Boxing is alive this weekend with plenty of high-level fights with elite competitors, but most of it will not be televised in the U.S. Three world title fights and two of them are in fairly competitive matchups. First up this Friday, Richard Commey (24-1, 22 KO’s) vs. Denis Shafikov (37-2-1, 20 KO’s) for an IBF title eliminator in Moscow. Then on Saturday in Moscow as well, Denis Lebedev (29-2, 22 KO’s) vs. Murat Gassiev (23-0-1, 17 KO’s) for Lebedev’s WBA/IBF cruiserweight title and Eduard Troyanovsky (25-0, 22 KO’s) vs. Julius Indongo (20-0, 10 KO’s) for the IBF junior welterweight title. In Scotland, the same day, Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KO’s) defends his WBO middleweight title for the first time against Artur Akavov (16-1, 7 KO’s).
Since Commey vs. Shafikov is up first; let’s break it down first as well. Commey is coming off a potential Fight of the Year against IBF champion Robert Easter Jr. Shafikov is coming off a TKO over Jamel Herring after a unanimous decision loss to divisional boogeyman Rances Barthelemy in a back and forth fight.
Commey and Shafikov both like to come forward and throw combinations. Shafikov like to parry and slip to come inside to throw combinations to the head and body but lacks a high level of defense to go side to side and slip shots. He backs straight up more often than pivoting and trying to find an angle. He did well against the hesitant Cuban style of Barthelemy, who allowed him to come inside and work combinations. Commey won’t be stepping backward often like Barthelemy, and he will look to push the pace against the smaller Shafikov.
Commey with an equal level of volume and more power, combined with the length and athleticism advantages, he should be able to get the upset here; also due to Shafikov’s relative longevity in the sport against the upper tier, he may be “over the hill” compared to a potentially rising Commey.
Prediction: Richard Commey defeats Denis Shafikov via TKO in the later rounds.
Troyanovsky vs. Idongo is perhaps the fight with the least amount of cemented evidence on the level of ability from either guy. Troyanovsky best win was the undefeated Cesar Rene Cuenca (48-2, 2 KO’s) who he fought twice in a row and won both via TKO. Indongo himself has no signature or credible name on his resume. However, because of the hierarchy of junior welterweight, the winner of this bout could get enough hype in the boxing community to travel to face more notable names in the boxing community.
Troyanovsky obviously has the higher knockout rate, 88%, compared to the KO ratio of Idongo, which sits at 50%, however, seems to lack certain attributes and skills that Indongo may be able to capitalize. Troyanovsky is a come forward boxer, similar to other notable eastern Europeans this weekend. He is a gifted offensive boxer. He has an above average since of accuracy as he places his shots well, whether it’s to the head or body, and he is relatively light on his feet compared to a Shafikov as earlier mentioned.
However, he like Shafikov, lacks the fundamental defense footwork to pivot away from offense instead of backing straight up. Now because he is lighter on his feet than a Shafikov, he is able to get away with it at the lower level more often. Unfortunately for him, Indongo is more of a counter boxer at heart. Indongo is a southpaw with an extremely active lead right hand. Whether it’s a jab or hook, it’s not uncommon to see 2-3 punches consecutively from that lead hand.
A highly active lead hand from a southpaw usually leads to orthodox boxers getting frustrated. Add the fact Indongo has an equal level of foot speed, he could potentially frustrate Troyanovsky to where he over extends himself and gets caught with a counter left straight, a favorite knockout shot from Indongo.
Prediction: Julius Indongo gets the upset victory over Eduard Troyanovsky via late round TKO.
The main event coming on after features the most competitive and elite level fight of the weekend. Lebedev vs. Gassiev is quite a bit of what boxing fans love wrapped up in a hardcore’s delight. Lebedev is the seasoned vet at cruiserweight. A professional for over 13 years, he’s beaten guys like past prime versions of Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney respectively and lost to divisional mainstays like Marco Huck and Guillermo Jones. In the vein of other Eastern European boxers, Lebedev and Gassiev both do their best and hardest hitting work on the inside and within boxing range. Neither guy likes to be on the outside and usually, have low work rates at that distance.
So with two come forward boxers with extreme power, boxing fans are in for another potential great cruiserweight bout this year. Gassiev, and this isn’t hyperbole, almost never steps backward. Of course, it’s factually incorrect to say he never takes a backward step, but it’s rare and far in between. His absurd chin and decent offensive footwork at cutting off the ring allow him to usually be the one setting the pace.
Gassiev has a much lower work rate than a Lebedev, which could lead to Lebedev doing enough damage to either stop Gassiev or stop his offensive rhythm. However, similar to Commey vs. Shafikov, this fight could potentially be a “passing of the torch” bout. Lebedev is quite hittable and extremely so when going backward, so a scenario of Gassiev being able to parry or slip a shot and coming in with a fight-altering power combination is not only possible it is highly likely.
Prediction: Murat Gassiev defeats Denis Lebedev via split decision in a hard fought, inside battle.
The last major bout of the weekend features the often-critiqued and relatively new WBO middleweight champion Saunders vs. the relatively unknown and un-renowned Akavov. This fight, while probably having the biggest name out of the weekend, unfortunately, has the worst matchup. This is a complete mismatch. Little to say when both men lack fight changing power and one clearly has the talent gap to never win a world title.
Out-boxing Saunders is Akavov’s only route to victory due to having less power than Saunders. Also if more talented, more seasoned, and powerful opponents like an Andy Lee and Chris Eubanks Jr. couldn’t outbox or significantly hurt Saunders, than a boxer of Akavov’s ability has no clear path to victory.
Prediction: Billy Joe Saunders defeats Artur Akavov via a wide and clear unanimous decision.