By Michael Rosenthal
Murat Gassiev: Gassiev couldn’t have looked much better in the biggest fight of his career. Now comes his biggest challenge.
Gassiev was expected to face stiff resistance from Yunier Dorticos in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series on Saturday in Russia, Gassiev’s home country. After all, the well-schooled, strapping Cuban had stopped all but one of his opponents.
The problem for Dorticos was that he hadn’t encountered anything like his foe on Saturday. Gassiev outboxed Dorticos, proving to be an elusive target; he patiently broke Dorticos down; and, finally, he scored a knockout with seconds remaining in the final round to punctuate a special night.
It was arguably the strongest single performance in the WBSS.
Gassiev’s reward? A date with Oleksandr Usyk for the tournament championship on May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which will determine the top 200-pounder in the world and unify all four major titles.
One wonderful thing about tournaments is that participants must fight top-tier opponents in succession. That’s what made a star of Andre Ward, who beat one elite 168-pounder after another to win the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
Gassiev now has his chance. The 24-year-old, who lives and trains in Big Bear, California, stopped veteran Krzysztof Wlodarczyk to open the tournament, did the same to Dorticos and now faces the tournament favorite, Usyk.
Who wins? Tough one.
Usyk is more dynamic and athletic than Gassiev but the latter might be stronger and a better boxer. Gassiev, fighting with controlled ferocity, frustrated Dorticos with hard, precise punches and subtly effective defensive moves. Dorticos couldn’t land his big punches. Overall, I thought Gassiev looked terrific.
Obviously, Usyk is better than Dorticos. Still, I think he’ll have his hands full with Gassiev.
Prediction? An upset. Gassiev by a close, but unanimous decision.
Gilberto Ramirez and Jerwin Ancajas: Few fighters have the natural fan bases of Ramirez and Ancajas. And their performances on Saturday night in Corpus Christi, Texas, certainly didn’t hurt their causes.
Ramirez (37-0, 25 KOs) beat the daylights out of Ghanian Habib Ahmed (25-1-1, 17 KOs), winning by a sensational sixth-round knockout to retain his 168-pound title and remain undefeated. The Mexican never looked better.
I think Ramirez has his limitations; for example, he’s not as athletic or quick as some super middleweights. And he still hasn’t faced a defining challenge. That said, he’s skillful, powerful and fierce as hell, all of which makes him appealing to his all-important core fan base: Mexicans.
And that will go a long way in terms of earning power if he continues to win. That’s a big if, of course. He said he wants to fight the winner of the WBSS super middleweight tournament, which is in its semifinal round: George Groves vs. Chris Eubank Jr. and Callum Smith vs. Juergen Braehmer.
Any of the above would represent the toughest challenge in Ramirez’s career, Braehmer being the least dangerous. I’m not convinced he’d beat those fighters.
If he can, he’ll be well on his way toward becoming a major star in Mexico and beyond.
And here’s an idea: He fights Canelo Alvarez one day in an enormous all-Mexican event.
Ancajas, who stopped Israel Gonzalez (21-2, 8 KOs) in 10 rounds to retain his 115-pound title, is in a good but difficult position as Manny Pacquiao’s protégé.
It’s good because he has his high-profile promoter’s backing, bad because he’s being billed as the next Pacquiao.
Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 KOs) already is a star in the Philippines, which is a good start. Becoming a worldwide star like Pacquiao is something entirely different.
Pacquiao was the perfect storm. He had a thrilling fighting style, punching power, the right big-name opponents, a series of important victories, understated charm and a clever promoter, Bob Arum. Ancajas, who also works with Arum, will not reach the heights of Pacquiao. That’s too much to ask.
Ancajas can become a major figure, though. He, too, has a fun style, power (four straight KOS), charm and a likeable personality. If he continues to dominate as his competition gets better, he’ll become a worthy successor to his mentor. And don’t be surprised if it happens.
Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs) entered the ring for his fight against Gassiev with a perfect record and the opportunity to take a big step in his career. He walked out bruised, battered and with an uncertain future. That’s big-time boxing. I wouldn’t say that Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs) was exposed but it appears he isn’t as good as some thought he was. We’ll see whether he can prove that perception wrong. … If you missed Jesse Hart’s first-round knockout of Thomas Awimbono (25-8-1, 21 KOs), watch it on YouTube. Brutal. Hart (23-1, 19 KOs) was coming off a unanimous-decision loss to Ramirez in his most-recent fight. … Montana Love, a former amateur standout, made the biggest impression on the ShoBox card Friday in Sloan, Iowa. Love switched opponents on a few day’s notice when prospect Samuel Teah’s foe fell out and then outclassed Teah (12-2-1, 5 KOs) in an eight-round junior welterweight bout, winning a majority decision. A judge named Brad Rebeck somehow scored it a draw but it was a clear victory for Love (9-0, 4 KOs). An impressive victory on national TV; that’s how you take advantage of such an opportunity. … Ronald Ellis (14-0-2, 10 KOs), Junior Younan (13-0-1, 9 KOs) and Thomas Mattice (11-0, 9 KOs) also remained unbeaten on the Friday card but none looked spectacular. Ellis and Younan, too good boxers, fought to a draw in a 10-round super middleweight bout, which was appropriate: Neither did much of anything. And Mattice was struggling against a busy Rolando Chinea (15-2-1, 6 KOs) when he scored a seventh-round KO in a schedule eight-round lightweight fight. … Teofimo Lopez (8-0, 6 KOs), a hot junior welterweight prospect, lived up to his billing with a one-sided decision over tough, but very limited Mexican veteran Juan Pablo Sanchez (30-15, 14 KOs) in a six-rounder on the Ramirez-Ahmed card. Lopez, a former Honduran Olympian, obviously has unusual gifts and some toughness himself. He won the fight in spite of a bad cut above his left eye. Two surprises for me: Lopez couldn’t take out Sanchez and was hit more than I expected. He’s young, though, only 20. … I’m not alone when I say I’m pleased the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin rematch has been finalized for May 5. I’m not surprised in the least, though. Superfights (read: insanely lucrative fights) generally get made because there is so much money on the table. The fight also is compelling from a competitive standpoint. I thought the first fight was close. No reason to think the second won’t be the same. Can’t wait.