By Alexey Sukachev
It was just a year and a half ago when one could hardly find a gambler who would place a bet on an unknown, hard-nosed fellow, sitting near Alexander Povetkin during the presser to announce Povetkin-Sykes bout in Chekhov, Moscow Region. The guy was definitely a part of the team but only a few of boxing community, much less through a crowd of reporters, recognized him at once. The man with a specific look of a tough guy or maybe of a street fighter was a former Russian amateur standout and light heavyweight national champion Denis Lebedev, who was coming back after a three and a half year layoff to fight under Vladimir Hryunov’s aegis. He was nobody at the time and no one had ever thought he would find his way up through an enormous amount of different obstacles. He has found one though.
Now Lebedev (19-0, 14 KOs) with a shining string of kayo victories (including Eliseo Castillo, Enzo Maccarinelli and Ali Ismailov in his recent fights) is ranked #1 by the WBO. He is also rated #7 by the IBF and #14 by both the WBC and the WBA. More to this he is the Ring #10 cruiserweight contender and the owner of WBO I/C belt. On Feb. 22 Lebedev clashes against deceptively soft-looking but fairly dangerous Mexican Ignacio Esparza (16-1, 12 KOs) during a major show, promoted by Vladimir Hryunov in Izhevsk, Russia. Fightnews caught up with the new cruiserweight force during his last preparations for the upcoming fight.
How is it going, Denis?
Everything is fine, sir. I’m finishing my preparations and I want to ensure Fightnews and all my fans around that I shall not take Esparza lightly. I’m seriously prepared for hard work and a tough battle. No underestimation for this Mexican.
Have you ever seen his tapes?
Yes, I have. I watched him fighting the big and strong Enad Licina in Germany. However, it was the only tape we’ve chosen to investigate. I think it’ll be more than enough because he hasn’t fought anyone of note during his stay at home.
Esparza looks soft-bellied but he possesses a reasonable amount of skill and grit. What is your impression about the future opponent?
Indeed, he is looking soft and that is surely a disguise. I’m prepared for a tough fight. He doesn’t have a sound physique but he is durable and his stamina is great. I noticed he was throwing quick left-right combos with bad intentions and I noted his hand speed is pretty impressive.
Your manager Vladimir Hryunov told me he though Esparza had been a better fighter in a clash against Licina and had deserved the decision. Do you agree?
The margin was too wide on the judges’ scorecards. The contest was much closer than that. I don’t think Esparza was the winner but the bout was very much even.
Have your ever fought Mexican fighters?
Never. This will be my first encounter with them but I know Mexicans are usually tough and willing boxers who keep coming at you all the time. So I anticipate a give-and-take collision on Monday night.
Lets go back to your recent victory over Ali Ismailov (TKO 6 for Lebedev). Ali said afterwards you were using your head with really dangerous intentions. According to him, that was the reason for his severe cuts and premature stoppage. Give us your thought about his points.
As much as I respect Ali as a fighter, I cannot agree with him on this point. The first cut was caused by a punch and the second cut was indeed forced by a head-butt. But the aforementioned head-butt was accidental, not intentional. I wish him all the best in future but I feel I was just a better man that night.
Was the Ismailov bout the most difficult in your entire career?
I cannot say so. Enzo (Maccarinelli) was my most important career opponent. But the toughest fights I have ever had were against Teymuraz Kekelidze (Lebedev’s first fight in 2001) and versus Sergey Karanevich in 2003. Karanevich’s fight was very difficult. I felt myself completely gassed out in later rounds and continued the battle on pure will. Sergey was way better than his record was. He was very tough.
I know it’s a bit confusing to look forward past Esparza but, being a huge favorite, can you tell us what will be your future plans in case of the victory?
You’re very correct. I don’t want to look past Esparza. So better ask Vladimir (Hryunov) about our future plans. But I’m the WBO #1 ranked contender. Guess what that means!
Title fights, ambitions?
Exactly! I’m no spring chicken at 30. I want to get a title shot at the end of this year. But first things are first. I need to get the job done on Feb. 22.
We wish you luck.
Thanks. I hope I shall not disappoint my fans.