This weekend boxing fans were treated with a little bit of everything. We saw two competitive technical brawls with Richard Commey (24-2, 22 KO’s) vs. Denis Shafikov (38-2-1, 20 KO’s) and Denis Lebedev (29-3, 22 KO’s) vs. Murat Gassiev (24-0-1, 17 KO’s), a knockout upset with Eduard Troyanovsky (25-1, 22 KO’s) vs. Julius Indongo (21-0, 11 KO’s), and an awful showing in a contentious decision win for a champion in a “tune-up” bout with Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KO’s) vs. Artur Akavov (16-2, 7 KO’s).
Shafikov Defeats Commey via Split Decision (116-112, 115-113, 112-116)
These two men started the weekend in style with a brutal back and forth battle of wills. Commey on the back-foot throwing hard combinations to the head and body as the charging bull of Shafikov continued to bruise him with hard left and right hooks. This fight had everything a fan of boxing would hope for, except for any knockdowns or a knockout. However, that is due to the otherworldly chins and punch resistance they both wield.
Unfortunately with back and forth fight such as these; a definitive winner is unlikely in most circumstances. In a fight that some people scored for Commey, others for Shafikov, and perhaps more with a draw, if there was a rematch down the line sooner rather than later, fans wouldn’t be too upset.
The first half of the fight saw the fresh, light on his feet Commey, throwing 4+ punch combinations while negating the forward pressure of Shafikov. The second half of the fight saw the excellent body work from Shafikov catch up to Commey. His punches became less effective and his movements visibly more labored. However, that didn’t stop the second half from being as close as the first. Scorecards ranging from 115-113 for Commey to 115-113 for Shafikov are not indefensible. Both men had their respective stock rise.
Shafikov should go after someone with a world title. A matchup against WBO Lightweight Champion Terry Flanagan would both be a huge potential name for Shafikov and for Flanagan. Flanagan is looking for a high ranked opponent who would give his title reign credibility, and Shafikov would have an easier matchup versus Flanagan than a Robert Easter Jr. or winner of Mikey Garcia vs. Dejan Zlaticanin.
Commey is now on a two-fight slide, and while each fight was an FOTY contender and contentious, a win is a must in his next outing. He could fight IBO Lightweight Champion Xolisani Ndongeni for an all-African showdown that he may be able to get in his home country, while simultaneously getting him a “belt.” If he continues to want to face big names than an Anthony Crolla bout in the UK who’s coming off a close loss to divisional king Jorge Linares, would be a “big money fight” and a style he could do quite well against.
Indongo Knocks Out Troyanovsky in the 1st Round
Indongo was as high as a +996 underdog going into his first world title bout against heavy favorite and boxing hipster’s new darling at light welterweight, Troyanovksy. As one of the few to pick Indongo, I’ll refrain from the deserved, “I told you so.” Even I didn’t foresee how fast the knockout would come.
After Indongo baited Troyanovsky with some peppering right hands, he flattened him with an overhand left that instantaneously turned the proverbial lights out. It happened in less than two minutes, and the adoring hometown crowd for Troyanovsky was left stunned and silenced. The only sounds that could be heard were the literal cries of joy from Indongo and his team who kept repeating, “IBF World Champ,” while Troyanovsky struggled to come to his senses.
It was a stark reminder how brutal and beautiful this sport was; on one hand, was the underdog who scored the biggest win of his career, and the other a man coming to grips with his first lost and consciousness at the same time.
Indongo has gained so much momentum within the boxing community from this huge knockout win, a bout against divisional leaders such as Terence Crawford or Adrien Broner would be seen with relative excitement and be lucrative for Indongo. Fights with the likes of Thomas Dulorme, Viktor Postol, or a unification bout with WBA champion Ricky Burns would be both a step up in competition but not too high.
The hardcore boxing fans potential new darling is now left with a devastating loss where a zero used to be. At the age of 36 already, and without a single legacy-defining win, it could be a downhill slide for the overhyped Troyanovksy. Not to take anything away from Indongo’s huge win, but Troyanovsky was completely unproven and past his physical prime. He will probably fight someone in Russia that the vast majority of the boxing community has never heard of before.
Gassiev Defeats Lebedev via Split Decision (116-112, 113-114, 116-111)
This bout was similar to the Shafikov vs. Commey bout in that this one was extremely close and contentious. Both men had their respective moments throughout. Lebedev was clearly the better boxer and it showed in the early rounds. Gassiev had a difficult time tracking him down and cutting off the ring, thus allowing Lebedev to work his superior combination boxing.
It wasn’t until the 4th and 5th round, with the latter featuring an impressive left hook to Lebedev’s liver, which put him down, that the fight truly turned towards a more even bout. Gassiev slowed Lebedev’s footwork down with his constant pressure and bodywork just enough to start catching him on the exit. Lebedev would come in range to throw a combination then look to exit out the back door towards his right. Since he is a southpaw, he did that to avoid a bad angle for the dominant right hand of Gassiev and have his lead foot on the outside. However, as he started to slow down, his exits stopped becoming clean so it was easy to touch him.
With this fight being hotly contested, perhaps more so than the Commey/Shafikov bout, a rematch in the near future would be helpful to add clarity to the divisional hierarchy. If they decide to go other routes there are plenty of matchups in the stacked cruiserweight division for each of them.
WBA and IBF Champion Murat Gassiev vs. WBO Champion Oleksandr Usyk is perhaps “the fight” in the division. Both men represent diametrically different mentalities of boxing and fighting. Usyk, while having extreme power, is extremely light on his feet and has a level of boxing IQ. Gassiev is the plodding bruiser with a chin made of titanium, but both men are young and have a long career ahead of them. The likelihood Gassiev’s handlers go directly for Usyk after a legacy changing win over Lebedev is unlikely, to say the least, though.
Lebedev, who has had a Hall of Fame career at cruiserweight, is coming off his 3rd career loss. However, he doesn’t seem to be done by any means. Many fans and pundits scored the fight for him, so a fight against someone still at a high level for a quick rebound would be preferable at his age. Both Krzysztof Glowacki and Lebedev are coming off high-level decision losses. A matchup between them would lead to a winner who is instantly back in contention and an exciting one for the fans.
Saunders Defeats Akavov via Unanimous Decision (116-113, 116-112, 115-113)
First off, the judges who scored this bout, especially the ones giving him 8 rounds should be suspended. There is no excuse for those scorecards. Now the fight was close, and I wouldn’t have been mad with the judges saw it 7-5 for Saunders. However, a vocal portion of boxing fans and pundits saw the fight a draw or win for Akavov.
Secondly, Billy Joe Saunders looked horrific. The person fans paid money to see wasn’t the same boxer who outclassed Andy Lee and Chris Eubank Jr. It could be the long layoff and rumored massive weight gain as a result, or it was the lack of his long time trainer being in the corner. Whatever the reason is, it will do little to erase that performance from people’s minds and memories.
Akavov is a limited skillset boxer with little to zero power, so his performance against the atrocious Saunders is confusing, to say the least. He wasn’t better than Saunders; he was just more active. If Akavov wants to keep his name in the upper tier of middleweight, he should fight lower ranked guys like Dominic Wade, Tureano Johnson or Ryota Murata.
Gennady Golovkin or Canelo Alvarez would eat Saunders alive. Those fights would do little to excite the fans and media based on that performance. If GGG and Jacobs fight in March like it is reported by multiple outlets, and Canelo fights a David Lemieux, Curtis Stevens, or Willie Monroe Jr., then Saunders should fight whichever one of those names doesn’t get a dance partner. Saunders against one of those aforementioned names, Lemieux, Stevens, or Monroe will either show Saunders truly lost a step or needed more rounds to get that ring rust off.