Just two vivid flashes can define an image for a number of years if not for a whole life.
Memory #1. Moscow. July 2006. “How in the world – oh, the Almighty! – can I get back to work after this!” – was pronounced characteristically softly, like most men from the Middle East used to speak Russian, but with a pinch of bitterness.
Speaking was the Uzbek fighter Kakhramon Arzykulov, based in Moscow for that period of his life. Like most of the part-time boxers, he had to work his daily jobs between fights, and that means he had to look good doing that – because like a number of the Mid-Easterns, coming to Russia, he had been employed in retail trade or some other sort of trading activities, obsessed or cursed by frequent contact with customers. Who knows… You wouldn’t have bought anything from Kakhramon based on his look after that particular fight. Deep gashes over both eyes, distorted facial features and dripping blood – he didn’t look like a trader, more like a beaten homeless person. A typical look for a fighter after prolonged punishment in the ring.
Except for he had won.
And what a victory that was. Arzykulov engaged into a dog fight with Kazakhstani Marat Mazimbaev. Uzbekistan vs. Kazakhstan – in any sport – is rightfully called a derby (like England vs. Scotland or Greece vs. Turkey). Ebb flew, fists were flying, girls were crying too (see below), and Mazimbaev was down four times but got up and came back every time… It hadn’t helped him as he lost to the Uzbek by a unanimous decision with wide scores. Scores meant little, emotions and standing ovation meant so much more.
The fight was so bloody that a girl I had taken to the fight for the first time in her life has drastically changed her opinion. “Why haven’t you told me that I need a club or deep décolleté dress?!”, she said before the main event – looking at armed-to-the-teath vixens at nearby seats at ringside. “Probably it was a smart idea to dress the other way”, that was she shedding drips of blood from her cloth.
Arzykulov earned probably about six or seven hundred dollars for that fight. And, yes – I’ve just forgot – it was a fight for two minor titles (WBO I/C and IBA) and a place in the top-ten of super flyweight rankings. He entered the ranks and was there for a year or so, getting as high as #3 by the WBO. He was even mentioned as an opponent for Dmitry Kirillov for the then-cancelled ill-wise fight with Chapo Vargas (Kirillov got back in November 2007 to become the first ever Russian to be crowned by a major title on his home soil but accomplished that feat against perennial US pretender Jose Navarro) but his title chance never materialized as he has slowly been lost into oblivion. And hardly with enough funds to support him off his boxing fame.
Memory #2. Also Moscow. December 2009. It’s a concerned face of Ruslan Dadakhanov, the Uzbek trainer, promoter and a gym owner, who often went with his pupils to Russia for a bout or several bouts on various undercards of regional shows across the country.
Uzbeks were mostly brought as opponents that day for better prepared if not talented fighters, led by more serious men-at-power. They offered some resistance – not as lenient and breakable as your usual Georgian or Latvian opponent – but mostly not strong enough for a serious number of upsets.
Upsets weren’t at place that late Christmas night for sure. But the Grim Reaper was looking carefully as 21-year old Nosirjon Ruzimatov was taking hardly bearable punishment of the hands of Alexander Bakhtin, who has just come back to Russia after a decade spent in Japan (he holds Japanese national record for most title defense in bantamweight division to the date). Bakhtin was 23-0 at the time, while Ruzimatov was 6-3, and it was hardly an even fight.
Adding to the danger was the fact that Bakhtin, while a combinational boxer, wasn’t a puncher by any means. He was able to deal serious damage but he was unable to deal it at one time, only over time.
But it was not the end of the story. Fighting at about bantamweight limit was hard for Bakhtin who stood 5’7’’. Ruzimatov stood 5’10’, and he was literally starving to get to the limit. It wasn’t an ultimate cut of the weight for the Uzbek – two years before he had fought Noknoi Sitthiprasert (still competing) at light flyweight limit and was stopped in four.
This time he was stopped after the ninth. He collapsed in his corner in a scary way – a bit like Oscar Diaz in 2008 – but with a shout not as loud. He has undergone a trepanation soon in the hospital and somehow survived and at least partially recovered. Yet it’s hard to imagine how his recent life is going on, or if he is still alive. There has been no news of him since early 2010.
Flash-forward ten years, and the image is different to the core. Uzbekistan is a bona-fide power in Olympic boxing, having won overall standings in 2016 Rio Olympics, and – after failing to almighty Cubans in Hamburg 2017 – during the latest Ekaterinburg world amateur championship just three months ago.
Uzbek prizefighters are being readily valued in different parts of the Earth, extending the boxing version of the Silk Road to both Far East (but to the emerging market of Malaysia/Singapore rather than established pugilistic hotbeds such as Japan or Philippines) and Wild West (the States is being presently invaded by the fighters from Uzbekistan, specifically its West Coast), making stops in its traditional (Russia) and new (England, Near East) waypoints.
Though relatively new, Uzbekistan’s dominance is both (sic!) nothing new and no fluke either. Uzbekistan’s transformation to the new heights was steady and ongoing for years but mostly in shadows. Uzbek fighters showed some sparks of greatness in late 90’s. Sydney 2000 gold medalist Muhammadkodir Abdullaev and heavyweight powerhouse Ruslan Chagaev, who went on to become one of the key players in the sport’s most prized weight class, were prime samples but there were more of them not as hyped like Utkirbek Haydarov. But then Uzbekistan experienced a dip in 00’s both in amateurs and pros.
The dip was a nice cover for an intrinsic transition of a new sort and to a new level. And like a butterfly, finally getting out of its cocoon, Uzbeks have started to move up from just every location, once the previously dominating Ukrainian golden squad had left the building (and to the pros). A roller-coaster of the Cubans has helped as well but the praise should be placed mostly on the shoulders of local staff.
One of those, who are deeply involved into this transition, is Sardor Tashhojaev, a multifaceted functionary, who is involved in both amateur and professional pugilism. “Call it the effect of the solid spring”, he says involving a more physical comparison.
“The Uzbek tradition is strong and it has ever been. Remember Rufat Riskiev? He was an exceptional athlete (having won gold in the inaugural 1974 Havana world championship and silver two years later in Olympic Montreal) but he wasn’t unique in that.
The Soviet boxing of the 80’s was mostly built upon the Armenian boxing tradition. Israel Akophokian was the prime Soviet boxer of that decade. Samson Khachatryan, Alexan Nalbandyan, Valery Abadzhyan, Nshan Munchyan and others. Even our prime force was Artur Grigoryan, also an ethnic Armenian”, Tashhojaev was readily sharing his memories over the phone while standing with the national team in Ekaterinburg.
No, the transformation, he says, was based upon the locals and upon their approach to the game. Surely, the Orient is subtle and delicate, an old Russian proverb says. East to the Europe, “the serious business” approach is shared between business itself and the government.
“We had the Government involved from the get go, and it was our goal to perform conjointly in terms of building a well-structured body of the Uzbek boxing starting from the juniors and then going all way up to the Olympians. Boxing in Uzbekistan is one of the leading guidelines of the Ministry of Sports. The Program was accommodated with the highest official, and our supervisor is the First Vice-Premier. It’s being resolved at that level, no less”.
This approach was utilized years ago and has been effective ever since. “It has all started in late 80’s. The roots were prepared by Vladimir Shin, further honed by Mars Kuchkarov. A colossal body of work has been done, and after years of this titanic activity, the result is here, on hand”, continued Tashhojaev.
Additional funds allowed for a quicker optimization. A new breed constituted of such fighters as Abbos Attoev, Elshod Rasulov, Fazliddin Gaibnazarov and Hurshid Tojibaev was already competitive on the world level but shadowed over by very strong Russian, Ukrainian and Cuban teams. But those coming after them – Hasanboy Dusmatov, Shakhobidin Zoirov, Bakhodir Jalolov, Shakhram Giyasov – were even more powerful. All in all, it resulted in a breakthrough performance in 2016 Rio Olympics, where the successors of Tamburlaine, took the overall lead (in female and male standings combined).
Pro game is a different story.
“Speaking of prizefighting, it’s a different sport, and it’s not being related to Olympic boxing in my opinion. It’s a different branch, and it’s governed separately. It was out of scope and out of shape for quite a time. But you know what?... We are speaking about the Mexicans. Indeed, we are.
For years Mexico has been just an appendage of the American market, circuit, whatever you call it. And now it’s an even rival with a separate system at the bottom, and no less impressive outcome than the sport’s biggest market and country”.
Prospects are very bright for professional boxing in Uzbekistan, says Tashhojaev. “We are utilizing this Mexican approach, and, believe me, in coming years we shall see our young guns giving an instant impact and rivaling the success of traditional boxing powers with titles won, and stars born”.
As usual, Uzbekistan had a different and somewhat eclectic approach to the situation, trying to mix amateurs and established pros within one team. 2019 world championship saw at least three starting pros – lightweight Elnur Abduraimov, flyweight Shahobidin Zoirov and heavyweight Bahodir Jalolov – taking part in the competitions. Jalolov and Zoirov captured two of the Uzbek team’s three gold medals.
“As soon as this is not prohibited, we are using it. When the IOC and basketball officials allowed NBA stars to take part in the Olympics, no one has lost, and we have all won getting the Dream Team as a pure masterpiece.
Both Bakhodir and Shahobidin are just starting their pro careers. They are not established pros at the moment, but they are the best in the country. Why not to use them. Oppositely, we have been thinking of Shokhjakhon Ergashev. But he is an established pro with a ranking and totally prizefighting spirit and approach – we decided not to bother him. Jalolov and Zoirov don’t earn much right away, and they have a touch of amateur boxing right now. Once they are transformed to real prizefighters, we shall put them aside and support their professional careers at their fullest”, comments the Uzbek functionary.
“On the other hand”, he says, “And I have talked to a plethora of the promoters – world championship honours and Olympic medals only help in promotion. (Shakhram) Giyasov would have been of a considerably lesser stature now, hadn’t he captured the silver medal in Rio. Imagine what the gold medal, or in case of Zoirov, the second gold medal, would do for Shahobidin’s and/or Bakhodir’s presence, fees and stature in the game!”
Giyasov, arguably a fighter with stellar potential, was indeed a conductor. “There’s a huge wave of very talented fighters, coming of this Middle East nation”, says well-respected Russian manager Vadim Kornilov, who has guided several fighters to championship heights over the last decade.
“Shakhram Giyasov was our first signing, and he brought our attention to other guys. Giyasov was delighted with what we have offered, and then those other fighters came and started to transit (to the pros) upon seeing what it is. But it wasn’t a pre-planned activity to be honest. And guys are living up to their potential and vast expectations”, continues Kornilov.
“We have brought the onto the West Coast, to Los Angeles and Indio. They are training there. Diligence, natural stubbornness (in a good sense) and ambitions are being expressed in their fights. We are very content with their showing”.
Arguably, the soundest name of the whole 2016 Olympic Team – Hasanboy Dusmatov, who won the Val Barker trophy, competing in the light flyweight – is yet to turn pro. But he is on his way. “After the Olympics, Hasanboy was forced to go up in weight (AIBA eliminated its light flyweight division for a majority of competitions) and lost twice to the Indian fighter. We decided he is better suited for the pro right away, and he is presently in California, training in the same gym with Giyasov and Murodjon Akhmadaliev. He hasn’t signed yet. He is just looking over. Hasanboy will try his luck again on the national level at a new weight class and then try to get to the Olympics. We shall see after that”, reveals Tashhojaev.
(… This story has been first conducted in mid-September. Dusmatov entered the pro game with the second-round blowout of 9-7 Mexican Jesus Cervantes Villanueva on November 16…)
While Murodjon Akhmadaliev and Shakhram Giyasov are showing first signs of future stardom, some equally established amateur standouts struggle after the transition. The best example of this sort is 2016 Olympic champion Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, who is just 8-1, 5 KOs, as a pro, and dropped a unanimous decision to ultra-lanky (6’4’) light welterweight Mykal Fox in his penultimate fight. Fox was previously defeated (just narrowly though) by lesser blessed Ergashev (“Personally, I think Fazliddin won this fight. Fox hasn’t done anything except for showcasing his spoiler skills”, complies my counterpart). Gaibnazarov is also planning to come back for 2020 Olympics, concludes Tashkhodzhaev.
The pre-planned transition of the Uzbek amateur stars is going into various directions. “Mad money is on the Far East. It’s an emerging major market for boxing, and we are happy to be part of its rise”, says Tashhojaev of the recent trend of the Uzbek fighters relocating themselves to Malaysia, China, South Korea, Thailand etc. The biggest stars, however, are going to the Western shores of the Pacific.
And there’s a new generation, which is already burning the footsteps of the predecessors. “Remember those names – Ikboljon Kholdarov and Abdumalik Khalakov. Watch them on YouTube. They are stars in the making. And then there are always those, who are coming after them. Boxing is a national sport in Uzbekistan, you know”.
“Ruslan Chagaev remains an idol for the new breed of the Uzbek fighters, despite winning no gold medals in Summer Olympics. However, his pro success is unrivaled to this date. Neither Artur Grigoryan, who was historically the first fighter from Uzbekistan to shine as a pro, nor Muhammadkodir Abdullaev (Uzbekistan’s sole Olympic gold medal winner in boxing up until 2016) can compete with the Uzbek heavyweight of the Tatar origin. But the next generation of the Uzbek pugilists has a clear chance to overwhelm legends of the past”.
“I have a record of my talk with Vladimir Shin in 1993”, remembers the Uzbek official. “I asked of what we should achieve in twenty years, and he said that we should be over Cuba. Twenty years ago… Twenty years after we are here at the point where his prediction is right on point. And that’s just the beginning”, concludes Tashhojaev.
If the future of Uzbek prizefighting is as epic as its amateur bottom, that remains to be seen during the nearest decade. One thing is obvious though. It will be a thriller to watch.
Top Ten Uzbeks to Watch Out + Some
0. Botirjon Akhmedov (7-1, 6 KOs) – Light welterweight, 29 years
Never listed as officially an Uzbek fighter, Akhmedov earned his accolades fighting abroad. This doesn’t mean he hasn’t been born and raised in his native land. Nevertheless, he – yet under the name of Batukhan Gozgec – represented Turkey in 2016 Rio Olympics, going as far as to the quarterfinals before losing to Artem Harutyunyan.
The technically sound swarmer/slugger turned pro soon thereafter and was nursed by the World of Boxing. His opening bouts took place in Russia, although he wasn’t that active. The breakthrough came in August 2018 when Akhmedov stopped rugged Venezuelan veteran Ismael Barroso in nine rounds despite going down previously in the fight.
Two contests later the relative novice Akhmedov (just seven bouts into his pro career) found himself under the spotlights of the Staples Center to become one of the sport’s newest commodities, following his very debatable loss to 24-0 Mario Barrios in a fight many thought he deserved to win. He will have a chance to reverse it as a rematch was cast by the WBA. Right now, WBA #5 Batyr Akhmedov, managed by powerful manager Vadim Kornilov, is Uzbekistan’s finest even though he is representing another nation in the ring.
1 - Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6 KOs) – Super bantamweight, 25
In just six fights this Rio Olympics bronze medalist was concluded fit to challenge for the world title – and not for a vacant belt or against a weak titleholder but versus Daniel Roman, an established champion with two major belts. Combining amateur finesse and technique with notable power, Akhmadaliev can be on the verge of a breakthrough. His pro record looks well against second-tier opponents but he was even greater as an amateur, his best showing being the first-round stoppage of fellow Argentinean prospect Alberto Ezequiel Melian. WBA #1 Akhmadaliev is co-promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and the World of Boxing, led by Andrey Ryabinskiy. The Roman fight will take place on January 30 in Miami, Florida.
2 - Shakhram Giyasov (9-0, 7 KOs) – Light Welterweight, 26
True to the fact that Giyasov was outpointed in the final of 2016 Rio Olympics by Kazakh Daniyar Yeleussinov. And it’s seemingly true that as a pro this Uzbek banger showed more stellar potential to this point than his amateur nemesis (not to forget a couple of his wins over famed Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo).
Just nine fights into the paid ranks, Giyasov has already stopped 31-6-1 Albert Mensah and 34-4-2 former champion Darley Perez, the latter being blitzed in less than a minute. That earned his #7 ranking by the WBA, and he is also rated #15 by the IBF. That means that his title shot can come as early as in 2020. Shakhram struggled against Emanuel Taylor – showing some limitations in process – but he still has time and space for further development. Giyasov is also co-promoted by Matchroom Boxing and the World of Boxing.
3 - Bektemir Melikuziev (4-0, 3 KOs) – Light heavyweight, 23
He is nicknamed “Bek Bully” for the reason. Looking exactly like those thugs, who took your school breakfasts away, but of the different purpose for sure, Melikuziev is about constant pressure and hard work all night long. He stopped his first two opponents within a round, and that includes usually durable Argentinean journeyman Martin Fidel Rios. Clay Collard was halted in the fourth, while much more experienced Vaughn Alexander lasted the distance but lost haplessly. Hidden behind power and aggression is Bektemir’s southpaw stance and solid boxing fundamentals, which earned Melikuziev silver medals at both 2015 world championship and 2016 Olympics. And at 23 he has time by his side too.
Tashhojaev: “Personally, I consider him to be the best of the crop. He has a potential to be a major player for years to come. A huge puncher, a young puncher with steel&will and with tons of experience to go with his power. In a couple of years he should be a force to be reckoned with”.
4 - Bahodir Jalolov (6-0, 6 KOs) – Heavyweight, 25
Unlike his teammate Shakhobidin Zoirov (see below), who may be losing his time as an amateur, Jalolov’s quick return to the amateur game for 2019 world championship not only shouldn’t halt his prospects as a prizefighter but also to boost his image after a very solid win in the tourney.
25 years is a young age for the heavyweight, and Jalolov has already amassed several stoppages and NABF Junior title in process. Blessed with solid physique (6’7’’) and southpaw stance, this 2016 Rio quarterfinalist can be a solid addition to the heavyweight division. Just ask Richard Torrez, who was knocked out cold (with amateur gloves) and taken to the hospital after the quarterfinal of the recent world championship.
Tashhojaev: “Can be the new Klitschko if you ask me but only if he is honed properly. He has a potential of this sort”.
5 - Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4 KOs) – Light Middleweight, 24
It’s more about power than anything in higher weight classes, and this stocky yet physically strong fighter has it, as he has been explicitly showing it till this point. Israil is also very awkward, sometimes even raw, which usually makes for harder nights for his opponents. Madrimov, several times Uzbekistan national champion, is one who has cut down his weight significantly once he made a transition. In his later years as an amateur he competed at 165 lbs. And just like many others (including Giyasov, Akhmadaliev, Akhmedov and Melikuziev), he is managed by Vadim Kornilov, one of two most successful managers on the Eastern European fight scene.
6 - Shakhobiddin Zoirov (3-0, 2 KOs) – Bantamweight, 26
Unlike Akhmadaliev and Melikuziev, time isn’t a friend of Zoirov. 26 is a relatively solid age for his weight class (he is older than, say, Naoya Inoue), and Zoirov isn’t moving fast. Having been signed by the MTK Global in July 2018, he has fought just thrice since and each time in specific markets. And then back to the amateur game again. A return was at least inspiring – Zoirov, alongside Jalolov, earned top honours at the recent world championship.
But even with such pauses and slow start you can expect a very fast rise of the 2016 Olympic flyweight gold medalist. He just needs to finally transit to the pro game. Expect that transition to come after the coming Olympics – maybe with a couple of gold medals to his side, which would surely starkly affect his price tag.
7 - Qudratillo Abduqaxorov (17-0, 9 KOs) – Welterweight, 26
Abduqaxorov represents another approach to the career build-up. Quite unlike those, who made a move overseas (which is just about half of the Uzbekistan’s top amateur crew), and those, who relocated themselves to Russia (there’s a number of Uzbeks competing in Russian prizefighting), he – alongside super middleweight / light heavyweight Azizbek Abdougafurov – landed in the Far East. Kuala-Lumpur isn’t exactly the hotbed of boxing, yet it hasn’t prevented Abduqaxorov to emerge as a world-class player by fighting in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
The Punisher, as he is nicknamed, made his name known after the first-round stoppage of Charles Manyuchi and then a road win over rugged Dmitry Mikhailenko. His US debut was also successful as the IBF #1, WBC #4 and WBO #8 Abduqaxorov passed a stern test in Luis Collazo on October 18, winning a relatively uneventful yet solid unanimous decision (99-91, 98-92, and 97-93) over the former titleholder. Qudratillo is aiming at Errol Spence as his door at stardom but whether this fight will ever happen is an entirely different question.
8 - Hasanboy Dusmatov (1-0, 1 KO) – Light flyweight, 26
When the original version of this story had been finished, Dusmatov was still to sign for his pro debut. As mentioned above, it was successful but not telling by any means as the opponent was out of his class against the Val Barker trophy owner.
The problem for Dusmatov is his metrics. Standing just 5’2’’ Hasanboy is limited to flyweight and less (above that limit he will be dwarfed if not outweighed by bigger fighters). At 26 he has no time to lose whatsoever. Meanwhile, a comeback for the second gold, has not yet been ruled out, meaning that the present transition can be partial. Given that further prospects of the first ever Uzbek to capture the most prestigious trophy of amateur boxing are hard-to-tell now. Yet, with two gold medals he just cannot be dismissed.
9 - Shokhzhakhon Ergashev (17-0, 15 KOs) – Light welterweight, 28
Power is a blessing and a curse at the very same time. WBA/IBF #6 and WBO #13 rated light welterweight has learnt it the hard way, as he was a bit lucky to get a wide decision over ultra lanky (6’3’’) southpaw Mykal Fox, who wasn’t impressed by Shokh’s power, at which point Ergashev started to struggle mightily. Yet, when he has a chance to land cleanly, little can prevent Shokh to do damage. He is aggressive, flamboyant and, yes, powerful. It remains to be seen where he would get from this point. At least, it’s expected to be hell of a ride. His next outing is January 17 in Sloan against Adrian Estrella in what should be another thriller.
10. Elnur Abduraimov (5-0, 5 KOs) – Lightweight, 25
Quick and powerful, Abduraimov looked great sharing his pro duties between Russia and the States. Back for a moment to the amateur, he is being missed as a pro for sure – specifically as his results in the 2019 world championship were hardly inspiring. And it can be explainable: of the trio of young pros, Abduraimov, less talented in unpaid boxing, looks far more prepared as a prizefighter.
Six more to watch: Ravshanbek Umurzaqov, Hurshid Tojibaev, Ulugbek Khakberdiev, Hurshidbek Normatov, Ulugbek Sobirov and Azizbek Abdugafurov.
Top Five Prizefighters from Uzbekistan (Historical)
1 - Artur Grigoryan (38-1, 23 KOs): 1994-2004, 2009
Contrary to Nazarov, who – being an ethnic Uzbek – represented Kyrgyzstan as a pro, the original “King Artur” represented Uzbekistan, despite being of the Armenian origin. Grigoryan was a very strong yet not superstellar amateur, but he exceeded those expectations in the paid ranks.
Turning pro in 1994 under the Universum aegis, Grigoryan captured a vacant WBO lightweight title in April 1996 and held it for record seven years and nine months before losing it to the terror in Acelino Freitas (Grigoryan was going down every time the Brazilian landed a huge punch but won several rounds on his boxing skills alone). He made seventeen defenses of his title but mostly padded his record with mediocre opposition. Those of note include undefeated contenders Matt Zegan and Michael Clark (both 24-0), also undefeated Marco Rudolph (13-0), whom he avenged his gold medal loss in 1992 Olympics against, and strong fighters in Raul Horacio Balbi and Antonio Pitalua.
2 - Ruslan Chagaev (34-3-1, 21 KOs): 1997, 2001-2016
He was nicknamed “White Tyson” for the reason. Stocky yet powerful, although not of the Tyson breed at the end of the day (but who is?), Chagaev forced his name to vibrate long before turning pro on the legal basis (he fought twice as a pro in 1997 before coming back to the amateur game which was illegal at the time). He won two heavyweight world championships (1997 and 2001) and also defeated legendary Cuban Felix Savon not once but twice during his career.
His Olympic honors weren’t as sound though.
After winning some fights in the States, Chagaev came under the Universum banner in 2004 and soon established himself as a legit heavyweight contender. During his most successful span Chagaev outpointed John Ruiz in November 2006 and then upset hulking Nikolay Valuev in April 2007 to earn WBA heavyweight championship. His reign, although relatively long, was marred by injuries and soft touches and ended in surrender against Wladimir Klitschko in 2009. Chagaev remained a force to be reckoned with and an occasional titleholder till April 2016, when he suffered a kayo loss to Lucas Browne, which ended his career for good.
3 - Muhammadqodir Abdullaev (21-4, 14 KOs): 2001-2005, 2009-2011
The Olympic champion, who won gold as a light welterweight in 2000 Sydney Olympics failed to realize his potential in the paid ranks, despite showing sublime skills and solid power. His steady rise lost its steam, when he was knocked down for a second by Emanuel Clottey of Ghana in the tenth and final round of the fight he was clearly winning. He was ready to get it on but stayed on his knee for way too long – in one of the most ridiculous endings of the recent memory he failed to understand the count due to a very bad command of English.
He resurfaced in Germany and finally found his way to the world title shot against rising star Miguel Cotto in June 2005. The fight was built on a revenge – Cotto himself was defeated by Abdullaev in the first step of the Sydney tourney – but Abdullaev performed toothlessly and was stopped in the ninth on a huge swelling around his eye. After his second consecutive loss to Andrey Kotelnik he retired for several years, and his latest career revival didn’t last long and was limited.
4 - Quanichbek Toygonbayev (31-6-1, 19 KOs): 1997-2010
Amassing amateur record on 185-15, this Kyrgyz native turned pro in 1997 and competed as a fringe contender for ten years, which included a career-ending win against Oba Carr and almost a career-ending victory over another contender Andrey Pestryaev. 2004 was sought to be his breakthrough year but Toygonbayev lost close decisions to Keith Holmes and Ian Gardner to start a long road down. His fight versus Alisultan Nadirbegov in 2006 was a hidden classic and he offered some resistance to rising Dmitry Pirog in 2008 but ultimately lost both on stoppages, virtually ending an honest but not a famed career.
5. Bahodir Mamadjonov (19-3, 11 KOs): 2011-2016
Mamadjonov’s pro ride was fun while it lasted. Not blessed with overwhelming physical stature or one-punch knockout power Baha was always willing to deliver excitement and thrill, results be damned. That made for a relatively short but interesting career.
Mamadjonov scored eleven wins in twelve months to open it, then took on 25-0 Colombian Olympian Darleys Perez and almost pulled it off, losing a controversial split decision. He fought on with mixed results and wins over Angelo Santana and Osumana Akabu and losses versus Richard Commey and Mason Menard. He was fine to watch when he fought thus making it past more established but dimmer Alisher Rakhimov, who is also worth of note.
Bonus pack #1. Orzubek Nazarov (26-1, 19 KOs): 1990-1998
Of the Uzbek origin, Nazarov has been always connected to Kyrgyzstan, a smaller, more obscure Middle East country with none-existent boxing tradition and strong Uzbek minority. Instead, Nazarov made a tradition within himself and a long-lasting memory for all those, blessed to see him in the ring. A multi-time Soviet (1985, 1987, and 1988, defeating Kostya Tszyu in the latter) champion and 1987 Euro gold medalist turned pro in early 1990 in Japan and never looked back.
Nicknamed “Goosie” for his stark resemblance with legendary light flyweight king Yoko Gusiken, Nazarov proved to be a fighter of the same breed and skill level. He bursted onto the fight scene with a breakthrough road win over WBA lightweight champion Dingaan Thobela in 1993, and repeated this trick in 1994.
He defended his title six times (including stoppage wins over former/future champions Joey Gamache and Levander Johnson) but lost it on points to Jean-Baptiste Mendy, suffering a career-ending eye injury in the process. In his better days, hard-hitting slugger Nazarov was one of the best kept secret of his weight class, who has never really realized his true potential due to little following and promotional obstacles. He remains a strong force on the Middle East fight scene as a coach and an organizer.
Bonus Pack #2. Oleg Maskaev (39-7, 28 KOs): 1993, 1995-2009, 2012-2013
Surprised? Oleg Maskaev is an epitome of the cosmopolite. Originally from Kazakhstan, of Mordvinian origin, he kicked off his career in the late USSR, has mostly competed in the States during his peak, closed his career in Russia, where he has been set to live ever since… but represented Uzbekistan as an amateur, including a participation in 1993 world championship.
Uzbekistan Boxing Team in Summer Olympics
1996 Atlanta (7 boxers / in 12 weight classes, 1 bronze)
Participants: Ulugbek Ibragimov (57, 1/8), Mohammad Abdullaev (60, 1/16), Nariman Ataev (67, 1/4), Karim Tulaganov (71, bronze), Dilshod Yorbekov (75, 1/4), Timor Ibragimov (81, 1/8), Ruslan Chagaev (91, 1/16)
Five of seven participants turned pro but two of them – and those most successful for sure – performed the transition years later after their second Olympics. Nariman Altaev and Karim Tulaganov got lost at paid ranks, competing at unremarkable venues in ex-USSR and combining for a disastrous record of 3-8.
Unlike them, Timor Ibragimov (31-4-1, 16 KOs) proved to be a finer addition to the pro game. He moved up two weight classes and performed as a heavyweight. Although not a contender, he proved to be a quality gatekeeper, winning over veteran champions Al Cole and Oliver McCall, drawing with 3-0 Kevin Johnson, and losing tightly to better equipped heavyweights like Calvin Brock, Tony Thompson and Jean-Marc Mormeck (the latter decision was controversial).
2000 Sydney (10/12, 1 gold – 2 bronze)
Participants: Dilshod Yuldashev (48, 1/16), Alisher Rakhimov (54, 1/4), Tulkunbay Turgunov (57, 1/8), Mohammad Abdullaev (63.5, gold), Sherzod Khusanov (67, 1/4), Dilshod Yorbekov (71, 1/16), Utkirbek Haydarov (75, 1/16), Sergey Mikhailov (81, bronze), Ruslan Chagaev (91, 1/4), Rustam Saidov (91+, bronze)
2000 alumni proved to be a much better selection for the pro game, although just three of ten Uzbek Olympians moved to the other side of the game immediately after the Sydney Oympics. All three made serious splashes – either locally (Alisher Rakhimov) or internationally. The best of the crop was Ruslan Chagaev (a two-time world champion, who failed to achieve Olympic honors), who made history by becoming Asian’s first ever heavyweight champion in 2007, when he defeated Nikolay Valuev for the WBA title. While, Chagaev’s reign (34-3-1, 21 KOs) wasn’t as shining as his title effort, he was a major player in the sport’s best division for more than a decade.
Mohammad Abdullaev’s pro run wasn’t as big as was his amateur career but he fought for the title against a proven star in Miguel Cotto, being stopped in nine… and allowing the Puerto-Rican to avenge his first leg loss to Abdullaev (21-4, 14 KOs). Alisher Rakhimov (25-3, 12 KOs) haven’t got as high but developed some limited local following in his adopted hometown of Ekaterinburg and defeating a number of second-tier opposition.
2004 Athens (9/12, 2 bronze)
Participants: Tulashboy Doniyorov (51, 1/4), Bahodirjon Sultonov (54, bronze), Bekzod Khidirov (57, 1/8), Dilshod Makhmudov (64, 1/4), Sherzod Khusanov (69, 1/4), Sherzod Aburakhmonov (75, 1/8), Utkirbek Haydarov (81, bronze), Igor Alborov (91, 1/8), Rustam Saidov (91+, 1/8)
Just one of the team transitioned to the paid ranks. Sherzod Khusanov (21-1-1, 9 KOs) made a move three years after the Games, and after a few bouts in the native land, he relocated himself also to Ekaterinburg. For years he was floating around an occasional title shot, which never materialized. He is competing to this date.
2008 Beijing (7/11, no medals)
Participants: Rafikjon Sultonov (48, 1/16), Tulashboy Doniyorov (51, 1/8), Hurshid Tojibaev (54, 1/8), Bahodirjon Sultonov (57, 1/8), Dilshod Makhmudov (64, 1/4), Elshod Rasulov (75, 1/4), Abbos Atoev (81, 1/16)
The worst ever result, produced by the Uzbeks, was provoked by a generational change. Old veterans have retired, giving way to new blood, although Doniyorov and Sultonov have already taken part in Athens Olympics. The only fighter to turn pro (in Australia by the way) after the Games was Dilshod Makhmudov (4-0, 3 KOs) but he retired after just four fights – obviously for the reason of being homesick.
2012 London (6/10, 1 bronze)
Participants: Jasurbek Latipov (52, 1/4), Orzubek Shayimov (56, 1/16), Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (60, 1/4), Uktamjon Rakhmonov (64, 1/4), Abbos Attoev (75, bronze), Elshod Rasulov (81, 1/4)
London 2012 was transitional between wide success of Rio Olympics and a total meltdown of the Beijing. Best results were achieved either by famed fighters of the past (Attoev, Rasulov) or by future stalwarts (Gaibnazarov, Latipov). The only fighter to turn pro was Uktamjohn Rakhmonov (5-1-1, 1 KO), but he disappointed being unable to transcend through the Russian level, ultimately finishing his career in 2016 right before his team’s biggest success.
2016 Rio (3 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze)
• 49 – Hasanboy Dusmatov (gold, Val Barker trophy): 1-0, 1 KO
• 52 – Shakhobidin Zoirov (gold): 3-0, 2 KOs
• 56 – Murodjon Akhmadaliev (bronze): 7-0, 6 KOs
• 60 – Hurshid Tojibaev (1/4): 4-0, 2 KOs
• 64 – Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (gold): 8-1, 6 KOs
• 69 – Shakhram Giyasov (silver): 9-0, 7 KOs
• 75 – Bektemir Melikuziev (silver): 4-0, 3 KOs
• 81 – Elshod Rasulov (1/8): amateur (the only Uzbek to compete in three Olympics)
• 91 – Rustam Tulaganov (bronze): 2-0, 1 KO
• 91+ - Bakhodir Jalolov (1/4): 6-0, 6 KOs