The world of boxing is a strange one at times, and in deep divisions we still get some challengers come along who really don't have any right, at all, to be competing for a world title. That just so happens to be the case this coming Saturday in Belgium as we see unknown Chinese fighter Zhaoxin Zhang (10-1-1, 6) face off with WBA Cruiserweight champion Ryad Merhy (29-1, 24) in what looks like a very, very clear case of a lamb being thrown to the slaughter. In fact it looks like one of the worse world title bout to be stages in 2021.
For those who don't follow the Cruiserweight division, the division is one of the more easy to over-look right now. Since Oleksandr Usyk left the division, it's struggled a little bit for an identity. Mairis Briedis is the best of the bunch, but not a lot separate the chasing pack, including Ilunga Makabu, Yuniel Dorticos, Thabiso Mchunu, Lawrence Okolie, Arsen Goulamirian and the aforementioned Merhy. In fact if you throw that group of fighters into a mini tournament, to decide who Briedis should fight in 2022 you'd end up with a brilliant series of fights. They all have power, they can all fight and yet they all have their own styles, some of which are very different to others, with Okolie being a rangy outside fighter and Dorticos being more of a power punching force of nature.
When it comes to Merhy himself his only loss came more than 3 years ago to Goulamirian and since then he has bounced back with 5 wins, all by stoppage. He has proven that he's a huge puncher, with a real nasty side to him. He takes a shot well, he comes to fight and although he's not the biggest or the smoothest in the division, he's one of the most exciting and among the most intimidating. He is a fighter who should become the face of Belgian boxing over the next few years, and at 28 he really does have time to make a huge mark on the sport.
Aged 25 Zhaoxin Zhang is really an unknown, even among those who follow Chinese boxing. He debuted in 2017 as a Super Middleweight, fighting to a draw and he was 5-1-1 (2) after 7 bouts, with a loss against Zulipikaer Maimaitiali. Since then he has filled out his frame, become a fully fledged Cruiserweight and scored 5 wins in a row. Sadly though they are against, at best, domestic level competition. There is nothing of international significance on his record and nothing to explain why the WBA have got him in their world rankings. In fact Boxrec ranking him at #68 in the division seems like it's still very, very flattering to the Chinese fighter.
The most telling bout for Zhang so far came in 2019 when he cased Chase Haley, a much smaller fighter, and still struggled to get the decision, squeaking by with a majority decision win. Through out that bout he looked clumsy, slow, awkward and very fortunate that Haley lacked the power and skills needed to take him out.
Given how easy Haley had success against Zhang we really can't see this being anything but a knock over job for Merhy, who can likely finish this as early as he wants.
Prediction - Merhy TKO3
The machinations of professional boxing will never cease to amaze us, and this coming Friday is a great example how much of a mess boxing is. On Friday we'll see 37 year old Kazakh Cruiserweight Beibut Shumenov (18-2, 12) defending his WBA Crusierweight title against unknown American contender Raphael Murphy (14-1, 11) a 35 year old with no wins of note. At all.
That is despite Shumenov being ordered to make a mandatory defense against the much more dangerous Ryad Merhy, and having not been stripped, somehow, despite not fighting since 2018.
Rather than ranting and raving about what an hilarious joke the WBA is, or how Don King is still part of this sport and still promoting events, lets actually take a look at this rather meaningless "world" title bout. A title bout that has so little significance and importance that we'll be finding something else to do rather than forking out for the PPV that Don King is trying to charge for it.
In one corner, as mentioned, will be the 37 year old Shumenov. Surprisingly Shumenov is the only 2-weight Kazakh world champion, though his relationship with the WBA has been a very, very peculiar one, to say the least. He got his first world title fight in 2009, and lost, in Kazakhstan, to the then WBA Light Heavyweight champion Gabriel Campillo. Despite losing he got an immediate rematch, and won the title with one of the most egregious decisions in recent memory. As the WBA Light Heavyweight champion Shumenov made 5 defenses, though scored only a single win of relevance, before losing in a unification bout against Bernard Hopkins. After losing to Hopkins, in 2014, he moved up win weight winning the WBA "interim" Cruiserweight title, in 2015, and winning the regular title in 2016. Then he vanished from the ring for 2 years, had problems with his eyes, before returning and winning the regular title, for the second time in 2018. This will be his first defense of that second reign.
In his prime Shumenov was a decent fighter. He was a heavy handed and aggressive fighter, with a decent chin, good work rate and an exciting style. Technically he was flawed, he could be out boxed, and out fought, and he wasn't the quickest, but he was helped by some of the most hilarious cards in history, including 1 judge that some how saw him beating Hopkins.
At 37 and with just 1 fight in the last 4 years however, we really do wonder what is left of Shumenov and what ambition does he have left?
Sadly it's unlikely we'll really find out what Shumenov still has to offer the sport as he goes up against a challenger that somehow the WBA have managed to rank in their top 15, despite him having no wins of note, and being just a few fights removed from being stopped by novice Hugo Trujillo. If you recognise Trujillo's name that'll likely be because he was the debut opponent of Bakhodir Jalolov in 2018, and Jalolov stopped him in 3 rounds. Since that loss Murphy has scored 3 wins over hapless opponents.
Sadly finding quality, recent, footage of Murphy is tricky, though what is available leaves us with more questions than answers. For example his loss against Hugo Trujillo, who looked very much out of shape, made it seem like Murphy had next to no defensive skills, being caught time and time again by hooks from Trujillo, no stamina and pushed almost every punch he threw. On the inside he had no idea what to do and looked incredibly poor. In some of his wins opponents look like they have no idea what they were doing in the ring.
Sadly this farce of a bout really is a clear case of the WBA walking to the rhythm of Don King. It's complete farce of a bout. Murphy shouldn't be anywhere close to a world title fight, even a WBA "regular" title bout. Then again Shumenov shouldn't be anywhere close to a world title.
Sadly this a case of "won't fight", Shumenov, Vs "can't fight", Murphy. With that said, if Shumenov is even 10% of the fighter he once was, which was never a great fighter, he should stop Murphy after shaking some ring rust....and that's the bout doesn't fall through at the 11th hour.
For those wondering, we really wouldn't be surprised if this bout magically vanishes. Either way the winner will do all they can to avoid Merhy, as he would almost certainly beat the pair, on the same night.
If this does go ahead, this is pathetic from the WBA for sanctioning the bout, disgusting from Don King for putting it on and shameful for all those involved.
Also if you're for this on PPV, we're predicting buyers remorse and shame!
Prediction - TKO4 Shumenov (if the fight even takes place!)
Note - As we write this the bout isn't currently listed by the WBA on their schedule, but it is still being promoted by King on is website. There is a chance the WBA put the kibosh on the bout, but as they haven't yet it could well be that they are complicit in this buffoonery, and that would not be a surprise at all.
This coming Saturday fight fans will get the chance to see the WBA further make a mockery of the idea of having a single world champion in every division. They will be doing that by crowning a 4th champion at Cruiserweight, with Kazakh Beibut Shumenov (17-2, 11) and German based Turk Hizni Altunkaya (30-1, 17) battling for the WBA “regular” Cruiserweight title.
Part of the farcical nature of this bout comes from the fact the WBA have a unified champion, Murat Gassiev, a champion in recess, Denis Lebedev, and am interim champion Arsen Goulamirian. But it becomes a bigger farce when one realises that Shumenov, the WBA #2 ranked fighter, hasn't fought since May 2016, retiring due to an eye injury before un-retiring, and that Altunkaya enters as the #3 ranked WBA fighter. Altunkaya has once just once in the last 12 months, beating the frankly terrible Niko Lohmann in January, and having faced just one fighter of any note, Krzysztof Glowacki, who stopped Altunkaya in June 2017.
At his best Shumenov was a raw, but capable, boxer-puncher. He was fast tracked early in his career and claimed the WBA Light Heavyweight title in his 10th professional bout, back in 2010, with a very controversial decision win against Gabriel Campillo. His reign was a poor one, with 5 defenses in 4 years before he lost to Bernard Hopkins in a WBA/IBF unification bout. Following the loss to Hopkins Shumenov moved up in weight and would win the interim, and regular, WBA Cruiserweight titles, with wins over BJ Flores and Junior Anthony Wright. He would then be forced to retire, as mentioned, due to issues with his sight.
At the age of 34 Shumenov is seeking to become a 3-time world champion and make a successful return. Whilst it's an admirable dream the fact he's getting a world title fight, for a vacant belt, given his long lay off and the WBA's current title situation, does leave a terrible taste in the mouth. It feels obvious that the WBA have, in the past, bent over for Shumenov and it seems like they are doing the same for him again. That, added to some awful cards in his favour, has long left someone questioning what Shumenov has done to have such preferential treatment. He's a good fighter, but has certainly had more than his share of good fortune.
Altunkaya is a 30 year old who's boxrec ranking, at the time of writing, is 71 which seems far, far, far, far more accurate than the #3 ranking that the WBA have given him. He's been a professional since 2008 and his record is incredibly padded, with his best win on paper being a decision over Salvatore Aiello, who's was 29-0 at the time and had a record that was possibly the most padded in the sport at the time. Since then there has only been one notable name that Altunkaya has faced, and that was Glowacki who dominated the Turk.
With absolute no wins of any quality on his record it's impossible to understand what Altunkaya has done to deserve a world title fight. He is a true bottom feeder. Worryingly however he may well have gotten this bout at the perfect time to put himself on the boxing map given the inactivity and injuries of Shumenov. He's certainly the younger, more healthy fighter than Shumenov, but he's also the more limited and the less durable.
We suspect that Shumenov's extra class, quality of experience and skills will take him to a victory here, though wouldn't be surprised if his injuries reared their head and his inactivity and age showed. Either way we do now expect the winner of this bout to hold on to the title for long. Hopefully that will be because they lose it to one of the other champions recognised by the organisation, but we never can be too sure with the WBA and their inconsistent nature of running their own world titles.
We often wonder what the WBA are playing at. They seem happy to try and turn their own legacy into a joke and their titles into something every fighter can claim a version of. That's going to be the case again on June 20th when two men, who really should be nowhere near the Cruiserweight title scene, battle for the very lightly regarded WBA “interim” Cruiserweight title.
The fighters in question are part-time fighter part time commentator BJ Flores (31-1-1, 20) and former Light Heavyweight title holder Beibut Shumenov (15-2, 10), of Kazakhstan.
For us the fighter of note is Shumenov. He's a Kazakh fighter who made his name very early in his career. At one point he was among the most interest and fast rising prospects in the sport. Within a year of his debut he had raced out to 6-0 (5) and scored notable wins, including a wide decision over former Light Heavyweight champion Montell Griffin. It seemed, during that early stage, that we were on the verge of a special career. Sadly though that year wasn't really a glimpse at what was to come, Shumenov never really managed to improve from the fighter he was. He did, in fairness, claim the WBA Light Heavyweight title, in his second attempt, in just his 10th bout, a divisional record, but he needed a massive gift to get him the title.
As the champion Shumenov's reign was nothing but disappointing. He held the title for more than 4 years, recorded 6 defenses, yet didn't score a single relevant win a division that had fighters screaming out for opportunities. Instead of facing the likes of Nathan Cleverly, Glen Johnson, Chad Dawson, Jean Pascal, Chad Dawson, Isaac Chilemba, Juergen Breahmer and countless others Shumenov took on fighters like Danny Satiago and William Joppy. It was a disgusting title reign that the WBA allowed by not enforcing Shumenov to face a mandatory and essentially allowing him to put the title on ice for 18 months, whilst they upgraded him to “Super champion”.
Thankfully Shuemnov's reign came to an end in 2014 when he was clearly beaten by Bernard Hopkins, despite the disgraceful card of Gustavo Padilla, who seems to have been the only person on the planet who felt Shumenov actually won the fight. Since then Shumenov has fought once, beating Bobby Thomas Jr via a 5th round TKO. Despite only fighting once as a Cruiserweight Shumenov is ranked #1 by the WBA, in a division that is genuinely stacked with talent. Boxrec.com have Shumenov a much more realistic #22 in their rankings, and even that seems a touch kind to the Kazakh.
Style wise Shumenov is very basic. He's got heavy hands, like it seems most Kazakh fighters now a days, and he's tough and very game but technically he's very limited, defensively open, has a face that marks up easily and seems to some how combine respect with arrogance. In the Hopkins fight it seemed Shumenov was too respectful in the build up though had no trainer work his corner, as if he though he'd beat Hopkins with out any help. A foolish mover against someone was wiley and intelligent as Hopkins.
American fighter Flores is a solid boxer, but solid is about the nicest we can be about him. On paper his record is impressive but scratching below the surface leaves us thoroughly under-whelmed. His first career set back came very early, as he fought to a draw with Gabriel Taylor, 1-2 going in to that bout, and was dropped twice as Flores luckily escaped with a draw. That was back in 2003.
Scratching a bit deep into Flores's record he lacks a really big win. His best win to date was a very close one over Darnell Wilson, back in 2008. He did later claim a win over Epifanio Mendoza, though pulled him up to Crusierweight for the bout, incidentally 8 months earlier Shumenov took a wide decision over Mendoza at Light Heavyweight and Mendoza had entered the Flores bout 1-3 in his previous 4.
Whilst Flores managed to get the W against Wilson he was no where to close to beating his first live opponent, Danny Green. Green took a very comfortable win over Flores who often seemed unwilling, or unable to, pick up the pace despite being behind from early in the bout. Green wasn't hugely impressive but managed to out box Flores who showed glimpses of real ability but lacked the mentality to build on his successes.
To be fair to Flores he's technically a decent fighter with a nice jab and relatively decent speed for a big guy. He's also a smart guy out of the ring, which he proves when he's doing commentary work. Sadly however that intelligence isn't shown when Flores is fighting and his inability to turn up the pace and change his tactics really is an issue. He's coming into this bout on a 7 fight winning streak since the loss to Green but those wins have come against some terribly limited opposition, not the type of fighters that should lead someone to a “world” title fight, or a WBA #7 world ranking! Again boxrec's ranking, #29 at the time of writing, is much more accurate.
Given the depth at Cruiserweight, which includes not only champions like Marco Huck, Denis Lebedev, Grigory Drozd, Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Victor Emilio Ramirez but also fantastic contenders like Rakhim Chakhkiev, Oleksander Usyk, Dmitry Kudryashov, Ilunga Makabu and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, this seems like a genuinely pathetic match up. The WBA should really be ashamed of it.
As to what's likely to happen in the ring, we suspect Flores will be too technically capable for Shumenov. The American has a longer reach and should be able to keep Shumenov at range with his jab. However if Flores sleep walks through the bout there is good chance he gets out worked by the clumsy Shumenov.
The one good bit of news from this bout is that the winner should be forced to fight Denis Lebedev, who would easily see of either man. Sadly however that “good news” comes with the caveat that the WBA won't be in any sort of a rush to match the winner with Lebedev, another disappointing feature of the WBA's willingness to create titles for almost anybody in the sport.
There are some divisions in boxing that are criminally over-looked. Whilst many of those divisions involve smaller men from the Orient one of the divisions is the Cruiserweight divison, a division that has repeatedly given us brutal, bruising, vicious wars over the years. For whatever those wars have failed wo win over the US audience though for the hardcore they have provided some true FOTY contenders in the last 5 or 6 years.
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)
Around 15 months ago Poland's Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (49-2-1, 35) traveled to Moscow and over-came the extremely hotly tipped Rakhim Chakhkiev in a multi-knockdown bout to defend his WBC Cruiserweight world title. The bout was great though showed how experience in the pro ranks can be the difference between a win and a loss. For Chakhkiev a lack of experience saw him starting like a rocket and tiring himself out before Wlodarczyk came back to stop him. For the Pole the fight was about remaining calm under the storm, riding it out, and coming back strong.
This week we see Wlodarczyk back in Moscow as he battles against the very experienced Grigory Drozd (38-1, 27), a man who is fighting for the 40th time as a professional but only getting his first shot at a world title, a much over-due shot if you ask us. We know Drozd lost in his most significant bout to date, a TKO at the hands of Firat Arslan, though that fight was almost 8 years ago and the Russian has improved markedly since then whilst Arslan continues to prove that he's a world class Cruiserweight.
Wlodarczyk is a funny fighter in many ways. He's often the "forgotten man" of the Cruiserweight division. He's the only top Cruiserweight not to ply his trade in Russia or Germany and although he has been a 2-time world champion, and a long time belt holder, he still seems to slip off the radar of many fans. We know the Polish fans do enjoy watching "Diablo" and he has built much of his career at home, which possibly why he is so over-looked, though he's also proven his worth on the road with wins in Australia, Russia and the USA.
In terms of Wlodarczyk the fighter he's a lazy fighter and a very slow starter though he combines that with a great engine, heavy hands, solid skills, a real toughness and a great work rate when he finally going. His combination of being tough, calm and heavy handed is really hard to beat and if you try and stop the odds are you're going to tire yourself out trying. The best way to beat him is to box and move, tie up where needed and not get involved in a real fight. We know he has had some gifts but that has generally been down to his laziness as opposed to his skills and when on the road he does seem to find that extra gear when he needs it, in fact all 3 of his wins on the road have been by stoppage.
As for Drozd he is the most over-looked of the Russian Cruiserweights right now. He lacks the destruction of Dmitry Kudryashov, the amateur background of Rakhim Chakhkiev and the brutal wars of Denis Lebedev but he is still genuinely world class and a really talented fighter. Despite being 35 he is riding a great run of results with an outstanding win over Poland's Mateusz Masternak being the best of the bunch.
What we have in Drozd's is a man willing to throw lots of punches, a man with solid and respectable power and although far, far from a concussive puncher he's a fighter will do damage cumulatively over the bout, like Wlodarczyk in some ways. Sadly however he does have that stoppage loss to Arslan hanging over his head and some will question just how tough he really is. We don't doubt he's tough but just how tough?
Sadly for Drozd it's that loss to Arslan that makes us wonder if he can come out the winner here. We're not suggesting Wlodarczyk is the same as Arslan but the similarities don't bode well for Drozd. An on song Wlodarczyk has granite determination and willingness to throw shots, especially when his man is hurt. That is what won Arslan his meeting with Drozd. If Wlodarczyk is on fire we feel he probably stops Drozd. If Wlodarczyk is anything less than 90% of his best however Drozd could score the upset in what could go down as one of the truly exceptional fights of the year. It really does depend on which version of the Pole turns up, the lazy one that struggled with Danny Green or the gritty one that saw off a whirlwind assault from Chakhkiev to dismantle the Russian in the middle rounds.
(Image courtesy of ponominalu.ru)
Last weekend saw the 49 year old Bernard Hopkins foll back the clock as he managed to over-come the significantly younger Beibut Shumenov and unify the IBF and WBA "super" titles at Light Heavyweight. Less than a week later another fighter over the age of 40's looks prove that age is just a number as Panama's controversial 41 year old Guillermo Jones (39-3-2, 31) returns to Russia his second straight fight.
In his last bout Jones controversially defeated Russian hard man Denis Lebedev (25-2, 19) to supposedly unify the WBA regular and WBA "in recess" titles. Things however didn't quite end up like that as the win was later ignored by the WBA following irregularities with Jones's drug test. This saw Lebedev reinstated as the WBA regular champion and now, 11 months later, we get a rematch as the men go to war again.
The first fight, last May, was genuinely amazing. Both men had to give and take in a back-and-forth way that saw Lebedev effectively punching himself out whilst landing massive bombs on Lebedev who appeared to be a division bigger than the Russian. Eventually a combination of exhaustion and Jones's punches took their toll and a badly swollen, bloodied and battered looking Lebedev was stopped.
The bout saw Lebedev praised for his insane amount of heart, it saw Jones, prior to the drug tests, praised for his skills despite being 40 years old, it saw both men praised for the action and excitement whilst the referee, doctor and Lebedev's corner were all criticised for putting the Russian's health at risk. The overall feeling was that Lebedev would never be the same, Jones was capable of unifying the division and we'd had an absolute classic.
Unfortunately all the praise of Jones was questioned when his drug test came back as dirty with many suggesting his energy and immense size advantage had been down to drugs. Whether Jones's performance was, or wasn't, due to performance enhancing substances is likely to be debated many times in the future one thing that won't be debated is just how much we're looking forward to the rematch.
Of course 11 months is a long time. For Jones it was 11 months of ageing, 11 months of getting naturally older and 11 months of collecting rust. Sometimes a break from the ring can do a fighter the world of good but Jones has now fought just 11 rounds in well over 2 years and just 17 rounds in 3 years and just 28 rounds in 5 and a half years.
Whilst the lay off for Jones was about ageing we'd presume that the 11 month lay off for Lebedev was more about recovery. His face was a genuine swollen mess at the end of the last bout and he really needed time to recover before even thinking about returning to boxing. His right eye was a swollen, disgusting, discoloured mess, whilst the left side of his face was cut both above and below the eye. The break from the ring wasn't so much desired as needed.
In their first fight Lebedev threw everything at Jones, including the kitchen sink, but never managed to dent the Panamanian who proved his toughness was first class. Genuinely the chin on Jones had to be made out of titanium. He took huge shots and never took a step backwards. Unfortunately for Lebedev he wasn't the only one with heavy artillery and Jones landed straights and uppercuts almost at will as he deformed Lebedev's face. Although Lebedev will never be described as a "pretty boy" he ended looking a bit like a gargoyle.
Unfortunately for Lebedev his return to the ring leaves us with a lot of questions. Firstly will he be the tough, powerful, gutsy fighter he once was or will the "loss" to Jones last year have taken too much out of him? Will his face swell up like it did last year? Will it swell up even easier than it did last year? What has the 11 months really done for Lebedev's health? And most importantly does he believe he can beat Jones?
For Jones there is also questions. Was he cheating? If so is he going to be able to replicate his performance from last year with out the substance he is reported to have taken? Is father time going to be too much for Jones at last? Did Lebedev manage to take anything out of Jones last time out?
From where we're sat there is no way Lebedev will be the fighter he was a year or two ago. It's a real shame but there is no way a fighter can take that much punishment and be the same man afterwards, he was effectively put through a human grinder. With that in mind we expect to see Lebedev against have his face swelling, cutting and seriously damaged. The shots of Jones might not be concussive but they are heavy and damaging and this will be, unfortunately, the key to this bout with the reach and length of Jones helping him land shots at will on the brave Russian.
We'd love to see Lebedev win, he's one of the most exciting fighters out there, but unfortunately we don't it happening, especially not after what happened last year. Lebedev is still going to be caught by the heavy straights, the venomous uppercuts, the clean hooks and the hard jabs that completely destroyed his face last year and will again this year.
If, in 2006, you had asked a hardcore amateur boxing fan which fighter they would tip to become a future Cruiserweight world champion the name Alexander Alexeev (24-2-1, 20) would have been that man. No arguments about it, Alexeev was seen as the future of the Cruiserweight division.
Prior to turning professional in 2006 Alexeev had been a genuinely outstanding amateur. He had been a multi-time Russian champion, a World champion (2005), a European champion (2002) and, had it not been for Odlanier Solis, it's very likely he'd have won gold at the World Championships (2003) and Olympics (2004).
Born in Uzbekistan though fighting out of Russia, Alexeev appeared to have it all. He was a 6'2" southpaw with obvious skills, solid power, amazing fundamentals and the reach to establish a long range game against almost anyone in his division.
Unfortunately as a professional Alexeev has failed to ever come close to living up to the high expectations that were expected of him. In all honesty, and despite having a solid record, Alexeev's professional career has been nothing short of a disappointment.
This weekend sees Alexeev finally getting a chance to fulfill his promise as he fights for the IBF Cruiserweight title against talented German-based Cuban Yoan Pablo Hernandez (27-1, 13). Although Alexeev is rightfully considered the under-dog it's a bout that he needs to win just to keep his career alive.
Going in to this bout the 32 year old Alexeev will be entering with just one bout in the last year. That bout, a decision victory over Garrett Wilson, was a title eliminator which has seen Alexeev getting this bout. Whilst his inactivity is certainly an issue coming in it's not as bad as the 29 year old Hernandez who has been out of the ring for 14 months following a controversial victory over Canadian Troy Ross.
Interestingly whilst Alexeev has been disappointing it's also fair to say that Hernandez has disappointed. The Cuban was, like Alexeev, tipped to be a super-star and whilst he's become a world champion he's struggled to show why so many regarded him so highly. In fact it's fair to say that a number of Hernandez's most notable victories have come with a shroud of controversy of them, including victories over Michael Simms, Troy Ross and most notably his first bout with Steve Cunningham.
What Hernandez has is a good all-round package. He's very tall, 6'4", for a Cruiserweight, has solid speed, impressive skills and although his record doesn't show it he does hit hard. Sadly he lets those traits go to waste to often with languid rounds, a less than solid chin and some real issues that seem to be mental. If Hernandez is at his best he's excellent, on a bad night though he seems to struggle to get anything going.
With more than a year out of the ring we may well see one of those poor nights from Hernandez and if he has one of those there is every chance Alexeev could score an upset.
At his best Alexeev has the ability to box with the best of them in the division. Sadly he can be out fought and banged out. If he's too respectful of Hernandez's power he'll be stopped as he was against Denis Lebedev, if he's too reckless he'll be stopped. If however Alexeev boxes to a clever and patient game-plan he could defeat the Cuban.
Unfortunately we can't see Alexeev finally getting his act together and instead we think he's going to walk on to a big booming Hernandez shot then unravel before being stopped. We hope we're wrong, but unfortunately it's hard to trust Alexeev at this point in time.
Courtesy of Boxrec.com
Historically the Cruiserweight division has been one of the most over-looked divisions in the sport. In recent years however things have started to change thanks to the exciting fights and wonderful fighters that the division has been turning out.
One man who will be hoping to add himself into the mix in the division is Russian Rakhim Chakhkiev (16-0, 12) a fighter who has long been tipped for major professional success.
Prior to turning professional in 2009 the Russian had recorded an excellent career in the amateur ranks. He had not only claimed a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics but also a silver medal in the 2007 World Amateur Champions and multiple medals in the Russian National championships. His trophy cabinet certainly had a nice collection of medals.
Standing in Chakhkiev's way this coming Friday is Poland's Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (47-2-1, 33), the current WBC Cruiserweight champion who will be looking to make his 5th defense of the belt.
On paper this is an excellent match up between two fighters who carry thunderous power though one of whom is far more experienced than the other. Sometimes however, as we all know, the professional records of the two men don't tell the whole story in terms of experience, especially not when a fighter has an amateur career like Chakhkiev.
The 31 year old champion maybe the more experienced professional with 50 bouts in the paid ranks but this will just be his 7th fight outside of his homeland. On the road Wlodarczyk is 4-1-1, a much less impressive record than his 43-1 record when fighting in his homeland.
Just a year younger than the champion Chakhkiev is oddly fighting in Russia for the first time having been based in Germany for much of his career. Despite this it's unlikely than he will be anything but the crowd favourite with the Moscow crowd likely to be well behind a man who represented them on the amateur stage.
The Polish fighter has had a genuine career of ups and downs. He's a 2-time world champion having claimed the IBF Cruiserweight title back in 2006 in controversial fashion over Steve Cunningham though lost it in his first defense (a rematch with Cunningham). In 2009 he was unfortunate to only draw with Giacobbe Fragomeni for the vacant WBC title (needing a rematch with Fragomeni in Poland to finally get the title) and was fortunate in his second defense to claim a victory over Francisco Palacios.
Following the victory over Palacios there was reports that Wlodarczyk had attempted to commit suicide and that he was having serious issues out of the ring which saw him fighting just once in the following year.
Going in to this bout Wlodarczyk has actually just fought once in a year and with ring rust as well as well as fighting away from home he may have a number of problems.
For Chakhkiev things haven't been as up and down, just more frustrating than anything else.
After turning professional in 2009 it was assume that he would be fasted tracked to a world title fight in just 2 or 3 years. Instead his career has been slowly bubbling rather than exploding and instead of being fast tracked he has been forced to slowly work his way up the rankings with promotional issues really slowing him down over the last year.
Going in to the fight it's easy to see that Wlodarczyk has fought better opponents. Fighters like Cunningham, Fragomeni, Palacios and even Danny Green are better than the likes of Alexander Kotlobay and Zack Page (arguably the second best result on Chakhkiev's record) however he's also struggled to impress.
In terms of the Pole's style he can be made to look like a lazy and disinterested fighter. He has genuinely hurtful power, a lovely jab when he chooses to use it and a toughness to him that will always make him difficult. He has plenty of experience of the 12 round distance and has what appears to be a solid gas tank (though there are questions regarding whether he can actually step it up when needed as he really can be lazy). Notably however Wlodarczyk is a slow starter having only stopped 4 opponents in the first 5 rounds since his first bout with Cunningham.
Chakhkiev, like Wlodarzyck, is heavy handed, every shot he lands hurts. Technically he's very solid and doesn't appear to really have any out and out weakness to him though he can occasionally take a shot that he should have avoided. So far in his career he has shown to be aggressively minded and his power carries through in any round. Although he is an offensive fighter he certainly has the boxing ability to fight on the back foot if necessary, though so far in his professional career we've never really seen too much of that.
In a number of interviews leading up to the fight Chakhkiev has said that he won't go out to stop Wlodarczyk early. Although he's said that, it's hard to imagine him not going for the kill early if he manages to hurt Wlodarczyk. If he can't hurt him then
The video below shows some of Chakhkiev's highlights and is thanks to Piotr Miazgowicz.
Courtesy of Steffaville
The Cruiserweight division over the past few years has been one of the sports most entertaining divisions despite often being over-looked. Fighters Marco Huck, Steve Cunningham and Yoan Pablo Hernandez have really put the division in to the limelight thanks to entertaining battles time and time again.
For many the best Cruiserweight on the planet, isn't one of the names mentioned above but is in fact Russian hard hitter Denis Lebedev (25-1, 19) who makes the second defense of his WBA title this Friday when he faces Panamanian Guillermo Jones (38-3-2, 30).
Lebedev, pictured above with Enzo Maccarinelli, is a short Cruiserweight (as seen quite evidently in the picture), though he's also a stocky, powerful fighter who can often negate his size disadvantages. Aggressive he's strong and hurtful, though also has very solid over-all skills, good patience (a little too good at times) and a fantastic finishers instinct.
Having faced a relative who's who in recent years, including James Toney, Roy Jones Junior, Maccarinelli, Huck and Alexander Alekseev it's fair to say that Lebedev is a proving quality. Sure he's managed to get a reputation of scalping big names who past it (Jones and Toney) but fights with Huck, Alekseev and Maccarinello were all against solid contemporaries.
The fight with Huck has been the most "interesting" of Lebedev's career so far. Although he "lost" a decision (a highly controversial one) to Huck, Lebedev showed not only his powerful punching (which apparently broke a rib of Huck) but also his solid boxing as he forced Huck to box almost entirely off the ropes. Out-manning Huck is never an easy task but Lebedev made it look genuinely simple.
Aged 33 Lebedev isn't a spring chicken but for a Cruiserweight he's still got a few years at the top and despite his face looking "weathered" he hasn't really been in many wars.
In Jones we have a very interesting challenger who has a career full of ups and downs.
Aged 41 Jones has been a professional since 1993 and has seen his body change from that of a lanky Welterweight kid to full grown Cruiserweight man. Although still very tall for the weight it was always amazing that he could ever have made Welterweight like he did in the early 1990's.
When fighters move up in weight we tend to see them scoring few stoppages but for Jones the move up hasn't really been shown to effect his power. At Welterweight, Light Middleweight and Cruiserweight he has been shown to hit hard enough to keep fighters honest with out necessarily being concussive (at least at world level).
At his best Jones was a very talented fighter who had exceptional skills and lived up to his name of "El Felino" (The Cat). He was quick, elusive, tough when he needed to be and hit with very clean but yet sneaky shots. His victories over Wayne Braithwaite, Firat Arslan and Valery Brudov were all solid victories and in fact he could well have also had notable victories over Steve Cunningham and Johnny Nelson had the judges favoured him like many fans did.
It was however, a long time ago that Jones was in his prime and what he has left is a really a big question. At his best he could certainly have held his own with the top Cruiserweights from throughout history though with just 2 fights in the last 4 years it's fair to say that he is not still at his best.
Prime for prime it'd be hard to go against Jones who will take a 5" height advantage and a notable reach advantage in to the ring, now however the logical view is Lebedev to win.
With his power, strength, explosiveness and excellent inside game it wouldn't be the biggest shock if Lebedev managed to stop Jones late in bout. The aging former champion, who actually enters on the back of 7 straight victories (6 by stoppages), is probably going to be made to look his age here.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.