The boxers at the "KO at the Casino" bill in Monte Carlo came face to face for the first time this afternoon at the glittering casino venue ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
All eight fighters were on hand for what promoter Rodney Berman of Golden Gloves called "a historic event".
The tournament is headlined by Martin Murray’s WBC silver middleweight bout against Max Bursak of Ukraine.
It is Murray’s first fight in the principality and Bursak’s third, having previously both own and lost in Monaco.
"I’ve had some good days here, some bad," said a philosophical Bursak, who remarked that he had done tremendous work in the gym and in the mountains in preparation for Saturday.
Refusing to dwell on past ill fortune in fights against world champions Felix Sturm and Sergio Martinez, Murray said that he wanted to produce a fight that reflected what excellent condition he is in.
"We are both in great shape, but I’m a level above Bursak and I will show that."
The temperature was turned up when Berman said that this fight was essentially an eliminator for the world title, not least because, he says, WBC champion Miguel Cotto is said to be contemplating a return to junior-middleweight. He has also reached out to IBF champion Sam Soliman.
If the Murray-Bursak fight offers a fair degree of intrigue, the WBA/IBO minimumweight title fight between South Africa’s Hekkie Budler and Thailand’s Pygmy Kokietgym pits two of the best little men of boxing against one another.
Budler has grown in stature in the past 12 months and enjoys international recognition as the best fighter at the weight, a status he hopes to underscore on Saturday.
Said manager-trainer Colin Nathan: "Hekkie almost has an angelic face, but wait until Saturday. You will see an awesome, devastating performance from the number one in the world."
Meanwhile, the cruiserweight fight between Mateusz Masternak of Poland and Youri Kalenga of the DRC via France could well be the most explosive of the night. Both look in terrific condition and bring high KO percentages to the match-up.
Their mutual respect was evident with the Pole crediting Kalenga with good power.
"He’s really strong, a tough puncher with a big left hook. But Saturday will be my day."
Speaking on behalf of his boxer, manager Gary Hyde said that the value of Kalenga’s first ever training camp would be well evident at the weekend.
"He’s never had the benefit of a proper camp before - and he’s still been winning. He’s been devastating in sparring. He broke one Irish guy’s jaw and damaged another’s ear drum. I expect he’ll do some serious damage come Saturday."
Berman enthused about the quality of talent on show and praised Monte Carlo for endorsing big-time boxing. The venue, built in 1910, is more used to attracting the high rollers, but casino bosses said they wanted to open it up to a wider audience with boxing the perfect vehicle to do so.
The tournament will be opened by South African Johnny Muller against Doudou Ngumbu, of the DRC, in a light-heavyweight clash.
June 19, 2014