Who knew the pay-per-view of the year would come on a Wednesday afternoon?
The undercard for the heavyweight main event between Alexander Povetkin and Mariusz Wach has produced a smorgasbord of stunning upsets, curious refereeing and brutal knockouts. Here’s a look at the bouts that led up to the main event in Kazan, Russia:
EDUARD TROYANOVSKY (23-0, 20 KO) KO6 CESAR RENE CUENCA (48-1, 2 KO)
Oddsmakers picked Cesar Rene Cuenca’s first defense of his IBF junior welterweight against Eduard Troyankovsky to be a near toss-up, but the fight proved to be one of the more lopsided (and awkward) fights of the night.
Cuenca, propped up by a comically soft 48-win streak, was outgunned from the start. The feather-fisted Argentinian was visibly affected by Troyankovsky’s power and never mustered any effective offense of his own.
Cuenca was losing handily in the 6th round when Troyankovsky awkwardly fell on top of him after missing with an uppercut. Both fighters fell to the canvas, but Cuenca appeared shaken and was given a moment to collect himself. Feigning injury, Cuenca quit in his corner and chose not to continue the fight.
Afterwards, BoxNation commentators reported that Cuenca’s corner sought for the fight to be ruled a No Contest, and thus keep his undefeated streak “in the same conversation as Rocky Marciano’s and Floyd Mayweather’s.” I had no idea anyone was building up Cuenca as such. At 34 years old, he isn’t young, hasn’t fought anyone – this undoubtedly was his biggest step-up in opposition – and absolutely is not exciting to watch.
Troyanovsky, on the other hand, is a real fighter. He has above average albeit not otherworldly power and, if he ever decides to fight outside of Russia, has the style to make a number of entertaining fights against legitimate contenders in his division.
OLANREWAJU DURODOLA (22-2, 20 KO) KO2 DMITRY KUDRYASHOV (18-1, 18 KO)
Unlike Cuenca, the “zero” in Dmitry Kurdyashov’s loss column was legitimate, as was his 100% knockout rate – which made his 2nd round KO loss to fringe cruiserweight contender Olanrewaju Durodola all the more shocking.
Durodola, who represented the 2008 Nigerian Olympic team as a heavyweight, opened the fight by stringing together precise combinations behind his jab. None of his power shots affected Kudryashov, who fired back with hooks to the head and body of his own. Three minutes into the fight, Durodola had already been stunned multiple times, while Kudryashov developed a mouse under his right eye.
In the 2nd, Durodola again pressured Kudryashov with combinations, but remained relentless. Kudryashov went from weathering the storm to hanging on for dear life over the course of the round-long onslaught. With 30 seconds left in the round, referee Jay Nady appropriately stepped in and waved off the fight.
This was a massive upset. Kudryashov was ranked in the top-10 by every major sanctioning body. The loss puts an abrupt halt to the KO machine’s destructive rise through the cruiserweight division. At 30 years old he can’t be considered a young prospect, but it will be interesting to see how he regroups. A rematch with Durodola would be a welcomed and wildly entertaining start to a comeback.
OLA AFOLABI (22-4, 11 KO) KO5 RAKHIM CHAKHKIEV (24-1, 18 KO)
Cruiserweight Ola Afolabi has been on the wrong end of a number of controversial decisions over his career, but took matters into his own hands (and how!) by scoring an upset victory over top contender Rakhim Chakhiev with a brutal sixth round knockout.
Chakhiev, an Olympic gold medalist, started the fight quickly, throwing bombs with max effort. He decisively won the first three rounds, but at a steep cost, gassing himself out in the process.
The durable Afolabi took control in the 4th, going as far to score a clear knockdown that was inexplicably ruled a slip. No stranger to hometown favoritism, Afolabi continued to outbox Chakhiev in the fifth. As the Russian’s stamina withered, Afolabi connected with a right hand and left hook that put his opponent face-down on the canvas for the count.
In the words of BoxNation’s Steve Lillis, “Afolabi went into the last chance saloon tonight and smashed the doors down.” It’s a much-deserved victory for the battle-tested (and ill-lucked) Londoner.
It’s time to stop putting weight in Chakhiev’s “comeback” from a 2013 loss to Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. While he entered tonight’s fight ranked #3 by the WBC and #4 by the IBF, he looks every bit as flawed as he did in his only previous loss. He simply has no stamina or boxing ability outside of the brute force hooks that gas him in the first place, and is thus best left to the occasional highlight reel kayo against a glass-jawed opponent rather than any legitimate title shots.
DENIS LEBEDEV (27-2, 20 KO) V. LATEEF KAYODE (21-0, 16 KO)
The least shocking fight of the undercard at least was the most technical, as Denis Lebedev thoroughly outboxed Lateef Kayode before dispatching him via 8th-round referee stoppage.
Lebedev, making his third cruiserweight title defense, started out slow to the point of over-caution, losing the first two rounds on my scorecard. In the 3rd, caution turned to calculation. His counterpunches began landing with more authority, his offense with more efficiency.
As the momentum mounted against him, Kayode, fighting for the first time outside of the United States, postured and taunted his opponent in typical fashion. In the 7th, he protested a knockdown after a right hand from Lebedev, but did so on wobbly legs.
Lebedev brought his offense to a crescendo in the 8th. He stalked Kayode, knocking him down twice and pinning him once more in the corner before referee Steve Smoger finally stopped the fight.
Before the fight, Lebedev stated that he wanted a unification fight after his Kayode defense. After today’s chaos in the upper tier of the cruiserweight division, it’d be a welcomed undertaking.