By Alexey Sukachev
The 10th of April will be marked as a special date for the entire post-Soviet professional boxing, and especially for its Ukrainian stronghold. For the first time in almost twenty years since the paid boxing made its entrance into the former Soviet Union, two local fighters will clash against each other for the legitimate world championship in their Homeland, when the WBA regular welterweight champion Yuri Nuzhnenko (28-0-1, 13 KOs) steps into the ring versus WBA #3 ranked contender Vyacheslav Senchenko (28-0, 20 KOs) in what seems to be the most sound battle to be held in Ukraine. This contest will headline a huge pugilistic show, promoted by the Union Boxing Promotions, which is set for this Friday at “Druzhba” Sports Palace in Donetsk, the heart of eastern Ukraine.
It’s not the first time when a major title bout will be brought to one of the ex-Soviet republics. Al Cole collided with Glenn McCrory to retain his IBF cruiserweight as early as in July 1993 in Moscow, Russia. However, it was more an advertisement for professional boxing than a really meaningful fight card for Russian fight fans. Eight years after that the IBF cruiserweight belt was back, now to Kazakhstan where Vassily Jirov became the first ever ex-Soviet fighter to conduct his title defense in Homeland. Jirov made this debut a successful one, stopping Puerto-Rican Alex Gonzalez in the very first round. It had also been just a gleam of future events which started in December 2006, when the WBC heavyweight titleholder Oleg Maskaev dominated Ugandan Peter Okhello in his initial title defense, and culminated in Moscow doubleheader in October 2007, when Sultan Ibragimov outpointed ever-young legend Evander Holyfield for the WBO heavyweight championship and super flyweight Dmitry Kirillov made a history by becoming the first ever Russian (and ex-Soviet) boxer to capture a major belt (IBF) on his native soil.
Yuri Nuzhnenko, 32, once a prominent amateur fighter and two times junior welterweight national champion with an overall record of 110-33, was just starting his pro career when Jirov made the statement against Gonzalez. For the first three years Yuri had been boxing exclusively in neighboring Poland before he made the comeback move to native Ukraine. Nuzhnenko’s biggest win during his Polish stay was a decision win over the reigning European master Rafal Jackiewicz in November 2001. After fighting mostly a non-descript opposition for the next couple of years, Nuzhnenko made his move to the world ranks with a huge TKO 8 victory over tough Russian veteran Maxim Nesterenko in September 2006, dropping him twice during the process. After two more victories over previously undefeated Uzbek Farkhad Bakirov and Argentinean veteran Juan Carlos Zeferino Villareal, Yuri was granted a major opportunity to fight for an interim version of the WBA welterweight belt against Frenchman Frederic Klose and he didn’t miss it scoring his biggest victory, and the road one, in December 2007. Nuzhnenko, still being an interim champion, made one defense of his small portion of the world title and it didn’t please him much. The Ukrainian fighter was badly cut and was on receiving end of Irving Garcia’s punches before he barely retained his title via a suspicious technical decision the last April. He was inactive for eight months after that but on a lucky occasion saw his “interim” status being elevated to the “regular” one after the WBA awarded then-champion Antonio Margarito with a “super-”prefix. Nuzhnenko, promoted by K2 East Promotions, last fought in December 2008 scoring a hard-fought ten-round decision over journeyman Ikbal Kurbanov.
Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Senchenko, 31, was steadily transforming himself into the second-best Ukrainian welterweight and Yuri’s most reasonable opponent by following Nuzhnenko in his footsteps. Senchenko, who took part in 2000 Sydney Olympics but was eliminated in the first round, started to fight at paid ranks in June 2002 and, unlike his bitter rival, was competing in his hometown of Donetsk for the biggest part of his career. Local Union Boxing Promotions kept Vyacheslav busy giving him no less than three outings each year. Senchenko scored his biggest win last July barely outpointing aforementioned Frederic Klose after twelve heated rounds. While Nuzhnenko scored a road victory over the French veteran 116-112, 116-113 and 116-113, Senchenko, competing behind the partisan crowd, retained his WBA intercontinental title with a hairline triple115-113 unanimous decision over the same opponent. In his last fight in November 2008, Senchenko stopped overmatched Brazilian Adonicio Fransisco Reges in four rounds.
Who is the favorite of the coming match-up between two unbeaten fighters? Journalist Anton Gorunov, one of the most prominent experts in Ukrainian boxing and Fightnews contributor leans to the home fighter with a razor-thin decision. “It’s a toss-up fight and I can’t predict the winner if you ask me straightforward. Senchenko is fighting at home while Nuzhnenko is much more experienced boxer. I think Yuri will try to impose his will on Vyacheslav the way he usually does. He will try to march forward and will look for his chance in close quarters. On the other hand, Senchenko must keep his foe on the outside by constantly jabbing him and showing his mobility. However, while his skills cannot be questioned, Senchenko’s stamina can be an issue. If he will get tired in the midst of the fight, Nuzhnenko can just overpower and outfight him. He must be very careful though because Vyacheslav has his puncher’s chance, especially with his lethal left to the body. At the end of the day, it’s 50/50 but I think Senchenko will pull out an extremely close decision in his favor”.
Leading the undercard is the EBU featherweight champion Oleg Yefimovich (15-1, 10 KOs), ranked WBO #3, WBC #10, WBA #12 and IBF #15, who will put his belt at stake for the second time against French journeyman Osman Aktas (33-16-5, 6 KOs). Undefeated junior welterweight Vladimir Kravets (18-0, 11 KOs) faces Belarus Yauhen Kruhlik (9-11-2, 1 KO) for the EBU-EE title. Local favorites lightweight Andrey Kudriavtsev (30-6, 12 KOs) and talented WBC #14 super middleweight Stas Kashtanov (23-0, 13 KOs) will be showcased in separate non-title affairs.
The weigh-in will be held tomorrow and the final presser will start at 3:30 p.m. LT.