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.
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)
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.
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.