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Denis Lebedev-Russian Popeye


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One of the very best cruiserweights in history, Denis Lebedev was a very talented, physically strong, hard-hitting and durable fighter, despite being short for his weight class at 180 cm or 5’11. He only lost 3 out of 35 fights and only got stopped once, but that fight was later declared a no contest because his opponent, Guillermo Jones, was on steroids. He always entered the ring in a Russian navy shirt and sometimes the cap as well and because he had a big chin, I chose the subtitle “Russian Popeye”, also because he was a strong guy obviously. 

Denis Aleksandrovich Lebedev was born on 14 August 1979 in Stary Oskol, a big town in Western Russia, back then Soviet Union of course. At first, he pursued gymnastics and was considered a talent there, but in the army he took up boxing, where he also met his future opponent Alexander Alekseev. As amateur, he won the 1997 European Junior Championships at 75 kg (super middleweight) and a bronze medal at the 1998 Goodwill Games, at 81 kg or light heavyweight. He became a pro in 2001, first trained by Vladimir Lavrov. However, in 2005, after going 13-0 with 9 ko’s, for personal reasons he decided to leave boxing. He returned in 2008, now trained by Valeriy Belov, a top Russian trainer, and managed by Vladimir Hryunov. 

In 2009, after stopping Eliseo Castillo by TKO5, he faced Enzo Maccarinelli, the 6’4 Welshman and former WBO champion, in a fight for the vacant WBO title, in Manchester. The Russian underdog produced an incredible knockout victory away when he first hurt him badly with a left uppercut and then stopped him with a barrage including several vicious lefts, in only 3 rounds. He defended the belt twice by knockouts and then also faced Alekseev and knocked him out in 2 rounds. He was now ready to challenge the reigning WBO champion, Marco “Captain” Huck of Germany and he did that on 18 December 2010, fighting him at Max Schmeling Halle in Pretzlauer Berg. Although Lebedev by all accounts won the fight, he was denied of the victory by two judges and Huck got to retain his title unjustly. 

He faced the faded legend Roy Jones jr next, fighting him on 21 May next year in Moscow and battered the aging former superstar until he knocked him out in round 10. He then fought another former superstar, James Toney, with the WBA interim belt at stake, 4 November same year in Moscow. Toney hadn’t fought as a cruiser for years and barely made the weight, which resulted in a slow and dull fight, with Toney barely going the distance and Lebedev unable to get him out of there. He was now the interim WBA champion and first defended that belt easily against Shawn Cox by KO2. On 17 December 2012, he finally became the full champion when he beat Santander Silgado by KO4 in Krasnogorsk, Russia. His next fight would be controversial when he faced Guillermo Jones, the former WBA champion, on 17 May 2013 in Krasnogorsk. Jones, another big cruiser at 6’4 and with a big frame, came to fight and the result was an unforgettable fight, with both guys giving as good as they took. However, in the 11th round, Lebedev suffered bad facial injuries and had to quit, while ahead on all scorecards. This made Jones winner by TKO, but soon thereafter, Jones tested positive for anabolics and was stripped and the result was changed to NC-no contest. Thus, Lebedev was reinstated as the champion and his lone stoppage loss erased.

All this had kept him out of the ring for 16 months but he returned against the Polish Pawel Kolodziej, who had a padded record of 33-0. Russian Popeye easily destroyed him in 2 rounds, cementing his status as the best man in the division, as Jones also moved up to heavyweight soon thereafter. He started 2015 by defending against Youri Kayembre Kalenga, winning by UD after being down once in round 4 and dropping Kalenga in round 7. Later that year, he stopped the 21-0 Nigerian strongman Lateef Kayode by TKO8. His third (or fourth if you count the Jones fight) successful defense came against Victor Emilio Ramirez and Lebedev once again easily won by TKO2 after dropping the Argentinian Tyson once. That was 21 May 2016 and on 3 December he fought the 6’3 strongman Murat Gassiev, an ethnic Ossetian from the Caucasus region of Russia, who was 23-0 coming in. Lebedev was down in round 5 but got up and made it a close fight, however the knockdown went against him and he lost by an uneven split decision. 

On 9 July next year, he won the Super version of WBA belt against Mark Flanagan by UD, in Yekaterinburg, Ural Russia. He was however demoted to champion in recess in February 2018 and then beat Hizni Altunkaya by KO3 to score his last knockout victory on 7 September same year, in Chelyabinsk. His last victory altogether came on 24 November same year, when he beat Mike Wilson by UD in Monte Carlo. On 21 December 2019, he fought for the WBC Silver title against the crafty South African Thabiso Mchunu, who was equally tall but younger and faster. The fight was in Krasnoyarsk, Russia and Mchunu won clearly on all scorecards. Lebedev was now 40 and had fought actively for 11 years and altogether for 14. He hung em up and retired in January 2020,  with a record of 32 wins, 23 by ko, 3 losses and 1 no contest.

Denis Lebedev was surely a true force in his best days and remained sharp right till his final fight, never really embarrassing himself. He was a powerhouse destroyer and was avoided by some top names. Only a shame that he was already past prime by the time Oleksandr Usyk became champion, for that would really be some fight to watch. I hope you enjoyed this presentation. 


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On 11/21/2023 at 5:28 PM, LondonRingRules said:

--- Lebedev one of my fav fighters in the day. Always in shape willing to fight and walk through fire for the win. 

Especially the Russian Sailor ring entries that were so corny that it was just right seasoning for his fights.

Way to go Boz...when you gonna do Manny you know who?

Manny Pac? Dunno…not really feeling into that right now. 

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