By Derek Bonnett: The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world, covering more than one eighth of the world’s inhabited land masses. With almost 150 million people living in Russia, the country ranks as the ninth most heavily populated. Russia’s land mass extends across eleven time zones as it reaches throughout Northern Asia and Eastern Europe.
Recent news involving Russia suggests that President Vladimir Putin, an open idol of U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, interjected his political powers to impact the election and help the real-estate mogul overcome career politician Hillary Clinton. However, even as a U.S. citizen, my greatest interest in Russian centers on what some might eventually call a Golden Era for boxing at present. Even amid the scandals of team doping during amateur world competitions, the nation had endured the backlash and produced a myriad of talented professional boxers and world champions. The current world rankings are a veritable Matryoshka doll of contenders and former champions from the largest to the smaller divisions. With twenty-seven male and female world boxing champions historically, Russia has made its mark on the sport and developed into a current world power since Yuri Arbachakov captured a flyweight belt back in 1992. At present, following a bad couple of weeks for Russian boxing, only one Russian fighter holds a world title, but he won it from a Russian if that is any consolation.
The following four active boxers presently lead the Russian charge on the boxing world and have or will contribute greatly to the Golden Era of boxing for their homeland. The nation has been rocked by controversy and set-back in recent weeks, but the boxing talent at hand will resume meeting and toppling the best to enhance their country’s legacy.
4.) Denis Lebedev, 29-3-0 (22), is a former three belt holder in the cruiserweight division, losing his claim to champion status only a matter of days ago on December 3. Lebedev dropped a split decision to fellow Russian Murat Gassiev in Moscow. With plenty of room for debate regarding the decision an immediate rematch is warranted. The big punching and very durable Lebedev has risen from the canvas to secure victory in the past and, against Gassiev, my unofficial scorecard had him doing just that again. Lebedev, 37, is short on time and needs to stay active. Earlier in his career, Lebedev defeated Enzo Maccarinelli , Alexander Alekseev, and faded Americans Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney. In between, Lebedev lost a controversial split decision to future cruiserweight all-time great Marco Huck in his first world championship bout. Lebedev picked up his first world title not long after, but was dethroned in brutal fashion by Guillermo Jones, who bent the rules of the sport with illegal doping. Lebedev, living in Chekhov, sustained horrific swelling round the eyes and cheeks before succumbing in the eleventh round. After a rematch fell through repeatedly, Lebedev regained his title with a stoppage over Pawel Kolodziej. He defended it well against Youri Kayembre Kalenga , Lateef Kayode, and Victor Emilio Ramirez in a unification bout. Russian fans deserve a second installment of Lebedev-Gassiev.
3.) Murat Gassiev, 24-0-0 (17), is riding high following a his split decision victory over Denis Lebedev this past weekend. A promising prospect, prior to the meeting, Gassiev looked to be the goods in spite of a limited resume against safe opposition. Regardless, Gassiev dismissed each challenge assigned to him and failed to disappoint. Against Lebedev, the taller Gassiev boxed well from a distance while pressuring his way in. Gassiev put on a masterful display of body work in round five, dropping the champion, but was never able to replicate the feat which could have provided him a stoppage. A number of very close and hard to score rounds could have gone Gassiev’s way and, seemingly, did in the eyes of two judges. Gassiev, 23, came forward for most of the twelve rounds and showed a strong beard after fielding numerous right hands from Lebedev. Now may be the younger man’s time and his ceiling for improvement upon his strategy in a rematch is certainly higher than Lebedev’s. It’s easy to imagine the Vladikavkaz native growing into the heavyweight division before long.
2.) Alexander Povetkin, 30-1-0 (22), was late in realizing his promise in the heavyweight division as the marquee match-up in the division did not elude him, but, rather, was avoided by his own team. After developing a solid foundation against rugged veterans, Povetkin outpointed fellow heavyweight contender Eddie Chambers back in 2008 in a title eliminator. However, Povetkin never fought for that belt, which was then own by Wladimir Klitschko. Injury and managerial steering kept Povetkin away from a title for most of the next three years until he defeated Ruslan Chagaev for a piece of the heavyweight pie. Povetkin’s reign was forgettable and included a controversial win over cruiserweight champion Marco Huck. When the Klitschko bout materialized, fans were disappointed as the champion jabbed and grabbed his way to a decision. Povetkin was floored four times amid the mauling. Povetkin, also hailing from Chekhov, followed up his lone defeat with three stirring KO victories over Manuel Charr, Carlos Takam, and Mike Perez. His most recent outing saw Povetkin stopping Mariusz Wach on an injury in the final round; however, that win was over a year ago. Inactivity has slowed Povetkin’s progress mostly due to a failed drug test prior to a scheduled title bout against Deontay Wilder. The drug Meldonium was found in Povetkin’s system and acts as an enhancer of blood flow to allow athletes to perform at a high caliber for longer. Povetkin is set to return to the ring on December 17 against equally inactive Bermane Stiverne for an interim title. Further evidence for Povetkin’s status on this list will be revealed on that date.
1.) Sergey Kovalev, 30-1-1 (26), should have won the most important fight of 2016. When Kovalev clashed with Andre Ward on November 19 there was a lot on the line. Kovalev had three light heavyweight belts on the line. Two unbeaten records were at stake. Universal recognition as the top light heavyweight in the world stood in the balance. For some pundits, a decisive win put the victor atop the mythical Pound for Pound ladder, which is most commonly designated to Roman Gonzalez these days. The fight was great. In fact, Andre Ward might have put in his finest showing to date. However, most felt he still lost narrowly to Kovalev. Thus, boxing was left with yet another decision to leave a funky taste in our mouths. Regardless of what happened "officially", Kovalev, 33, is Russia’s top talent b a full head. The Kopeysk native has been on a tear since destroying Gabriel Campillo in Connecticut, USA back in 2013. Since then, he’s added the pelts quality contenders and champions such as Nathan Cleverly, Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal, and Isaac Chilemba among numerous others. Kovalev, often mislabeled as a puncher, can box with the best of them. Just ask Hopkins and Ward. The simple reality is that along with those boxing skills, Kovalev is easily the most destructive puncher in the sport or among an elite group. In defeat, Kovalev’s stock still climbed even though he no longer possesses all the pretty belts. The fans are behind him, the experts have spoken their opinions of the decision, and even Max Kellerman was able to admit that upon actually scoring the fight, he favored Kovalev. Kovalev has risen to such great heights because unlike most punchers, Krusher is not in a love affair with his power. He uses it well, but knows how to put his punches together to put it to its best use. Whether it’s a short left hook or a punishing, long overhand right, Kovalev can hurt any fighter at his weight. Dropping both Hopkins and Ward are huge feathers in his cap in that department. The only fight that matters next is a rematch with Ward.
Russia sports other nice looking talents. The recently dethroned 140 pound champ Eduard Troyanovsky would likely have made the list had he not been stopped in forty seconds to Julius Indongo this weekend. Bad timing for this writing, I suppose. Artur Beterbiev was on the fast track to stardom, but has slowed his pace. Regardless, he’s a top name for right now and the future. Fedor Chudinov looked strong in picking up a win over Felix Sturm, but controversially lost the rematch. Peter Petrov and Denis Shafikov have been plugging away at lightweight and have shaped into fine contenders. Konstantin Ponomarev is a rising talent at welterweight who looks special. Sergey Lipinets at 140 is also worth keeping an eye on as Russian boxer expand their presence among the world boxing elite.
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December 5, 2016