The Red Corner: wrap-up and awards

Danny Wayne Armstrong
04/01/2017 2:28pm

Danny Wayne Armstrong reviews an eventful couple of months for Russian boxing, and hands out his Red Corner awards for 2016, including one for Murat Gassiev... 

This edition of Red Corner begins with a look at the main event of the past couple of months involving a Russian boxer, namely the night of 19 November when Sergey Kovalev was pipped by Andre Ward for his light-heavyweight titles.

To many onlookers it seemed as though Kovalev controlled the fight, indeed 'Krusher' even dropped the mohawked Bay Area fighter in round two. The unanimous decision apparently even surprised Ward, whose relieved in-ring reaction to the decision was later pinned to Krusher’s Twitter page.

In other Russian-based news, Kyrgyz-born light heavy Dmitry Bivol beat Yevgeni Makhteienko at the end of October. While the points victory may have been one of the less exciting contests in Bivol’s fledgling 8-0 and 6 KO career, according to his manager, Russian-American managing prodigy Vadim Kornilov, his charge is on the verge of big things.

“He is a guy who can make an impression,” Kornilov said when assessing several upcoming Russian fighters. “There’s also a cruiserweight fighting on [the Denis Lebedev vs Murat Gassiev] card called [Alexey] Egorov who is with us, I manage him with a co-manager and I think he is going to be impressive.”

On the eve of that Lebedev vs Gassiev card, on 2 December, Denis Shafikov outpointed Ghanaian KO artist Richard Commey at MatchPoint on Moscow’s Arbat Street. The extremely small venue was the stage for what many perceived as an outright robbery. Commey complained bitterly about the split decision defeat on his opponent’s home soil; his critics might say that a man with 22 early finishes from 24 pro wins shouldn’t have left it to go the full 12 rounds.

The 2016 AIBA Youth World Championships took place in St. Petersburg, where ten new gold medallists were crowned in the country’s ‘Northern capital' over ten days of competition from 17-26 November. Seventy countries took part in the biennial competition and while there were no gold medals for Russia this time, there was a first ever gold for Scotland, won by William Hutchison at 75kg.

Caught up in a further doping scandal was flyweight boxer Mikhail 'Misha' Aloyan, who was stripped of his Rio 2016 Olympic silver medal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport who said Aloyan tested positive for tuaminoheptane - a nasal decongestant drug present in anti-flu nasal sprays - during an in-competition doping control on 21 August 2016.

On 15 September, the ‘Fancy Bears’ hackers group published a batch of documents on 25 athletes - Aloyan was the only Russian athlete named on that list, but vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

“How is it possible to dope while being under rigorous surveillance every day? It doesn’t make sense to do this. I have never taken any banned substances - this a life principle of mine, this is impossible when being under such close observation," Aloyan said, as reported in Russian media. He has recently lost his appeal against the decision.

On the undercard of the IBF cruiserweight title fight between champion Lebedev and Gassiev, Eduard Troyanovsky put his IBF and IBO super lightweight titles on the line against Namibian Julius Indongo, a police officer who had never fought outside his home country, but had steadily managed to climb the rankings and capture the WBO Africa belt to land a shot at Troyanovsky, who is part of Andrey Ryabinsky’s World of Boxing (Mir Boksa) assembly of fighters.

Almost nobody, including Boxing Monthly, gave the spindly Indongo a chance against Troyanovsky. At the open training session for the fight Indongo gave the impression he was weary and battle-worn, where Troya, even at 35 and two years older than his opponent, looked fresh, compact and relaxed.

It turned out that the unbeaten but unknown Indongo would produce probably the biggest ever boxing shock on Russian soil. After an exchange of blows in the first few seconds, Indongo swept a wild, swinging left hook on to Troyanovsky’s jaw. The Russian’s pale-skinned body flopped and fell and the referee waved the fight over just 40 seconds into the first round.

The crowd fell silent, aside from a slight ripple of applause and, from Indongo’s corner, shouts of joy. Indongo joins former light-middle and middle king Harry Simon and former Ricky Burns opponent Paulus Moses as a Namibian world champ. Troyanovsky told Boxing Monthly that he “hopes” there will be a rematch.

In the main event, Gassiev became Russia’s newest world champion with a unanimous points decision against wily veteran Lebdedev to win the IBF cruiser crown. Gassiev is trained by Abel Sanchez at the Big Bear Gym in California alongside Gennady Golovkin while Lebedev is now under the wing of Freddie Roach and handled by Russian-American manager Vadim Kornilov.

Gassiev could be a crossover star for Russia, his English skills have improved whilst he has been training in the US and his warm, endearing character and personable manner contrasts with his bullishness in the ring. Sanchez called the victory a “changing of the guard”.

A colossus aged just 23 and with a solid 6 foot 3 inch frame, the Ossetian will undoubtedly be a force in the division for some time. Lebedev still holds the WBA title, however, following a ruling in the week leading up to the fight. Roach said if there were to be a rematch, Lebedev would have to be paid a great deal of money because “that’s the kind of fight it was”.

The seminal Roach spoke with Boxing Monthly after his charge’s open workout in Moscow ahead of his fight in and had some kind words for Moscow’s status as a major boxing city.

“[Russians] are great fans and there’s great fighters and I think they can reach that level, yes,” the witty and personable Roach said. “They have a great market and a lot of good Russian fighters and a lot of Ukrainians of course, and you have ‘Triple G’ [middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin] 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!”

One the same night as the Moscow card, Billy Joe Saunders said his performance against Artur Akavov was “flat and crap”. The WBO middle king made his belated first defence of the belt against the Beverly Hills-based Russian.

“Thanks to all who watched and seen me live never boxed as bad in my life been out 1 year but still got the win ! I'll move on from hear [sic],” Saunders tweeted after the fight. Akavov is one of a stable of fighters managed by Alex Vaysfeld which includes super lightweight terror Sergey Lipinets and super featherweight Andrey Klimov.

It was announced that Olympic champion Alexander Povetkin had tested positive for banned muscle-building substance ostarine just hours before his WBC interim title clash with Bermane Stiverne in Ekaterinburg, Russia on 19 December. World of Boxing promoter Andrey Ryabinsky had won the purse bids ahead of Don King to stage the fight in Russia.

WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman announced that the organisation would withdraw recognition of the fight and Stiverne refused to fight, being replaced by Frenchman and former Deontay Wilder foe Johann Duhaupas. The clearly out-of-shape Duhaupas was flattened by Povetkin within six rounds when a thunderous pair of left hooks sent him to the canvas. The ongoing arguments about samples, testing and retesting is tedious and worth no more inches in this column than it already occupies.

We finish the year with the news that Academy-award nominated actor Mickey Rourke may be making a return to boxing in the Russian Urals. The 64-year-old, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the 2008 film ‘The Wrestler’, had a short professional career in the early 90s, compiling an unbeaten but bloated ledger of six wins and two draws.

Rourke fought an exhibition in Moscow against pro Elliot Seymour in November 2014 which was shrouded by controversy when the homeless Seymour alleged he had been paid to go down in the second round. After that match, Rourke declared Russia is the “only place I will fight”.

When fighting, movie star Rourke is handled by Ruslan Provodnikov's manager Vadim Kornilov, who told Boxing Monthly he is “working on” the fight.

“We are working on organising a fight for Mickey in the Urals,” Kornilov told TASS. “We plan to have Egor Mekhontsev as one of the main fights there. At the moment we’re having talks about an event with a few of our partners based in the Urals.

“It could happen in February or March next year. Mickey is currently training every day, he really wants the fight and is asking when he can fight in Russia.”

Whether he’d be a Rumble Fish or a Wrestler in his proposed match remains to be seen...

From Russia, we hope all Boxing Monthly readers have had a fruitful year and look forward to bringing you more fight news from the Red Corner as 2017 progresses!

Мы поздравляем всех с наступающим новым годом и желаем вам успеха, силы, счастья и здоровья сейчас и навсегда!!

The Red Corner Year-End Awards

KO of the Year
The knockout of the year in a Russian ring has to go to Julius Indongo for his first round destruction of home champion Eduard Troyanovsky.

Fighter of the Year
‘Iron’ Ossetian Murat Gassiev is personable and reserved outside the ring. His English skills make him marketable and at 23, the Ossetian fought fantastically against Denis Lebedev to win the IBF portion of the cruiserweight world title. It capped off a good 12 months, which included a sickening one-round KO of Jordan Shimmel to announce himself in the US.

Fight of the year
What more could you want from Gassiev vs Lebedev? Young gun, old guard; ebb and flow action; knockdown; world title on the line; Roach, Sanchez, Kornilov in the corners. Honourable mention to Kovalev vs Ward.

Hero of the Year
Winner of TV show 'Boi v Bolshom Gorode' (Fight in the Big City) Georgi Chelokhsayev won an apartment and fight contract from Mir Boksa chief Andrey Ryabinsky with a fith round TKO in the final bout on the Lebedev-Gassiev undercard.

Villain of the Year
Povetkin continues his relentless quest to drag the sport in the country through the mud.

Upset of the year
Indongo KO1 Troyanovsky.

Ones to Watch in 2017
Sergey Lipinets - over in Beverly Hills the former kick-boxer showed some excellent form in 2016, securing three impressive KOs against experienced opposition to take his record to 11-0 (9 KOs). His skills have been honed sparring around California against the likes of Jose Benavidez Jr. Light-heavy Dmitry Bivol (8-0, 6 KOs) is also an excellent prospect who will certainly kick on this year, as outlined above by manager Vadim Kornilov.