Four of the most explosive Welsh and Russian wars

Four of the most explosive Welsh and Russian wars

Until the fall of communism in Eastern Europe at the start of the 1990’s, the vast majority of Russian boxers were confined to the vests and head guards of the strict amateur code. The USSR always amassed a formidable medal tally at international competitions with Valeriy Popenchenko and Boris Lagutin two of the best boxers to win gold medals at the Olympics, the former collecting the Val Barker trophy for the best boxer of the 1960 games. The Soviets have since swept across to the west and in to the professional ranks, seeing the likes of Kostya Tszyu and Alexander Povetkin reaching global recognition. Stereotypically tough and heavy handed, most Russians are uncompromising pressure punchers who rarely feature as first choice opponents. In recent years, they’ve produced several explosive encounters with Welshmen. Ahead of Evgeny Gradovich’s (19-0-1, 9KO) IBF world featherweight title defence against Barry boy Lee Selby (20-1, 8KO) on 30 May in London, BoxingWales.com count down the top four most memorable tear-ups, for better or worse. 1.) Sergey Kovalev v Nathan Cleverly, TKO4 – August 2013, Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena. By the time of Cleverly’s sixth defence of his WBO light-heavyweight title, the Welshman’s frustrating wait to tackle the division’s elite was approaching boiling point. In private, then 26-year-old Cleverly had seen negotiations for numerous unifications with two of the other champions, Beibut Shumenov and Bernard Hopkins, either stall as soon as they started or fall through at the final hurdle. Patience, both at home and further afield, for a breakthrough bout was running out. Many claimed that the Gwent native was protected, while the flip side argued that he was actually avoided. When Cleverly presented then promoter Frank Warren with a list of names he wanted, the easiest fight to make was with an unknown at the back of the queue, Sergey Kovalev. The reason for that was that the Russian was far too good for his own good and it proved to be the case in Cardiff. Kovalev arrived in the capital at the height of summertime with a squad of backers – the most important one being American broadcasters HBO. With hopes of securing a contract, Cleverly was eager to impress but that quickly caught up with him. The opening two rounds were nip and tuck. Kovalev hit what he could, which included pounding away at shoulders and forearms, while Cleverly repeatedly jabbed to cut the visitor’s eyebrow and displace his gum shield. The champion’s shots were landing, albeit lightly, and he kept a tight defence but his tactics were risky, always pushing forward and remaining in punching range. Kovalev was the owner of nuclear power in both hands and had rarely needed to venture beyond round three. While Cleverly needed to box well for every exchange, Kovalev needed to find success in just one exchange to turn it in his favour. That came in the third stanza as a right cross-left hook combination rocked Cleverly on his heels. Two bludgeoning knockdowns followed, referee Terry O’Connor was slow to react and Kovalev landed more after Cleverly had sunk to his knees. The official attempted to make up for his blunder by carrying a hurt Cleverly to his corner at the end of the round, having appeared to momentarily wave it off only for the bell to sound simultaneously. The Welshman bravely returned for the fourth round, a stage not many had made against Kovalev, but his body wasn’t as willing as his spirit. 40 seconds later, O’Connor waved it off and Kovalev was coroneted as champion. 2.) Enzo Maccarinelli v Alexander Kotlobay, TKO1 – April 2010, St Petersberg’s Yubileiny Sports Palace. Having suffered three knockout defeats in the last six fights, there were few observers with faith when Enzo Maccarinelli departed Wales to travel nearly two thousand miles to St Petersberg in a bid to capture the European cruiserweight title. From the first bell, the Swansea native looked like a man who knew something most others didn’t, clearly benefitting from his two confidence building one-round knockout wins leading in to the fight. The banger from Bonymaen was respectful yet forceful, conceding centre ring but walking Kotlobay on to forceful straight shots. Maccarinelli cautiously circled and feinted from the outside with the occasional dip to his left, unlocking a hook to the body. Kotlobay, who owned a six pounds weight advantage, had amassed a record very similar to ex-Maccarinelli conqueror Denis Lebedev with 18 wins and 12 stoppages from 20 outings. However, bit-by-bit, the Welshman was firmly chipping away. Making full use of his taller height and longer reach, Maccarinelli soon stopped Kotlobay in his tracks, flattening him with a flush textbook one-two combination. Groggily returning upright with a helping hand from the referee, the hometown hero clearly hadn’t collected himself and he was soon trapped on the ropes. Maccarinelli, one of Wales’ most clinical finishers in recent years, composed himself and ended matters by winding up an uppercut that left Kotlobay sitting, and almost senseless, on the bottom rope. The referee waved it off and ‘Big Mac’ respectfully bowed to all corners of a stunned Russian arena as calmly as he had picked his punches to win the fight, before embracing his trainer Karl Ince and cutsman Dean Powell. Whether Maccarinelli’s class told or he had just caught his opponent cold, it felt like every one of those 45 seconds were well used to exercise the demons of the last two years. After a torrid run of form and a hat trick of knockout defeats, Enzo had completed his own hat trick of consecutive first round knockout wins and breathed new life in to his rollercoaster career. 3.) Denis Lebedev (17-0, 12KO) v Enzo Maccarinelli, TKO3 – July 2009, Manchester’s M.E.N. Arena. After suffering two defeats in his previous three fights, matching Enzo Maccarinelli with Denis Lebedev, who was on a fearsome 17 fight undefeated streak, in a WBO Inter-Continental contest was a questionable decision that raised the eyebrows of everyone… except Frank Warren, who promoted both boxers. There was no shame in losing a WBC, WBA and WBO cruiserweight world title unification with London’s explosive David Haye 16 months earlier. However, a shock knockout loss against the then unknown Ola Afolabi appeared to shatter the Welshman’s confidence and Lebedev had no plans to let it return. It was Maccarinelli’s first fight since splitting with Enzo Calzaghe and there were unconfirmed reports that the 29-year-old was spending large parts of his preparation alone. Officially, Maccarinelli was trained and cornered by Preston’s Karl Ince and he appeared in non-traditional red attire, a switch from the usual black and white shorts of his beloved Swansea City FC. The opening two rounds were nip and tuck, the action of note came when Lebedev’s straight southpaw backhand to the stomach backed ‘Big Mac’ up and the visitor looked ominously untroubled by the hooks to the body he took in return. There was an eerie atmosphere amongst the crowd, co-incidentally at the same venue as the Afolabi defeat, and they expected bombs. Both bangers wore Grant gloves, the chosen tools of power punchers and the writing was on the proverbial wall. Maccarinelli entered the third and ultimately final round with the bridge of his nose swollen and back was against the wall, especially since he said he’d consider retirement if defeated. Lebedev was solid and strong but was yet to appear spectacular as he gradually applied steady pressure. That soon changed. Lebedev operated with well-rounded fundamentals and made few mistakes, he could spot them though. A half-hook-half-uppercut detonated on Maccarinelli, immediately slamming shut his right eye. The victim’s legs dipped and he was sent reeling across the ring, struggling to regain full control of his senses. An onslaught ensued, the Moscow man began to maul Maccarinelli and when little returned, referee Terry O’Connor came between the care to wave it off. Like Afolabi, Lebedev would go on and rise towards the top level of the division. The Russian first’s world title bid ended in a controversial points loss to WBO ruler Marco Huck but he has now reigned as the WBA champion for the last three years. 4.) Bradley Pryce v Sergey Stepkin, TKO10 – December 2004, London’s Excel Arena. While Joe Calzaghe was defending his WBO world title for the 15th time, things were less than successful for his long-time gym mate Bradley Pryce who was searching for a positive reason to remember 2004. Up to that point in the calendar year, the 23-year-old had endured three defeats that left him with a 19-5 record. It didn’t do Pryce’s talent justice and his career desperately needed a kick-start. Two of those defeats came courtesy of respectable operators, Thomas McDonagh and Ajose Olusegun, but the latter was a fourth round stoppage. Amongst the streak of form came a concerning loss against the unimpressive Farai Musiyiwa and the only victory was against Cefn Hengoed’s journeyman Keith Jones for the Welsh welterweight title. Heading in to the make or break night against Sergey Stepkin, there were reasons to be hopeful. Pryce had overcome another undefeated Russian 19 months earlier when he out-pointed Ivan Kirpa over ten rounds. The cliché says that lightening doesn’t strike in the same place twice but it did for Pryce who would again spring the upset, Pryce even managed to go one better than last time, too. The Newbridge native’s natural talent of slipping and dipping low before rising with counters, most notably his left hook, kept him a step ahead all night. Eventually, the back and forth battle was decided in the tenth session. The Welshman’s pressure paid off and he treated himself to an early Christmas present when referee Lee Cook called it a night after 45 seconds of the final round. ‘Sugar Sweet’ ended the reign of another undefeated Russian and would start his three year run as Commonwealth light-middleweight champion two fights later. Sky Sports Box Office will show ‘Rule Britannia’ exclusively live this Saturday. Buy now at www.skysports.com/brookgavin

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