decision loss (111-118, 111-118, and 111-117)”.
Korolinski: “I consider that really a breakthrough fight for Anton. Indeed, the decision was way too wide. Had this fight taken its place somewhere in Europe, he would have been crowned as a winner. The fact that he wasn’t… Well, he has fought on his opponent’s home turf. That is Las Vegas, baby – anything can happen here so we wouldn’t argue with the decision. On a positive note, Novikov is now a welcome guest on the HBO so we have some plans regarding his future, and they are US-connected. In March, Anton will fly over to LA to start preparations for his next fight, which we still don’t know when happens, under tutelage of Ernie Zavala, whom we consider to be the best option for Novikov”.
BoxingScene: “Your brightest gem is IBF #1 lightweight Denis Shafikov, also rated WBA #12 and WBC #15. I suppose he should be fighting Mickey Bey for the IBF lightweight championship next. Is this true?”
Korolinski: “We had it up until January 14 to reach an agreement with Bey and his team. Then the date was re-set to February 14, a month later. But since Bey is promoted by Floyd Mayweather and his partners, and we are working with Top Rank on Denis it’s highly unlikely that this agreement can be reached at all. Then there should be a purse bid I suppose – we should know its date more precisely on Tuesday, February 17. As for us, we are planning to stage this fight in Russia – if there’s a financial and organizational aid… now since other promoters can also take part in a purse bid”.
BoxingScene: “Is this fight really possible, or will Bey rather vacate the title rather than defend it against Denis?”
Korolinski: “This fight would definitely take place as long as Bey is a champion because Shafikov is his mandatory. Theoretically, Bey can vacate the belt. If it indeed is the case we shall take on the highest available contender for a vacant title”.
BoxingScene: “Is Denis ready – physically and mentally – for such an elusive, viscous fighter as Bey? Shafikov has already fought an equal opponent in then-champion Miguel Vazquez and lost to him pretty convincingly despite being a very live dog beforehand. That’s the very same Vazquez, who was controversially defeated by Bey last September”.
Korolinski: “Vazquez won that bout fair and square, while Shafikov didn’t show his best game. However, his next contests – against Rustam Nugaev and Miguel Angel Mendoza – indicated some improvement in Shafikov’s game. It’s not the last chance right now I think, but it’s a very winnable situation, and Denis should take an advantage in getting his second world title shot. Bey is a fighter, which is stylistically very suitable for Denis”.
BoxingScene: “Another one with not almost but definitely perfect record is WBC #15 welterweight Konstantin Ponomarev. Kostya is just 22, he is 27-0, he was showcased by American TV, and he seems to have some fundamental skills. However, his latest fight against Canadian Steve Claggett has shown that something is missing – maybe toughness or punching power or determination – and he has hit the ceiling. Is this a correct impression?”
Korolinski: “It’s not a fully correct impression. Konstantin has clearly looked well under his prime against the Canadian. His last bout should become a good lesson for him. But he hasn’t been fighting at this level, with adversity since his collision against Bogdan Mitic in Montenegro, when he was still a young (19-year old) kid. Steve Claggett was a very good fighter to be pit against, to show us our blemishes. Kostya looked very solid in the gym, in sparring sessions against such stars as Ruslan Provodnikov or Miguel Cotto. I believe he is still to hit his ceiling. Sky is the limit for him”.
BoxingScene: “What is next for Kostya?”
Korolinski: “I’ll tell you this. We have a huge fight pre-planned for Ponomarev. He is all but set to take on fellow WBO #7 and WBC #10 prospect Mikael Zewski (26-0, 20 KOs) in a frenetic all-action prospect clash. Top Rank is planning it for May 1, and the fight should be aired by HBO. It’s a tentative date. But this is a chance of a lifetime, and Kostya won’t miss it”.
BoxingScene: “WBC #8 and IBF #10 cruiserweight Murat Gassiev is fighting fellow undefeated Cuban WBA #3, WBC/IBF #11 and WBO #14 Yunier Dorticos (18-0, 17 KOs) next. Is this a correct info?”
Korolinski: “It is. We have re-scheduled the fight towards the 6th of March. It was scheduled to take place in February but we have re-scheduled it due to a number of reasons, including higher possibility of a TV broadcast, availability of Abel Sanchez, who works with Murat, and some other factors. The bout will be a part of a card organized by our partner Steve Bash in Glendale, California”.
BoxingScene: “Is Murat, who is just 21, ready for such a dangerous kayo artist as Dorticos, who was an amateur star in Cuba?”
Korolinski: “We have proposed an agreement ourselves, and they signed it. So it was our initiative. Surely, we are ready to take the Cuban. Gassiev is now trained by Abel Sanchez alongside WBA interim champion Youri Kayembre Kalenga, who will be Gassiev’s chief sparring partner in preparation for the Dorticos fight”.
BoxingScene: “Gassiev is rated as a top-ten cruiserweight. Let’s assume – and this is a big ‘if” – that Murat is successful on March 6. 200 pounds is a weight of World of Boxing’s fighters: Grigory Drozd is the WBC champion, while Lebedev holds the WBA belt, and two more established contenders here are Dmitry Kudryashov and Rakhim Chakhkiev. Are you ready to take them on as a part of Gassiev’s road up in class? ”
Korolinski: “First of all, we shall not look past Dorticos, a very experienced fighter with great skills and vast amateur background. This is a very difficult fight for Gassiev but we trust in Murat and just hope he will be successful.
The contest is being designated for no less than two minor belts – WBA Fedelatin and WBC Latino. This means (alongside higher ranks for both fighters) the winner will be given a significant boost in all the ratings. Dorticos is presently WBA #3 rated cruiserweight. If we are successful, we can be rated rather high under the WBA, which can lead us to Denis Lebedev fight in a not-so-distant future.
But we plan another route – specifically, the IBF route, where both combatants are ranked at the bottom of the top ten. The first two spots are vacant – as is a usual case for the IBF – while IBF #3 rated Ola Afolabi and IBF #4 Victor Ramirez should collide either for the #1 spot of for the interim belt. This means Gassiev has two more bouts before his title chance – one for #2 spot, which will be against Dorticos, then another one for #1 position. #5 rated fighter here is Rakhim Chakhkiev so we shan’t exclude such a possibility even though we know Andrey Ryabinskiy isn’t a person who is eager to make clashes between compatriots. But, if needed, we’re ready. We shan’t look past Dorticos, however, who is out top priority now”
BoxingScene: “Tell us about UBP’s new breed”.
Vasiliev: “We have several fighters to keep a close eye on. Firstly, we have 19-year old Soslan Tedeev, an aggressive and skillful youngster. He debuted in 2014 but has already won a tough one against 17-4-2 African Sadiki Momba. Soslan will fight next on February 23 in Chelyabinsk for the IBF Youth lightweight title against dangerous Filipino Allan Tanada (13-3-3, 5 KOs), a former OPBF 130lb champion, which speaks for itself. We want to bring him to the States if he is successful on Feb. 23.
Then there’s Bakhram Murtazaliev, a super middleweight / middleweight prospect. He is originally from the Chechen Republic but now competes out of Chelyabinsk. He is 22 year old and he is being trained by Mikhail Mikhailovich Romanchuk, the same coach who has honed and bred Artur Beterbiev, who is one of the hottest draws at 175 lbs right now.
We also work with Evgueny Pavko, a fighter from Chelyabinsk, who is a usual sparring partner for Anton Novikov and works with him in the same gym.
Finally, we have a rising cruiserweight prospect Alexey Zubov, who made his debut in the States and looked sharp. He was a solid amateur out of Magnitogorsk, who has fought as a heavyweight. He has been training overseas for a couple years under tutelage of his own father, then they chose to sign with us. If he resolves his visa issues, we shall see him in the ring very soon.
BoxingScene: “Are you still working with Aslanbek Kozaev (26-1-1, 7 KOs)?”
Vasiliev: “We have partied ways with Aslanbek for a set of reasons. We aren’t working with him right now”.
BoxingScene: “I remember you were working with promising young heavyweight Murad Khalidov (10-0, 5 KOs) but I haven’t heard about him for a very long time…”
Vasiliev: “We have started working with Murad, and he was fighting for us several years ago. Then he was forced to take a lengthy lay-off for personal reasons. We the tried to re-establish our partnership but it just haven’t continued in the right direction so we have mutually agreed to head into different directions”.