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Ranking the best Russian boxers of all time


BoztheMadman
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And so-finally, we have come to "Mother Russia", the country which also gave the world some very fine boxers and still does that. Today, we have guys like Beterbiev, Bivol, Avanesyan and Gassiev, and until recently we also had Kovalev and Povetkin. Even though Russia hasn't perhaps always been as successful as Ukraine, it's brother-country, it still has produced some of the best fighters in the sport. Here we go.

 

1. Kostya Tszyu ("Kost-ya Tzoo")

 

I think quite many forget that Tszyu is in fact a Russian, probably because of his uncharacteristic last name or simply because as a pro he fought out of Australia. One of the greatest fighters to ever lace on gloves in fact, Tszyu won everything as amateur and pro-except an Olympic medal. As amateur, he was a two-time European and one-time World champion, plus he also won a silver medal at another World championship. As a pro, he was the first undisputed light welterweight world champion in 30 years. Born 19 September 1969 in Serov, a town near Ural mountains, he was the son of a Mongolian-Korean father and a Russian mother. He started boxing early, due to being hyperactive as a child and his father deciding to engage him in boxing. Young Kostya developed into a physically strong and hard-punching guy, who also had the boxing skills and above all-focus and patience. He also had a good chin and was only stopped late as a pro, twice, after absorbing a lot of punishment. After winning the aforementioned medals as amateur and finishing there with a record of 259-11, he went to Australia to start a pro career. After turning pro in March 1992, he amassed a record of 13-0, defeating the veteran Livingstone Bramble by UD10 along the way, before winning the IBF title by a TKO6 against Jake Rodriguez in January 1995. He would defend it five times, among others beating Roger Mayweather by UD12, Hugo Pineda by TKO11 and Jan Piet Bergman by KO6, before losing it against the very fast and sharp-punching Vince Phillips, on 30 May 1997 in Vegas. Tszyu did well for the first 6 rounds, but in the 7th he was caught off guard and dropped to one knee. After coming back in the next two, he was then hurt and then stopped by a six-punch combination in round 10. As hurtful as that loss was, he went back to action soon. In November 1998, he stopped the young and talented Diosbelys Hurtado in a thrilling fight, by TKO5. He finally won the WBC title by stopping the former lightweight champion Miguel Angel Gonzalez by TKO10 in August 1999 and defeded it twice, stopping Ahmed Santos in 8 and legend Julio Cesar Chavez in 6. He then also won the WBA title by making Sharmba Mitchell quit after 7 rounds. His final icing on the cake was taking the IBF title from the young and cocky Zab Judah by knocking Judah out with a single big right in round 2. He thus became the undisputed champ and defended that championship twice, by TKO6 against Jesse James Leija and by a TKO3 against Sharmba Mitchell. After having a shoulder injury in 2004 and then coming back next year to fight Ricky Hatton, it was obvious he was no longer at his peak. He still gave the young Manchester lion a tough fight, but was forced to quit after 11 rounds of hell. That was his final fight and he was 3 months shy of 36 when he retired. His record is 31 wins, 25 by ko, and 2 losses. He was inducted into IBHOF in 2011.

 

2. Sergey Kovalev ("Sehr-gey Koh-vah-lehv")

 

The most successful and accomplished Russian fighter in newer time, or this last decade, Kovalev was a light heavyweight destroyer, a great puncher who later also learned to box. As amateur, he has mostly participated at military and national championships, along with a few other smaller championships-that's why we'll skip that part. His amateur record is either 193-22 or 195-18. The 6-foot Kovalev was also a street fighter in his youth and he was born 2 April 1983 in Kopeysk, southern Ural region of Russia. He went over to USA to become a pro and his first fight was in 2009, which he won by a TKO1. He scored 9 straight knockouts, either in the first or second round, before having to go the distance in a tough fight against the teak-tough Darnell Boone, winning by SD8. In 2012, he beat Darnell Boone a lot easier, by TKO2. Just before that however, in a fight for the WBC Asian title, he fought Roman Simakov and after beating him by TKO7, Simakov collapsed into a coma and later died. In January 2013, he stopped former WBA champion Gabriel Campillo by TKO3 and then also stopped Cornelius White the same way, before fighting the WBO champion Nathan Cleverly of Wales, in Cardiff on 17 August. Kovalev easily dismantled Cleverly and stopped him in 4 rounds, after knocking him down twice. In his first 3 defenses, he destroyed Ismayl Sillah (KO2), Cedric Agnew (TKO7) and Blake Caparello by TKO2, after being down once in the first round. He then fought Bernard Hopkins, a living legend, in a title unification with Hopkins' WBA and IBF belts on the line. That was om 8 November 2014 and Hopkins was down once in the first round and outclassed, but lasted till the end. Kovalev was now close to being the undisputed champion-all he lacked was the WBC belt. However, the WBC champion Adonis Stevenson kept dodging him. In the meantime, Krusher Kovalev made 4 defenses of his 3 belts, among them twice against Jean Pascal (TKO8 and RTD7) and once against the very tricky Isaac Chilemba, UD. On 11 November 2016, he fought the former super middleweight king Andre Ward, who was 30-0 coming in. Although Kovalev dropped Ward in round 2 and by all or most accounts won enough rounds to win, he was denied the victory by the biased judges, who instead favored the home guy Ward, but all by a point. And thus-his zero and the belts were gone. Ward gave him a rematch on 17 June next year, and the fight was even until the 8th, when Ward first hurt Kovalev and then dropped him with three punches that were clearly below the beltline. Still, referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight and proclaimed Ward the winner by a TKO! There would be no third match as Ward soon after retired. Kovalev recaptured his WBO title by stopping Vyacheslav Shabranskyi in December same year, by TKO2. He defended it once against Igor Mikhalkhin and won by TKO7, before losing in an upset knockout in 7 rounds to unbeaten Eleider Alvarez in August next year. After recapturing the belt in a rematch on points in February 2019 and defending it once by TKO11 against Anthony Yarde in August, on 2 November he faced Saul Alvarez and after outboxing him for most of the first 10 rounds, was caught by a big left hook and then a straight right and knocked out late in round 11. That was his last fight and now, after facing criminal charges for punching a woman in the face, and aged 38, his career is likely over. His record is 34 wins, 29 by ko, 4 losses and 1 technical draw.

 

3. Alexander Povetkin (Alek-sandr Pov-yet-kin)

 

Definitely the greatest Russian heavyweight, "Sasha" Povetkin is one of the so-far last great "small heavyweights". Despite standing 6'2 and weighing typically around 225, for this modern era he is a small heavyweight. However, he was always blessed with a very powerful physique, very good punching power, great chin and above average boxing skills. Born 2 September 1979 in Kursk, western Russia, Sasha was first a kickboxer as amateur and won the World Junior championship in 1997, the 1999 World championship and 2000 European professional title. Same year, 2000, he won his Russian championship as a boxer. The sturdy Povetkin competed as a super heavy and won the 2002 and 2004 Euro championships, the 2003 World championships and the 2004 Olympics. His amateur record is 125-7. He began his boxing career in 2005, fighting mostly in Germany. His first notable win came in 2007, over Larry Donald, whom he defeated on points. Right after that, he also stopped the faded Chris Byrd by a TKO11 in what was a part of an IBF-eliminator tournament. After also decisioning unbeaten Eddie Chambers in January 2008, he had to wait until August 2011 to fight for the vacant WBA title against Ruslan Chagaev, former and future WBA-champ. Povetkin outboxed the slightly smaller Uzbek to win by a clear unanimous decision. He made his first defense by knocking out Cedric Boswell in 8, then he beat Marco Huck by majority decision in a tough fight, before making two more defenses by stopping Hasim Rahman easily in 2 rounds and then 27-0 Andrej Wawrzyk in 3. He had the chance to fight Wladimir Klitschko for some time, but finally said yes in 2013 and they fought on 5 October in Moscow; the much bigger Klitschko used his superior height and reach well, but also fought a bit dirty, shoving Povetkin several times. Even tho Povetkin was down twice in round 2 and twice more in round 7, he lasted the distance, which gained him the admiration of the viewers for his toughness. He still lost by 104-119 on all scorecards. He came back next year by knocking out Mahmoud Charr in 7 to win the WBC International title and in his next fight he also won the WBC Silver title by stopping the tough Carlos Takam in 10 rounds. Next year, he flattened Mike Perez in 1 round and became the first man to stop Mariusz Wach by TKO12, after Wach was badly cut under the left eye. He would never recapture a real world title, but in 2018, after knocking out David Price in 5, he fought Anthony Joshua for his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles, but was dominated and stopped for the first time in 7 rounds. He managed to win a couple rounds however. After drawing in a great fight against Michael Hunter in 2019, he scored his last great victory (and likely last one ever) in August 2020, when he knocked out Dillian Whyte in round 5 with a single left uppercut, after having been down twice in the previous round. They had a rematch on 27 March this year and this time, he was stopped on his feet in round 4 after being down hard from a left hook. Povetkin is soon to be 42 and his career is practically over. His record is 36 wins, 25 by ko, 3 losses and 1 draw.

 

4. Yuri Arbachakov ("Yoo-ree Arbah-cha-kov")

 

The best flyweight from Russia, Arbachakov was the WBC champion between 1992 and 1997, making 9 defenses. Born Yuri Yakovlevich Arbachakov 22 October 1966 in Kemerovo, Siberia, he is of a Mongolian-Siberian origin. He has won both the world and European championships as amateur, and has only 21 losses in 186 fights as amateur. Arbachakov went to Japan after being bought by Koei Gym from Tokyo, where he turned pro-gaining the last name of Ebihara, after an old Japanese boxer and world champion. The 5'4 Arbachakov became the first Russian pro world champion by knocking out then-WBC champion Muangchai Kittikasem in 8 rounds, 23 June 1992, in his 13th pro fight. He came off the deck in round 3 to put the Thai champion down in that same round before knocking him out. He again defeated Kittikasem in his second defense, this time by TKO9. In 1995, he also defeated Chatchai Sasakul, another excellent Thai fighter. After making 9 defenses, he lost his title in the 10th against the same man, after not fighting for over a year, by UD in Sapporo, 12 November 1997. That was his last fight and he retired after only 7 years as a pro and aged 31. His record is 23 wins, 16 by ko, and 1 loss. Arbachakov was a great puncher who also had good boxing skills and could bounce back well after being hurt and knocked down.

 

5. Roman Karmazin ("Ro-man Kaarmah-zeen")

 

Probably the best Russian fighter in the middle divisions, still, was Karmazin. He had both the skills and the power to be successful at world level, but got robbed for/of the only world title he won. "Made in Hell" Karmazin was born 2 January 1969 in Kuznetsk, Western Russia aka the "European Russia". He seemingly started boxing late, as there is no record of his amateur fights, and he turned pro at the age of 27, in 1996. He carved out his career at 154 and first won the European title against Orhan Delibas by RTD3 in 2000. In 2002 he challenged for the interim WBC title against Javier Castillejo, but was denied in a close unanimous decision in Castillejo's homeland Spain. Next year, he again won the Euro title, again fighting a Spaniard in Spain, Jorge Araujo, whom he stopped by TKO5. He made two defenses, knocking out Danish Michael Rask in 2 and British David Walker in 3, and then in 2005 he first beat Keith Holmes by majority decision, before taking on the IBF-champ Kassim Ouma on 14 July and knocking him down twice before winning by unanimous decision. It went almost exactly a year however, when he defended for the first time, 8 July 2006, against Cory Spinks, former undisputed welter champion. The fight was even in Spinks' hometown of St. Louis and Karmazin, despite winning more rounds than Spinks, got robbed and lost by majority decision. Admittedly, the fight was close but Karmazin was still more dominant. In 2007, he knocked out the former WBA-champ Alejandro Garcia in 3 rounds, but in January next year he suffered a bad loss to Alex Bunema of Congo, who stopped him in the 10th round. He then entered the middle division and immidiately won the NABF title by UD against Bronco McKart. He defended it by stopping Antwun Echols by TKO7 and then vacated it to fight for the IBF title. After winning the eliminator by KO10 against Dionisio Miranda, he drew against champion Sebastian Sylvester, once again fighting away, in Germany, in June 2010. He retired in late 2011, after suffering two consecutive late stoppage losses, to Daniel Geale by TKO12 and Adama Osumanu by TKO9. He was already 42 by then and his record is 40 wins, 26 by ko, 5 losses and 2 draws.

 

6. Denis Lebedev ("Deh-nis Leh-beh-dev")

 

The best Russian cruiserweight so far. The 5'11 but very strong and hard-hitting Lebedev was the world champion 3 times and he has won the WBA title twice and IBF title once. Lebedev was born 14 August 1979 in Stary Oskol in West Russia. As amateur, he was the 1997 European junior champion at 75 kilos/165 pounds and the 1998 Goodwil Games bronze medallist. He entered the pro ranks in 2001 and first fought as a light heavy. In July 2009, he won the WBO Inter-Continental cruiser title by impressively stopping Enzo Maccarinelli by TKO3. He made two defenses of it before challenging the WBO champion Marco Huck, 18 December 2010 in Germany and tho he by all accounts deserved to win, he lost by SD. He rebounded next year by knocking out the washed up Roy Jones jr in 10 rounds and he rounded up the year by beating another washed up former legend, James Toney, by a shutout UD. With that, he won the interim WBA title and after defending it once by KO2 against Shawn Cox, he won the full title in December 2012, by knocking out Santander Silgado in 4. In his very first defense however, in May 2013, he was stopped by the hulking Guillermo Jones after a terrific war, in 11 rounds. However, Jones later tested positive for steroids and the result was changed into a no-contest. Next year, he first exposed the 33-0 Pawel Kolodziej and knocked him out in 2 rounds, before beating Youri Kayembre Kalenga by UD and stopping Lateef Kayode by TKO8, both in 2015. Kayode was undefeated coming in. In his last successful defense of the title, he stopped former WBO and then-IBF champion Victor Emilio Ramirez by TKO2. With that, he also became a super champion. In December 2016, he fought against Murat Gassiev, but only his IBF belt was on the line-which was good for him, because he lost by SD to the much taller and very strong Ossetian. He would defend his remaining WBA Super title once, in July next year, by beating Mark Flanagan by UD. After that, he was declared champion in recess, but he would never fight for the world title again. After knocking out Hizni Altunkaya in 3 and decisioning Mike Wilson, in December 2019 he lost by UD to Thabiso Mchunu, in a fight for the vacant WBC Silver title. The 40-yearold Lebedev was clearly over the hill and he chose to retire after that, with a record of 32 wins, 23 by ko, 3 losses and 1 no contest. Only one of those losses is not questionable however.

 

7. Dmitry Pirog ("D-mee-tree Pee-rog")

 

One of the very few Russian fighters and world champions to retire undefeated-because he retired after only 20 fights as a pro, but still achieving quite a lot. The tall middleweight Pirog was born 27 June 1980 in Temryuk, Krasnodar, South Russia. At the age of 8, he was a keen chess player and won some local tournaments. Soon, he became interested in sports and eventually discovered boxing. He was particularly inspired by Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather jr and set out to emulate their styles. Perhaps that's why he has never been knocked down or out. He won 200 fights and lost 30 as amateur. He made his pro debut in 2005, fighting in Russia. In 2008, he defeated his first higher quality opponent, Geard Ajetovic, by a shutout UD10 in Chekhov. In his next fight, he won the WBC Asian and WBO Asia Pacific titles by stopping contender Kuvonchbek Toygonbaev of Uzbekistan by RTD5. Next year, he impressively beat Kofi Jantuah by another shutout UD, this time in 12 rounds, to win the WBC International title. On 31 July 2010, he faced the unbeaten Daniel Jacobs in a fight for the vacant WBO title, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Although the slick Jacobs dominated 3 of the first 4 rounds, in round 5, Pirog drove him to the ropes where he nailed him with a perfect overhand right as Jacobs was throwing a left jab-Jacobs was down and out! After winning a world title in such emphatic fashion, a lot was expected of Pirog. However, his title reign turned out to be somewhat of a snoozer-as he fought only non-world class fighters and only made 3 defenses. He first beat Javier Francisco Maciel by UD in a rather boring fight, then stopped Gennadiy Martirosyan on a cut in 10 rounds, before beating his best opponent as a champion, Nobuhiro Ishida by a wide UD, 1 May 2012. That was his last fight and Pirog suddenly retired, after injuring his back during the preparation for a fight against Gennadiy Golovkin. Before that, he also got stripped of his title for choosing to fight GGG instead of his mandatory, Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. His record is 20-0 with 15 ko's. His career ended on a big "what if?" note.

 

8. Zaurbek Baysangurov ("Za-oor-beck Baay-sahn-goorov")

 

One of the best Russian boxers in this century, Baysangurov won the WBO super welter championship, but his career was cut short for unknown reasons. He was born Zaurbek Musaevich Baysangurov, 2 March 1985 in Ackhoy-Martan, the Chechen-Ingush part of Russia. As amateur, he won the 2001 Cadet European championships in Liverpool, the bronze at the 2003 World Junior championships in Santiago de Cuba and the 2003 European Junior championships in Warsaw. Baysangurov was a pretty hard puncher who also was tough and relentless in his assault, but could box well too. After turning pro in 2004, he suffered his only loss in December 2008, after he was brought up too fast against Cornelius Bundrage, who stopped him by TKO5. Before that, Baysangurov won the European title in 2007 by UD against Hussein Bayram and the IBF Youth middle title by RTD8 against Daniel Urbanski. In September 2006, he defeated Marco Antonio Rubio by UD to win the WBC International super welter title. In December 2010, he faced the hard-hitting Colombian Richard Gutierrez in a fight for the vacant IBO sw title, in Brovari, Ukraine. Despite being knocked down in round 4, he went on to stop Gutierrez in the 12th round by TKO, after dominating most of the fight. In July next year, he faced Mike Miranda for the vacant interim WBO title and knocked him out in only 51 seconds! In May 2012, he scored one of his best victories, perhaps the best, when he beat Michel Soro by a clear UD, after being down once. With that, he won the full WBO title. He defended it only once, in October that year, by defeating Lukas Konecny by another clear UD. In June 2013, he was stripped of the title for unknown reasons, maybe inactivity. He came back for one more fight in 2014, where he won the IBO title for the second time by TKO12 against Guido Nicolas Pitto. ZB wasn't yet 30 when he retired, again for unknown reasons, it could've been injury or managerial issues. His record is 29 wins, 21 by ko, and 1 loss.

 

9. Oleg Maskaev ("Oh-leg Maaska-ev")

 

Maskaev was a talented heavyweight, however, due to his weak chin, he has been knocked out too many times and sometimes against technically inferior fighters. That is why he is at no.9. Late in his career, he succeeded in winning the WBC title and is the only man to beat Hasim Rahman twice. He stood/stands at 6'3 and had a strong build and a good punch and skills. He was erronously reported as being born in Uzbekistan, but actually he was born in Kazakhstan, the town of Abay, 2 March 1969, to ethnic Russian parents. As a youg man, he worked in the mine and fathered his first child at 16. He started boxing in the 1980's, in his early teens. He was the 1991 Soviet Army champion and that same year he stopped Vitali Klitschko in the second round. In 1993, he also won the World championships in Tampere, Finland and in 1994 came to the finals of the World Cup, losing to Roberto Balado on walk-over. He had his first pro fight in 1993 already, but returned to the amateur fights after that, and didn't start boxing professionally for good until 1995. After winning the PABA title on points against Nikolay Kulpin, in February '96 he fought Oliver McCall in Richmond, USA and was knocked out in one round by the very fast-starting McCall. He won 4 more fights before being stopped by David Tua, by TKO11, in April '97. He then stopped the faded Alex Stewart by TKO7 and again won the PABA title against Toakipa Tasefa by KO1. After making two defenses, he faced Hasim Rahman in November '99 in Atlantic City and surprised everyone by knocking out the favored Rahman in round 8, with a single right which put him thru the ropes and out of the ring. In May next year, he stopped the 6'6 puncher Derrick Jefferson by TKO4, but then ran into Kirk Johnson, who knocked him out in 4 rounds in October. In his next fight, he was also knocked out by Lance Whitaker, this time in 2 rounds. Worse of all, in 2002 he suffered another knockout loss, this time to fringe contender/journeyman Corey Sanders; after being ahead after 7 rounds, he was caught with a three-punch combo that put him out of the game. In November '05, he beat Sinan Samil Sam of Turkey to win the WBC International title and the right to fight for the WBC title, which was held by Hasim Rahman. He again faced Rahman on 12 August '06 and finally became the world champion by stopping Rahman by TKO12. He made one defense by UD against Okello Peter, before losing the title in March '08 to the hard-hitting Samuel Peter, in 6 rounds. He kept fighting until November '13, when he beat Danny Williams on points. He was 44 when he retired. His record is 39 wins, 28 by ko, and 7 losses, all by ko.

 

10. Sultan Ibragimov

 

The only boxer of Avar ethnicity to win a world title, Ibragimov was a fast and rather small heavyweight, who packed a pretty good pnnch and was tough and game. He was also one of only 6 southpaws to so far become world heavy champions. He was born 8 March 1975 in Tlyarata, Dagestan Republic, Russia. The 6'2 Ibragimov won the silver at the 2000 European championships and a silver at the 2000 Olympics as well, as well as another silver at the 2001 World championships. He claims an amateur record of 135 victories with at least 6 losses. He was at one point trained by Panama Lewis and also Jeff Mayweather, as a pro. His first pro fight was in 2002 and he scored 4 straight first-round knockouts. He won the WBO Pacific title by KO3 against Najee Shaheed in 2004 and defended it 6 times, among others against Al "Ice" Cole by TKO3, Zuri Lawrence by TKO11 and most impressively, Lance Whitaker by TKO7. He took apart the much bigger Whitaker with his accurate punching and put him down three times. Whitaker outweighed him by 52 pounds/23 kilos! In July 2006, he had his first hard fight against another giant, the 6'6 and 246-pound Ray Austin and both guys were down once, before the fight ended in a controversial split draw. He then faced Shannon Briggs on 2 June 2007, for Briggs' WBO title, and won clearly after giving the slow and sluggish Briggs a boxing lesson over 12 rounds. Briggs also weighed in at 273, 52 pounds more than Ibragimov. He made his only successful defense against a living legend-Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield, who was by then 45, but still game. Holyfield gave him a good fight, especially in the early going, but Ibragimov eventually came out on top and hurt him in the 7th and 10th round. He won by a clear unanimous decision. He then signed to fight the IBF and IBO champion Wladimir Klitschko, on 23 February 2008, but the fight was pretty boring and the much bigger Klitchko used his size and strength to negate Ibragimov's offense and won clearly on points. Ibragimov retired after this disappointment and left behind a record of 22 wins, 17 by ko, and that 1 loss.

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