On February 27th we'll see fast rising Kazakh hopeful Kamshybek Kunkabayev (2-0, 2) take part in his first title bout as he battles Northern Irish fighter Steven Ward (13-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific Cruiserweight title, in Kazakhstan. On paper this looks like the next step en route to making Kunkabayev a star, and will see him take on a decent fighter, but someone he should beat. On the other hand it gives Ward a high profile bout against a top former amateur, a chance to get his career back in track after a 2019 loss to the under-rated, and wonderfully charming, Ricards Bolotniks.
To begin with, we don't know how Ward qualifies for a WBO Asia Pacific title bout. It appears that every so often a title and its rules and regulations go out of the window and this appears to be one of those cases. Despite that we are, genuinely, looking forward to this bout and suspect it will be a coming out party, of sorts, for the fantastically promising Kunkabayev, who may well be on the fast track to major success.
The 29 year old Kazakh made his professional debut last August, with the intention of using the professional scene to stay busy and stay finely tuned ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. An Olympics that had already been delayed and, even as we write this, isn't a sure thing due to Covid19. Unlike many fighters who take stay busy fights Kunkabayev didn't want easy bouts to stay busy and instead took on Issa Akberbayev, who seemingly didn't want to be there. He then returned to the ring in December and took on the usually solid Serhiy Radchenko, and scored a 4th round RTD win. After just 2 wins it seemed that Kunkabayev was already showing the tools of being a fantastic professional and with the Olympics looking less and less likely we do wonder whether his mind set has changed to focusing on the professional scene, rather than the amateur one.
Despite impressing as a professional it is worth noting that Kunkabayev really is a top notch amateur. He was a 2-time World Championship silver medal winner and 2-time Asian Championship silver medal winner. His amateur credentials speak for themselves, and unsurprisingly he is a very, very well polished boxer. At 6'3" he's got good size for a Cruiserweight and he knows how to use his frame well. He has a sharp jab, moves surprisingly lightly on his feet, has an excellent southpaw left hand, and is technically very good. Despite being impressive it is worth noting that his first two opponents have shown almost no ambition against him and not asked any questions, and he's really looked like a man who hasn't got out of first gear yet. It'll be interesting to see what happens when an opponent takes the fight to him, and doesn't show him far, far, far, too much respect.
In Steven Ward we have a 30 year old who began his career in 2016 as a Light Heavyweight. His career went swimmingly early on and he won his first 12 bouts, including a notable win in 2018 against Steve Collins Jr and a good 2019 win over Liam Conroy. Sadly however his winning run came to an end in late 2019 when he was stopped inside a round by Ricards Bolotniks in WBO European Light Heavyweight title bout. Against Sadly for Ward the loss to Bolotniks, and the win over Conroy, saw him being dropped and there are real question marks as to whether that was due to a poor chin, or weight issues, with Ward being a big Light Heavyweight at 6'2". Since the loss to Bolotniks he has moved up in weight and we dare say that the increase in weight will be better for his body, though we do still wonder about his durability.
In the ring Ward is a fighter who likes to use his jab, and likes to keep things at a safe range. Sadly however that tactic failed against Bolotniks, who managed to drop him with a left hook mid way through the round and then got all over him and dropped him twice more. That was against a much smaller man. Kunkabayev on the other hand is bigger than Ward and won't be backed off by the jab of the Northern Irishman. In fact if anything Ward trying to jab at Kunkabayev could end up speeding up his downfall. Sadly it's hard to really see what Ward brings to this bout to make him a test. He is, on paper, a step up for Kunkabeyv, but in reality offers very, very little.
On paper Ward looks like a good match up. He's more experienced than Kunkabayev, at least in the professional ranks, but that's pretty much the only advantage he has. He's the naturally smaller man, the less polished, the chinnier, the lesser puncher and the less talented. Ward might have the professional experience but that won't help when Kunkabayev catched him, hurts him, and finishes him.
If we're being honest we suspect Kunkabayev to feel out his man for a round or two, then put his foot on the gas and finish this within 4 rounds to take home his first professional title, and take a huge stride towards a potential world title fight by the end of 2021.
Prediction - Kunkabayev TKO4
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.