One of the most brutal and controversial battles we've seen in recent years was the WBA Cruiserweight title fight between Panama's Guillermo Jones and Russia's Denis Lebedev. The bout saw both men landing bombs for fun though unfortunately it's better remembered for Lebedev ending up a swollen, grotesque and disfigured mess and the Jones failing a drugs test.
That bout came more than a year ago and although a rematch was scheduled Jones failed pre-fight drug test and as a result Lebedev hasn't fought since.
This week Lebedev (25-2, 19) returns to the ring as the WBA champion, having been handed back the title Jones had taken from him in their first bout. Some how the loss has stood on Lebedev's record but it seems clear that the loss was a dirty one and that the WBA accept it was a dirty one. Unfortunately for the Russian he doesn't return in a gimme like so many other fighters returning after a long break or a really vicious and damaging fight. Instead the all action-Russian will be battling against the unbeaten Polish challenger Pawel Kolodziej (33-0, 18) in what appears to be a fantastic bout and a baptism of fire for Lebedev considering the circumstances of his last bout.
At his best Lebedev is one of the sports most exciting, entertaining and brave fighters. He is an absolute warrior who believes in himself so much that he's willing to go to war. He's short, stout, powerful and hits like a mule. He may not be the most athletically gifted or the most technically sound boxer but he's a tank with heavy artillery and the capability to stand up to real howitzers, as shown in his bout with Jones, until he tired out and was stopped from exhaustion in round 11.
In many ways Lebedev is similar to a modern day Rocky Marciano. The two are similar in stature and in some ways similar in style with physicality and power making up for technical inadequacies. If you enjoy fights of attrition fought with rocket launchers you will love watching Lebedev, if he's even 90% of the fighter he once was.
As for Poland's unbeaten Kolodziej we've got to admit we've not seen a lot of him. What we have seen suggests that he's not the best Cruiserweight in Poland though at 6'4" he's a nightmare for anyone in the division, especially for someone like Lebedev who is a short guy for a Cruiserweight. The Pole is a fighter who uses his height well, throws a lot of straight shots and moves a lot to try and make sure he can use his jab to set up other shots. Unfortunately due to his height he does look fragile and a bit too thin and scrawny, a bit like Light Heavyweight compatriot Andrezj Fonfara. That's not to say he is fragile but he does look it.
The problem with knowing how good the Pole actually is, is that his competition has been awful, to be polite. His biggest name foes have been a long way past their sell by date and he's with out a defining fight of any type. In fact his best win is a narrow decision over Cesar David Crenz and in his career he has only completed the 10 round schedule 4 times in 33 fights, not a good sign when you're going into your first world title fight.
On paper this should be a stylistic nightmare for Lebedev. He is giving up a freakish 5" in height and a huge amount of reach, he is also coming back from his long lay off and will be expected to struggle for timing against a guy capable of throwing very crisp jabs. Saying that however Lebedev does have the ability to get inside on fighters and with his power, work rate and ferocity he will give tall fighters nightmares and manage to cut off the ring and break down fighters.
We're expecting Lebedev to start very slowly and cautiously. This may see him giving away 3 or 4 rounds as he tries to ring rust and get back his sense of self belief and confidence. When that happens we think he'll close the distance and rip the body of Kolodziej who will slowly, but surely, crumble in the second half of the fight. The Pole being punished for his lack of competition prior to this fight and his relatively open body that will be a nice juicy target for the Russian destroyer.
(Image courtesy of http://akboxing.ru)