By Alexey Sukachev
The air was shivering with noise and the room was like a crowded square yesterday at ITAR-TASS media-centre in Moscow during a huge presser, staged there by well-known Russian promoter/manager Vladimir Hryunov and officials of the Professional Boxing Federation of Russia. The reason was obvious from the first look at the shining and gorgeous prize, pending to be awarded to someone in attendance, as well as a number of posters and various papers advertising the certain tournament to be announced in the shortest span of time.
Drawing the main attention from media and occasional guests were Vladimir Hryunov, top Russian boxers Alexander Bakhtin and Denis Lebedev, Denis’ head coach Valery Belov, PBFR vice-president Yuri Alexandrov and PBFR executive secretary Igor Mazurov. Starting the presser was Hryunov, 2006 Russian promoter of the year but better known as the manager of elite heavyweight Alexander Povetkin.
“I welcome all of you here at ITAR-TASS. I’m proud to announce the biggest boxing event of February in Russia, which will be arranged in Izhevsk and will feature the cream of Russian boxing in Denis Lebedev and Alexander Bakhtin. Denis is set to make the next defense of his WBO Intercontinental cruiserweight title, and Sasha will participate in the WBC partial eliminator in the bantamweight division”.
“It is for the first time in 17 years that Izhevsk hosts a pro boxing tournament, and it’s definitely the first time in the history of Udmurt capital when it welcomes a show of such caliber,” added Hryunov who will promote the event. “I wish to thank everybody involved in the making but specifically the Udmurt Department of Physical Culture and Sports which helps us much in staging this competition. We shall occupy the biggest sports arena in the city. Ticket offices are already open and I hope that it’ll be a sell-out and the crowd will be roaring with enthusiasm throughout the whole evening.”
The main event will see WBO #3, WBC #7, WBA #13 and WBC #15 cruiserweight Denis Lebedev (19-0, 14 KOs) against tough Mexican Ignacio Esparza (16-1, 12 KOs) in the next defense of his WBO I/C title. “Esparza looks soft but he is not soft, he is no gimme. We have carefully watched his only loss to Serbian Enad Licina and it’s obvious to me that he hadn’t lost that fight. In fact, he had won it. That is how tough Esparza really is. So Denis here isn’t in for a walk in the park by any means. This is will be a tough fight for everyone and witnesses will certainly be satisfied,” described Hryunov.
Another unbeaten fighter taking its part in a scheduled twelve-rounder is world-class bantamweight Alexander Bakhtin (24-0, 11 KOs), who has recently come back to Russian after spending his whole pro career in Japan. Bakhtin, ranked #3 by the WBC, #6 by both the WBA and the IBF, and #13 by the WBO, takes on rugged Kenyan warrior Nick Otieno (19-4, 8 KOs) in what seems to be a semifinal elimination match, according to the official letter issued by WBC president Jose Sulaiman. Ex-UBO champion Otieno, who is ranked now #16 by the WBC, is well-known for his win over Filipino Rexon Flores, his loss to Flores’ compatriot Z Gorres and majority decision drop-out by the hands of Mexican Eduardo Garcia – all these fights taking their places in busy 2008.
“We are waiting for our good friend Mr. Jose Sulaiman to visit us and to accomplish his honorable duties of the supervisor of the upcoming fight. It’ll be a specific presser, which we shall arrange to introduce and to greet Mr. Sulaiman. He will have a busy stay here and his schedule is being formed right now. But he will for sure take his part in all the leading boxing activities around the upcoming tournament and he is also set to visit the school of boxing by Victor Petrovich Ageev (PBFR president) in Balashikha,” continued the promoter.
There will be more interesting fights during the tournament. Russian super middleweight champion Konstantin Piternov (8-0, 1 KO) has two possibilities ahead of him; one of them being hard-punching Ghanaian veteran James Obede Toney (23-3-1, 19 KOs), who notched a draw against Randy Griffin in 2005 but was taken into submission by world champions Lucian Bute and Roman Karmazin three years ago. “We have come to an agreement with Kostya’s manager so that he will soon be signed by me to a promotional contract,” claimed Vladimir Hryunov. Also top Azerbaijani fighter Azad Azizov (22-2-1, 13 KOs) faces rugged Kenyan Geoffrey Gaya (4-2, 1 KO) in a light welterweight eight-rounder. Two-time world title challenger Yuri Barashian (25-5, 17 KOs) from Ukraine is also a part of the tournament as well as Russian Igor Ivanov (3-0), Azerbaijani Ali Mammadov (1-0) and Kazakh Abdul Kazimov.
“This date is a specific one for all Russian people,” delivered Hryunov then. “Our show starts in the evening but it’s set to continue over the midnight so it’ll end up on Feb. 23. That means the main event will occur during the Day of Motherland’s Defender which is our main and beloved army holiday. I hope these wonderful and courageous boxers have something to say about it inside the squared circle. They will deliver their best to honor those who were (and are) fighting for our country all around the world. And let’s not forget that it’s the home of AK-47 so that it’s twice as symbolical. Moreover, we are planning to have our legendary gunsmith Mikhail Kalashnikov with us to honor him with world-class boxing.”
The show will be broadcasted live in several countries and also live by one of the Russian satellite channels with the delayed replay via one of the country’s leading TV networks.
“But now it’s time for the specific moment we have all been waiting for,” exclaimed Hryunov before giving his microphone to Yuri Alexandrov.
“We are proud to announce that Denis Alexandrovich Lebedev was named the Fighter of the Year in 2009 by the Professional Boxing Federation of Russia. Denis, it was a great year for you but we hope to see even better results from our best fighter in 2010”, said Alexandrov before an ovation had broken out. Denis was also awarded with the specifically designed cup (with the original statuette of the boxer on its top).
Chekhov-based hard-hitting boxer-puncher Lebedev enjoyed a poster year in 2009, crushing former world champion Enzo Maccarinelli and Cuban star Eliseo Castillo before forcing ex-WBO title challenger Ali Ismailov to retire on his stool this December. “I’m very proud to take this prize with me,” said the always modest and soft-speaking Lebedev, who is promoted by Frank Warren’s Sports Network. “I want to thank everybody for their support but specifically my manager Vladimir Hrunov, my head coach Valery Belov and cutman Andrey Kozlov. They, alongside Frank Warren and my friends from Vityaz Chekhov, have done tremendous work to bring me back into boxing and guided me to where I am now and their work can hardly be over-estimated. But I’m hungry for more and I hope to land a title shot later this year to prove I’m the best not only in Russia but in whole world.”
“We are planning a big year for Denis,” added Hryunov. “One or two fights and we shall land a title match-up. It’s hard to name a certain fighter but we are ready to go after all the champions at 200 lb and to conquer them.” About a proposed fight with Nagy Aguilera, “We wanted to make it indeed avenging the loss of our beloved champion Oleg Maskaev. Unfortunately, Team Aguilera failed to deliver deciding not to risk their fighter’s record at a catch weight of 207.5 lbs. So it’s their fault but we are still looking at them.”
Alexander Bakhtin will be another fighter of the explicit importance. Japanese bantamweight record-breaker (for the most defenses of the national title) returned to Russia this summer and now trains and lives in Balashikha, near Moscow. “I’m glad to greet everybody here. I was ready to come back to Russia and it was the moment when Vladimir offered his help as a manager and as a friend. There was little to think about as Russian boxing moves up and raises its stock from day to day. I feel myself in home now. I came back just in time. My child should visit a Russian kindergarten and he should study in Russian schools.”
Both fighters hadn’t much to say about their future opponents.
Lebedev: “Frankly speaking, we are still waiting for the tapes of Ignacio Esparza so I cannot say much about him. As for my current conditioning, I’m pretty fit. I didn’t allow myself to rest during Christmas and New Years so I’m ready for the training.”
Bakhtin: “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen him yet.”
Hryunov: “I wish to thank our friend Alexey Sukachev for bringing the video of Nick Otieno to us. We shall study it. Alexander will continue his preparation under the guidance of Alexander Zimin in St. Petersburg. Wonderful news is that we shall be advised by the legendary Russian fighter Yuri Arbachakov. Yuri was the first ever Russian fighter (not only Russian but ex-Soviet) to win any major title (WBC flyweight) and it was almost 18 years ago. It was way before Kostya Tszyu. We are proud to have such a figure with us. If Alexander is successful on Feb. 22, we are planning a major title fight for him at the end of May or June in his adopted hometown of Balashikha.”
Next to enter the scene was Igor Mazurov, “A good question was asked about Izhevsk being the place for this tournament. Our Federation tends to bring pro boxing to every region of our country. Last year saw a wonderful stream-roll of boxing through Ciscaucasia with a number of fights being staged in Northern Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. And now we welcome Izhevsk to our friendly family of boxing centers. I also wish to pinpoint the activeness of Russian promoters. January is traditionally a month off but February will see a number of interesting fights in various parts of Russia, including Moscow, St. Petersburg and so on, and we can only accept and support it. The Federation also wants to thank Vladimir Hryunov and to underline his plans for making this great show. It’s really worth of following as he will bring a much needed attention to pro boxing in the whole region of Russia.”
“Both match-ups are really very-very interesting and the fact that the latter was sanctioned as an eliminator by the respective World Boxing Council proves this point because Sasha Bakhtin throughout his whole pro career shows us that he deserves it fair and square. As for the WBO I/C title, it’s being respected all around the world and the majority of fighters, who are winning and defending this belt, are in hot position to pursue the bouts for the major WBO title which also proves its worthiness.”
The executive secretary of the local Federation ended his speech with an official statement for media in attendance, “By the order of respective WBC president Jose Sulaiman, we have compiled a survey among several national boxing federations of neighboring countries about the so-called CISBB boxing commission which corresponds to the Commonwealth of Independent States and Slovenian Boxing Bureau. There exists a morbid atmosphere and a synthetic stir about this organization and its title on some of sportive portals around the Web so it’s due to make certain things clear. We have sent a specific request considering both the CISBB and the so-called WBC Baltic Sea titles and their necessity to a number of corresponding local federations in various neighboring states, for example in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and Slovenian states such as Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, and also to Baltic Sea countries as Poland, Finland, Germany, Latvia and Lithuania. I would like to tell you that none of the countries, which officially responded to the survey, have supported the whole idea of promoting and staging (both presently and in future) CISBB and WBC Baltic Sea titles. And so we shall stand by this decision in future as well, and we shall surely inform Mr. Sulaiman about the results of this survey. Please, consider this an official statement and we ask you kindly not to misinform the boxing community about these titles, commissions and their current stance.”