For this week’s Treasure Trove article we turn our attention to Russia for a bout that took on Christmas Eve. It was on a big Russian card, stacked with talent, but it was also a bout that we suspect many missed, due it being around Christmas, being in Russia and featuring fighters they may not have been too aware of. Despite how few people saw it, the bout was one of those gems that had people talking about it afterwards, yet still, somehow, remained under the radar. With that in mind it was a perfect bout for this series!
Bakhodur Usmonov (0-0) vs Vildan Minasov (4-0, 3)
In one corner was 23 year old Tajik debutant Bakhodur Usmonov, a former amateur standout who was one of the crowns in the jewel for Tajik boxing. As an amateur he had been very impressive, winning gold at the 2019 Asian Boxing Championships in Bangkok, and later qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. He had impressed in the unpaid ranks and had signed professional papers with MTK Global, who seemed to see him as a potential long term success story. After all he was a proven fighter and still just 23. He was also from a country not known for professional boxers, Tajikistan, but a country that had good links to Russia where he could begin his career and begin to develop his professional skills.
In the opposite corner was the unbeaten Vildan Minasov from Russia. He was 24 years old and relatively unknown, though just 3 months earlier he had battered Kazakh teenager Dastan Saduuly in 2 rounds, really given Saduuly a lesson in a clear example of a boy fighting a man. That win aside there was nothing on Minasov’s record to suggest he was anything more than a can crusher. Despite that he was unbeaten, very early in his career and hungry to prove himself. A win here, against a touted prospect making his debut, could be the sort of result that would put him on the map and build on the momentum following his victory over Saduuly.
On paper this looked like a match up where Usmonov could get a win against an unbeaten fighter on debut. A win that that would look good on paper, but, on further inspection, not be as impressive as the numbers suggested. In reality however he got a lot, lot more than he, or MTK bargained for. He got a real test against a man who was determined to win. This gave us, fans, something brilliant to watch, with drama, action, excitement and controversy.
From the off Usmonov looked to box on the outside, use his polished amateur skills and fight long. Minasov on the other hand didn’t want to play that game and looked to apply pressure, coming forward and trying to bully Usmonov around the ring. This immediately gave us a thrilling opening round, with styles that were polar opposites, but gelled immediately and left Usmonov trying to box off the ropes. At times Minasov looked crude, wild and open, but he was the one pressing the fight and looked to be the much more dangerous man in there and not the patsy that Usmonov and his team may have been expecting. In fact with around 20 seconds of the opening round left Usmonov found out Minasov’s power was legit, as he got put on his backside.
It was a horror opening round for Usmonov in his pro debut and left him in a serious hole. A hole that Minasov was hoping to increase in round 2 as he applied more pressure, again pinning Usmonov on to the ropes and going to work on the Tajik hopeful, who looked skilled and showed some nice touches, but was taking some very clean shots upstairs.
By round 3 it was clear Usmonov was going to need to turn things around and he began the round by doing just that, and letting his hands fly. He was showing more aggression, more hunger and more output than he had earlier in the fight. He looked relatively feather fisted in comparison to Minasov, but was starting to turn the tide, and repel the Russian. He was starting to get respect from Minasov and starting, finally, to find his footing in the contest. It was great to see him turning around the tide and trying to hurt the heavier handed man, despite blood coming from his nose.
Despite his success in round 3 Usmonov couldn’t keep Minasov at bay in round 4 as the Russian got back on the offensive, giving us a brilliant round of action. We had Minasov, looking slightly slower and energetic than the first 2 rounds, trying to press and pressure as he had done earlier. We had Usmonov trying to unload and fight off his man, and we had some absolutely amazing back and forth action.
With Usmonov knowing he had to make a statement and build his momentum had let his hands go more often again in round 5, despite Minasov trying to walk him down. The tactics of the Russian seemed to be all about pressure, but he lacked the energy to let his hands go, walking forward and taking shots more often than landing his own. This allowed Usmonov to have some real success and he even wobbled Minasov at one point late in the round as the Russian began to run out of steam and have his face begin to look like he had been in a meat grinder.
Going into the final round the bout had been utterly compelling. Both men had taken a lot of leather, both men were showing clear signs of battle and both looked like they had been giving their all. They had been involved in something special, and we still had 3 minutes to go. 3 minutes that could decide the winner of the bout. It seemed Usmonov knew that. He knew he was flirting with a defeat on debut and he dug deep, again taking the fight to Minasov, who looked a little bit sorry for himself at times but still stood tall and dug deep himself. Usmonov was the man with the energy, the man letting his shots go more, but Minasov was conservative, picking his moments and landing the heavier shots through the round. A round that really was the deciding factor in a thrilling, and hugely over-looked, 6 round slobber knocker.
If you missed this one back in December make sure to give it a watch now. It is well worth 30 minutes of anyone’s time.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.