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Central Asian boxing history


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This region, consisting of states (today) Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, produced some of the best boxers in Soviet history and the post-Soviet one as well. Names like Gennadiy Golovkin, Ruslan Chagaev, Orzubek Nazarov, Artur Grigorian, Vasilij Zhirov/Jirov, Beibut Shumenov and Dmitri Bivol are known to every true boxing lover today. Some of them belong among the greatest names in the sport ever, like Golovkin, Nazarov, Grigorian, Zhirov and Bivol also seems to be joining that group. Chagaev and Shumenov were both among the best boxers of their own era and were world champions more than once. There are always new and exciting talents coming from Central Asia, some of those that are becoming well known today are: Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (Kazakhstan), Israil Madrimov (Uzbekistan), Murodjon Akhmadaliev (Uzbekistan), Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (Tajikistan), Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (Tajikistan), Daniyar Yeleussinov (Kazakhstan) and Ivan Dychko (Kazakhstan). Dmitri Bivol represents Russia, but is born and mostly raised in Kyrgyzstan, of Moldovan and Korean parentage. Only Turkmenistan hasn't yet produced a noteworthy boxer of the countries mentioned above, for reasons unknown to me. Here is some info on their professional boxing history.


The first world champion from Central Asia was Orzubek Nazarov, the pride of Kyrgyzstan and their still only pro world champion-technically, since Bivol represents Russia. Nazarov had to go to Johannesburg in South Africa to fight the home favorite and hero Dingaan Thobela in 1993 but won the WBA light title on points rather comfortably. He also beat Thobela in his first defense, again on points. He made altogether 6 successful defenses, also knocking out Joey Gamache in 2 rounds and stopping another future world champion Leavander Johnson by TKO 7, before losing his title on points to Jean Baptiste Mendy, in 1998, fighting away in Paris after not defending his title for a year. Orzubek Puletovich Nazarov, as his full name is, was a fine southpaw technician with a good jab and a good punch. He also won the bronze at the 1986 world amateur championships in Reno. He has defeated Kostya Tszyu in the amateurs and had a record of 153-12 there.


We then jump to 1996 to find the next world champ of Central Asian nationality. Atuiz Artur Grigorian, an ethnic Armenian from Uzbekistan, won the WBO light title by knocking out Antonio Rivera in 12. He would make a record 17 defenses over the course of the next 7 1/8 years, but fighting mostly in Germany, until he finally lost his title on 3 January 2004, fighting in USA against the Brazilian star Acelino Freitas. Other notable guys he beat were Raul Horacio Balbi (TKO 11), Giorgio Campanella (TKO 10), Michael Clark (KO 5) and Antonio Pitalua (UD 12). He retired in 2009. Grigorian was a fine boxer-puncher but his career is tainted because he fought too many lesser fighters and always in Germany, where he was based. Once he stepped out of Germany and up in competition, even though he was by all accounts past his prime, he lost.


At the same time as these guys, there was a heavyweight Oleg Maskaev, an ethnic Russian born and raised in Kazakhstan (earlier incorrectly reported as Uzbekistan), who was a solid heavyweight contender, but wouldn't win a world title until 2006, when he held it rather briefly. He was chinny and therefore lost too many fights by ko, that he otherwise should've won or had a good chance to win. His greatest successes were his two ko wins over Hasim Rahman, the last one when he won the WBC title in 2006. He is actually the only fighter to ko Rahman twice and the first one to get a non-controversial ko against him. He has also defeated some minor or mid-size contenders like Derrick Jefferson, Alex Stewart and Sinan Samil Sam. He had a long career, fighting for 20 years, between 1993 and 2013. A fine boxer-puncher and a strong guy, but chinny, as mentioned.


Then, in 1999, there came a new champion, this time a Kazakh (of mixed Russian and Kazakh heritage) called Vassily Jirov or Zhirov. Zhirov won the IBF cruiser title by stopping Arthur Williams by TKO 7. Known as "Tiger", he wore tiger striped trunks and was a relentless and very durable fighter. He made 6 defenses of this title, among others beating Dale Brown by KO 10, Julian Letterlough by TKO 8 and Jorge Fernando Castro by UD. He finally lost his title and his zero when he fought James Toney in his 7th defense in April 2003 and after a hard and close battle, suffered a knockdown in the closing seconds and lost by too wide scores. He tried to reinvent himself as a heavy, but was simply too small for the division and in the end he returned to the cruiser ranks, but his prime was already spent. His final fight was in 2009 and he won it by a TKO 2.


The next world champion turned out to be an Uzbek called Ruslan Chagaev, who upset the WBA champion and Russian giant menace, Nikolay Valuev. Chagaev first came to notice as amateur when he defeated the legendary Felix Savon at the 1997 WC in Budapest. However, he had already had two pro fights before that and was then disqualified because of that. He turned pro for good in 2001 and in April 2007 he outboxed the 7-foot Valuev with relative ease, simply using his superior speed, movement and boxing skills to neutralize the MASSIVE physical disadvantage he at 6'1 had against the giant. He made 2 successful defenses of the WBA title before losing it in a big unification fight against Wladimir Klitschko in 2009, when he quit after 9 rounds on his stool. In 2011, he tried to recapture his old title as Klitschko became a super champion, but failed as he lost on points to Alex Povetkin. He finally reclaimed his old title against Fres Oquendo by MD in 2014 and made one successful defense by KO 1 against Francesco Pianeta, before losing to Australian strongman Lucas Browne by TKO 10 on 5 March 2016. Chagaev retired after this fight.


We must mention one lightweight contender from Kyrgyzstan, because I haven't ever written about him before and he deserves to be mentioned. Almazbek Raiymkulov, called "Kid Diamond", was a terrific action fighter, a typical brawler, who was probably robbed in his biggest fight against Joel Casamayor. He was born in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, and represented his country at the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney. After beating his first two opponents, he lost to the third, Cristian Bejarano of Mexico, 12-14 on points. Kid Diamon turned pro fighting out of USA, in 2001 and went 20-0, beating Jose Luis Soto Karass by RTD 2, Lamar Murphy by TKO 5 and Koba Gogoladze by TKO 6, in the last three fights. He was then matched against the Olympic champion and former super feather world champion Joel Casamayor in a WBC-eliminator on 11 June 2005. Although he went down in round 1, he gave Casamayor one of his toughest fights yet and looked like he might have edged it, but the fight was judged to be a split draw. Instead of getting a rematch, he was given a fight against one of the best contenders back then, Nate Campbell. That fight came too soon, obviously, only 3 months later, and he was in the end stopped by TKO in the 10th and last round, after getting knocked down twice in the fifth and once in the tenth. It hurt his rankings, naturally, and he would not fight a relevant fighter again until it was too late. In February 2009, he fought Antonio DeMarco in a fight for the WBO NABO title and got a beating, in the end quitting in his corner after 9 rounds. A sad farewell for the warrior that was once Kid Diamond.


The next champion from Central Asia turned out to be one of the greatest boxers of the modern era and this century: Gennadiy Gennadiyevich Golovkin aka GGG! Like Jirov, he was born of a Russian father and a Kazakh mother, in Karaganda, north Kazakhstan. He won pretty much everything at amateur level, except an Olympic gold, but instead had to settle for a silver, losing to Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov in the final. However, while his opponent had to settle for that as his greatest achievement, the great stuff was yet to come for GGG. He became a pro in 2006 and won the WBA title in 2010, by ko'ing Nilson Julio Tapia in 3 rounds. Few would have known that that was a start of a reign that would last for almost 8 years. He made 19 defenses of the WBA title and also won the IBF, WBC and IBO ones along the way. His most notable victims were Kassim Ouma (TKO 10), Gabriel Rosado (TKO 7), Matthew Macklin (KO 3), Daniel Geale (TKO 3), Martin Murray (TKO 11), David Lemieux (TKO 8), Kell Brook (TKO 5), Daniel Jacobs (UD 12), Vanes Martirosyan (KO 2) and recently Ryota Murata (TKO 9). He had the first of his "superfights" against Saul Canelo Alvarez in September 2017 and it ended a disappointing draw, despite most people agreeing GGG had won it. The rematch took place exactly a year later and this time, Canelo was given yet another controversial decision-a victory this time. Thus, after 38 fights without a loss, his zero was gone. He rebounded and in 2019 he reclaimed the IBF title in a hard fight against Sergiy Derevyanchenko and then also won the WBA title in April this year by stopping Ryota Murata in a sensational comeback performance. He is now slated to fight Canelo for the third time, once again in mid-September.


And then, we have Beibut Shumenov, who almost simultaneously became the champion in 2010, same year as GGG. After first failing in his first attempt at the WBA title when he lost to Gabriel Campillo by MD in August 2009, he beat Campillo in the rematch in January next year to win the title and become the first Kazakh light heavy world champion. He also won the minor IBA title in that fight. He made four successful defenses, most notably by decisioning unbeaten Vyacheslav Uzelkov and knocking out the faded former three-time middle champion William Joppy in 6, before he lost his titles in a unification fight against the IBF champion and legend Bernard Hopkins, by split decision in April 2014. He became a cruiser after this and first won the interim WBA title on points against BJ Flores, before winning the full version by stopping Anthony Junior Wright by TKO 10. That was in May 2016 and Shumenov then suddenly announced his retirement, but then came back in July 2018 and beat Hizni Altunkaya by RTD 9 to once again win the same WBA belt. He is listed as inactive, but there is a good possibility of him returning again, briefly.


So far the last and most recent Central Asian to become the world champion and still is one, is Dmitry Bivol. As mentioned, he was born in Kyrgyzstan to a Moldovan father and a mother of Korean heritage but who grew up in Kyrgyzstan. Bivol lived in the town of Tokmak until the age of 11, when he moved to Russia. Already back in Tokmak, when he was 6, he started boxing as he was bigger than other kids of his age there. He grew into a formidable technical boxer and won numerous tournaments in Russia and abroad as a youth. The 6 foot light heavy Bivol started his pro career in November 2014. Early on, he scored many knockouts and seemed to be a true ko artist. He won the WBA interim title in May 2016 when he beat Felix Valera by UD. He made 2 defenses of that title before fighting for the full one against Trent Broadhurst in Monte Carlo on 4 November 2017. He knocked Broadhurst out in 1 round to spectacularly become the world champion. In his first defense, he stopped Sullivan Barrea by TKO 12. He also beat Jean Pascal and Joe Smith jr on points and the tricky Isaac Chilemba too. On 7 May this year, he made his greatest achievement when he beat the p4p king and the guy considered the best boxer back then, Saul Canelo Alvarez. Bivol avenged the unfair loss of his countryman Golovkin when he outboxed Alvarez convincingly to win by UD. That was his 8th successful defense and now the sky is the limit for him.

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