Upbeat Ajisafe looks to the future
Commonwealth light heavyweight champion Bob Ajisafe (16-3, 7 KOs) was feeling upbeat when Boxing Monthly caught up with the 31-year-old, who was back home on British soil after a spirited IBO title challenge against unbeaten Russian Umar Salamov (16-0, 12 KOs) in Moscow on Saturday night.
“I take a lot away from the experience,” said Ajisafe.
While in Moscow I was granted full access to Team Ajisafe by trainer Dominic Ingle, a team which included friend and stable-mate Kid Galahad who is in training for a spot on the 9 July undercard of the Tyson Fury v Wladimir Klitschko World Heavyweight title rematch.
Asked to explain a relatively slow start which culminated in the Brit losing a 12-round unanimous decision (113-115 x 2 and 111-117 on the judges’ scorecards), Ajisafe admitted to "a little bit of ring rust" after a ring absence just shy of a year.
"He started out very aggressive,” said Ajisafe.
“While I was taking a look at him in the first I was on the back foot not engaging. If I'd not had the ring rust and been off the mark from round one I'd have won.”
"I dominated the later rounds,” he continued.
Ajisafe explained how he happened to be on the same flight as the IBO officials coming home. "Even (they) said I could have nicked it or it could have been a draw!"
I asked Ajisafe if he sensed the 21-year-old Russian, with 12 early finishes in his previous 15 bouts, expected an early night.
"Absolutely,” he answered.
"It was when he couldn't and he (Salamov) gassed in the fourth or fifth round, and started clinging on and (using tricks like) pulling me down to the canvas. In round six I nearly knocked him out and that was the turning point. I did the majority of my good work then and especially in the last quarter."
Ajisafe is now keen to press on quickly with his career and remain at this level.
"I'll try to pursue a rematch," he said. "I'd love it in the UK or on neutral ground."
Despite fighting outside of Britain for the first time in his professional career ‘Lionheart’ said that the away atmosphere did not affect him.
“Obviously he was the home town kid and they were shouting his name, but there were no funny tricks. The hospitality was good. They (promoters World of Boxing) picked us up and treated us with respect, and he (Salamov) was a respectful man," said Ajisafe.
"It was a well set up show and, depending on the offer, I would come back. I take a lot of encouragement from this performance and was close to winning."
Invited into their dressing room by trainer Dominic Ingle immediately following the bout, I asked how it looked from ringside and agreed that after a slow start it was close and that Ajisafe had finished the stronger.
"The kid (Salamov) won the first three,” admitted Ingle minutes after the decision. "After that it was close rounds, drawn rounds. The kid (Salamov) wasn't throwing. He was in survival mode throwing Bob to the floor. Bob was the better boxer and once the other kid realised he couldn't knock Bob out. He panicked."
"That was 12 good rounds" said Ingle taking the positives from the experience. "Now you know why people won't fight him! He'll beat (British Light Heavyweight champion) Hosea Burton. Bob is 31 but he lives right.
After the cancellation of what was to be the card’s main event featuring Deontay Wilder’s WBC World Heavyweight title defence against Alexander Povetkin, Boxnation – who were originally scheduled to show the bill from Moscow - removed the show from their programming on Saturday night.
Ingle said that the channel's decision might work to Ajisafe’s benefit in the long-term.
"Maybe that will do us a favour that they've not shown it because people (potential opponents) will see a loss and fight him (without seeing the performance)!
"I'd like to see him out again in September," said Ingle "He's still Commonwealth champion".
Ingle said that normally on a foreign trip they would usually arrive the Wednesday prior to the fight taking in the surroundings before switching to fight mode. Team Ajisafe arrived on Thursday and despite Ingle saying he was keen to see the Kremlin and other sights, the team were here strictly for business.
"The visa process was a pain,” said Ingle of a working visa application that involved two trips to London.
Enjoying the unlikely jump from in fighting in Bristol in his last contest to the Russian capital the next, Ajisafe smiled: "It's deserved! I paid my dues and established myself as the best in Britain. I won the domestic title (against Dean Francis) and the Commonwealth (beating Daniel Wanyonyi in his previous fight to the IBO challenge)."
With Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson doing a good job of not providing boxing fans with what is one of the few marquee fights in the sport, I asked Ajisafe for his views on all things on the world scene at 175lbs.
"It's tough at the top,” he said.
“Obviously you've got (Sergey) Kovalev with most of the belts. [Andre] Ward has moved up as well now and it seems like they'll fight each other later this year. Then there's (WBC champion) Adonis Stevenson. So really you've got some of the very best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing at the top of this division.
"Underneath those you've got Edwin Rodriguez (who lost last month) and Chad Dawson coming back."
Of division danger man Artur Beterbiev, Ajisafe said: "I sparred with him in Montreal. He's very strong. Seek and destroy."
What if Kovalev and Beterbiev were to renew their amateur rivalry?
"Kovalev is obviously more accomplished as a pro, even though Beterbiev beat him as an amateur. Beterbiev's best opponent is probably Tavoris Cloud, who he did take apart. It's a different kind of power they carry. Kovalev is loose and fluid, whereas Artur is more brute strength."
So what does the future hold for Ajisafe?
"Next up I might have a (Commonwealth) mandatory and then I'd love to pursue another world level fight or an interim type challenge."
Asked if this meant he would return to fight someone like Dmitry Bivol, who picked up the WBA interim belt on the big Moscow show, Ajisafe said: "Sure, maybe, why not? I hear he's another amateur standout like Salamov.
"The key thing for me is to stay busy and pursue my dream at world level.”