In 2016 we saw a lot of controversy at the Rio Olympics. A lot of that seemed to come around suspicion of bribery or ineptitude of the judges, and saw a number of very questionable decisions. Despite all the controversy there was one very big winner from the Olympics, Uzbekistan. The country, which only competed as an independent nation for the first in 1996, really shone just 20 years after their debut.
Having sent 11 fighters to Rio Uzbekistan actually went on to win the medal table, taking home an impressive 7 medals, including 3 gold medals, and one of those was also the Val Barker trophy winner Hasanboy Dusmatov. The following year at the Amateur World Boxing Championships they came second in the medal table, only behind the dominant Cuban team.
The early success stories of the Uzbek amateur scene, such as such as 1996 Olympic bronze medal winner Karim Tulaganov and 2000 Olympic gold medal winner Mohammad Abdullaev, both failed as professionals, with Tulaganov going 1-3 in the professional ranks. The only two real early success stories of Uzbek professionals are Artur Grigorian and Ruslan Chagaev.
Today however we look like we're on the verge of a golden age of Uzbek professional boxing. There is real depth in the Uzbek scene across a number of divisions and it's almost as if the country has finally realised it can be really successful as a force in professional boxing. And with so much talent breaking through, we thought it a perfect time to have a look at some of those emerging fighters.
We'll start by looking at 5 men who competed at Rio 2016, most of whom had really successful campaigns. Later in the week we'll look at those who didn't compete at the Olympics, in what will be part 2 of this mini-feature.
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (3-0, 1)
The only Uzbek to have won an Olympic gold medal in Rio and to have already began their professional career is 26 year old Fazliddin Gaibnazarov who is managed by Egil Klimas and promoted by Top Rank. In the amateur he was a 2-time Olympian, fighting in London 2012 and Rio 2016, with his Rio triumph being the highlight of his amateur career.
As well as his Oympic triumph Gaibnazarov claimed silver medals at the 2015 World Amateur Championships, losing to Russian Vitaly Dunaytsev in the final, and the 2015 Asian Championships, losing to home fighter Wuttichai Masuk in the final.
As a professional Gaibnazarov hasn't yet shone, being put down on his debut in April 2017 and failing to stop any of his subsequent opponents. Although he hasn't been matched easily there is a worry that he lacks power and hasn't yet adapted to the professional ranks in the way Top Rank would have wanted. Saying that however he has won every round of his professional career, bar his very first.
Shakhram Giyasov (2-0, 1)
Having taken the silver medal in Rio at Welterweight there was some hope that Shakhram Giyasov would have professional promoters all over him and try to turn him professional quickly. Giyasov however stayed amateur and had a brilliant 2017, picking up gold medals at both the World Amateur Championships and the Asian Championships. The extra year in the amateurs saw him shine before turning professional.
Giyasov debuted this past March, against Nicolas Atilio Velazquez, and didn't even break sweat with a 15 second blow out. It seemed like he was unhappy with the speed of his win and he took his time in his second professional bout, taking a very 1-sided decision win over the experienced Gabor Gorbics, and going 6 very comfortably rounds in the process.
Based in the US there is big things expected of the 24 year old Welterweight. We don't expect him to be in world title fights this year, or even next year, but we do expect to see him in with “name” opponents in the near future, and given his relaxed nature in the ring we have no worries about him going long distances.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (2-0, 2)
Another fighter who chose to stay in the unpaid ranks for an extra year following the Olympics was Bantamweight bronze medal winner Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Like Giyasov we saw Akhmadaliev claim more success after staying on in the amateurs, and he took a gold at the 2017 Asian Championships in Tashkent, a competition that saw the Uzbek team claim 9 of the 10 possible gold medals.
Akhmadaliev made his professional debut in March and instantly took to the professional ranks like a duck to water. From the opening seconds of his bout against David Michel Paz we saw a naturally aggressive, yet smart, young fighter. He would drop Paz with a body shot, that had a delayed reaction, and record his first win in just over a minute. In his second bout, earlier this month, he defeated Carlos Gaston Suarez and showed that he could box patiently before making the referee jump in and stop the bout in round 3.
Just like Giyasov it seems like Akhmadaliev could be set for a big year and the 23 year old Featherweight might well race into the fringes of the world rankings before the end of the year. He looks like a really special talent, and it's hard to say where his ceiling will be, but it's going to be very high.
Rustam Tulaganov (1-0)
Another bronze medal winner from the Rio games was Rustam Tulaganov, who claimed his medal in the Heavyweight division. Like many others on this list he didn't turn professional immediately but did make his debut in late 2017, taking a 4 round decision over Robert Guerra.
Since his debut Tulaganov has twice been pencilled in to face Martez McGregor but for whatever reason the bout has failed to actually happen. This means that Tulaganov has been out of action for around 6 months and his career really needs to kick on, rather than be slowed down. He's a talented fighter, in a stacked division, and can't afford to waste his prime years. He is only 26, but with so much talent at 175lbs he should be using this year to make his mark as a prospect.
When Tulaganov does next fight he'll be hoping to answer some questions and make up for lost time. He has the ability to go a long way, but will be wanting to avoid having a stop-start career. Thankfully with Egis Klimas managing his career he should have the link to be kept active, matched well and moved through the rankings. That however depends on his desire and hunger to make an impression on the professional scene.
Batyr Ahmedov (4-0, 3)
One man who fought at the Olympics but failed to medal was Batyr Ahmedov, who actually competed for Turkey under the name Batuhan Gozgec. Although he failed to medal he did reach the quarter finals and claimed two wins in Rio.
Unlike most on this list he didn't hang around in the amateurs and instead debuted in February 2017 with a 3rd round win over Dmitry Lavrinenko. Sadly he was inactive for close to 10 months, returning in December to stop Levan Tsiklauri in 2 rounds. It was obvious from the very start of his professional career that he was a special talent, making Lavreinenko look lost and confused by his foot work and smashing his face in with heavy shots. There was touches of Vasyl Lomachenko in what he was doing in the ring and it was great to watch.
Ahmedov has already stepped up, massively, and in just his third professional bout he faced Ricky Sismundo. The Filipino veteran is a solid gate keeper but Ahmedov made him look very poor, and dropped him twice en route to a dominant decision win, over 10 rounds. That win netted Ahmedov the WBA Inter-Continental Super Lightweight title, and given his weight on the scales there a real chance he could actually move down to Lightweight if he wanted. For the full 10 rounds Ahmedov looked great and like a star in the making. Since then he has also added a 3rd round win over Oscar Barajas.
With a very fan friendly style, a great work rate, proven stamina, spiteful power, great foot work and movement the future is incredibly bright for Ahmedov. He has already shown touches of genius and there is real potential for him to become a multi-weight champion. His team have spoke about fast tracking him, and given the showing against Sismundo there is no reason to doubt them.
Despite not fighting for Uzbekistan, or winning an Olympic medal, at Rio Ahmedov might well be the best Uzbek born boxer to have gone to Brazil.
In part 2 of our look at the rising Uzbek fighters we'll have a look at 7 fighters to keep an eye one. Several have already scored notable wins with two of the fighters already in the world rankings.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces