Roach and Kornilov confident Lebedev will triumph
Danny Wayne Armstrong
Danny Wayne Armstrong speaks to Dennis Lebedev's trainer Freddie Roach and translator-manager Vadim Kornilov ahead of the cruiserweight showdown with Murat Gassiev and finds both men confident their charge will prevail ...
Denis Lebedev’s final media duties ahead of his eagerly anticipated fight with Murat Gassiev were fulfilled this week at the state of the art ‘World Class’ gym in Moscow.
WBA Super and IBF world cruiserweight titlist Lebedev (29-2, 22 KOs) attended with his trainer Freddie Roach, clad in a vermillion blue tracksuit complete with Russian lettering, as well as his Russian-American translator-manager Vadim Kornilov.
The bout with unbeaten banger Murat Gassiev (23-0, 17 KOs) at Moscow’s Khodynka Ice Palace has been earmarked as a standout showdown between a pair of the division’s KO kings and fireworks are expected from two men who have amassed 39 knockouts from their 55 professional fights. Despite impending danger for both lingering around the fight, Team Lebedev are sure their man will prevail against his 23-year-old challenger.
“I think it’s gonna be a tough fight, you know I think it’s gonna be one of the tougher fights that Denis has. Obviously I think that Gassiev is a great fighter but the experience level I think will show. There is always a time for every fighter to be in a fight like this and I think it’s a little early for [Gassiev],” Kornilov told Boxing Monthly at the session.
Lebedev and his entourage consider the chasm in experience to their advantage. Gassiev turned professional just five years ago, and has registered as many victories as he has years on the earth since then, whereas Lebedev turned pro in 2001, and is already a veteran of seven ‘world’ title fights.
Roach, who has had success with Russian fighters in the past, including former WBO 140lbs champ Ruslan Provodnikov, believes his 37-year-old charge is more than capable of retaining his belts against the Abel Sanchez-trained challenger from Vladikavkaz.
“It’s gonna be a very good fight on Saturday," he told Boxing Monthly. "Denis is in great shape, he’s ready for this fight and we’re 100 per cent here right now. [Gassiev and Lebedev] are both hard workers, both good fighters, good punchers - someone’s gonna go!
“I have a lot of Russians in my gym and they work hard and they do well. I mean it’s good for boxing in America and it’s great for them to come over and show what they are learning overseas. I’ve had a lot of champions with my Russian fighters and they’ve done very well and they’re very hard-working, good guys. I love people who work hard and that’s what turns me on, that’s what makes me work,” added Roach, whose boyish enthusiasm for the fight belies his embittered battle with Parkinson’s disease.
It is an illness most likely precipitated by his 53-fight ring tenure as a tenacious New England featherweight. It also aesthetically contradicts his 56 years of age, forcing him to carry himself in a fragile, grandfatherly manner, yet it fails to mask or dampen the vigour or excitement ignited inside him by the challenge of training champions, or the warmth with which he greets Boxing Monthly at the press conference.
Kornilov, despite punting for his more experienced man on the night, was full of praise for the younger crop of boxers in Russia, where boxing is undergoing something of a transformation. Property developer turned promoter Andrey Ryabinsky has gathered a team of Russia’s boxing elite to create 'Mir Boksa' (World of Boxing), which includes Lebedev and IBF/IBO light welterweight champ Eduard Troyanovsky.
Kornilov himself has also assembled an impressive stable of fighters stateside, among them Provodnikov and many other Russian-speaking hopefuls who have made the journey from their homeland to boxing’s bright lights in the US.
“I mean there is a current generation and there’s also a next generation coming up," Kornilov stressed. "I think Denis [Lebedev], Ruslan [Provodnikov] and [Eduard] Troyanovsky still have a good amount of fights left but I think there’s other guys that are coming through and they’re going to be making an impact as well.”
But who is the best up and coming boxer from the motherland? “Upcoming? Dmitry Bivol I think. He is a guy who can make an impression. There’s also a cruiserweight fighting on [Lebedev-Gassiev] card called [Alexey] Egorov who is also with us, I manage him with a co-manager and I think he is going to be impressive, he is debuting.”
With so many Russian-speaking fighters finding stardom abroad (three of Boxing Monthly online's pound for pound top ten fighters are native Russian speakers, alongside three English, three Spanish and one Japanese) what does a fighter face when making the leap from east?
“I think a lot of it is mental - getting out of the comfort zone and not being able to speak the language," Kornilov explained. "Being in an area where they are uncomfortable puts them in a state of mind that gets them more focussed, more on the job, you know. All they wanna do is train, get in shape, fight and go home. So I think that makes for a specific mindset."
It would be easy to think that each Russian or Russian-speaking fighter would have to hop halfway across the world to make their name. But Roach envisions a day when Moscow itself becomes a boxing mecca - just don’t ask him to do Kornilov’s job.
“Russians are great fans and there’s great fighters and I think they can reach that level yes," he admitted. "They have a great market and a lot of good Russian fighters and a lot of Ukrainians of course and you have ‘Triple G’ of course from this area also.
"There’s some great fighters out there, they’re making a lot of noise and might be taking over boxing! [The] Russian [language] I don’t know so much. I can probably say ‘hi’ and that’s about it. And I can say yes - ‘da’, my favourite word," he added with a laugh. "But Russia is a great place, great city, great restaurants, I love coming here. Little bit cold but that’s ok!”
But more importantly who has the best tracksuits, Russians or Americans?
“Oh, come on, the Americans, of course!”