Since its break up in 1991 there has been a natural influx of boxing talent into the professional ranks made up fighters from countries formerly a part of the Soviet Union. Prior to then, the most famous Soviet boxer in the west may well have been a fictional one – Ivan Drago; the cold-hearted, almost inhuman villain of Rocky IV. Although stereotypical, the portrayal was reflective of western views at the time, and didn’t exactly do wonders in advancing the image of Russian boxers.
Nowadays, however, Russian fighters are a staple in boxing, and the country will no doubt have an integral stake in the sport’s future. So just how does Russian boxing line up alongside its international counterparts? Let’s find out.
Today’s Pro Fighters
Russian fighters can be seen in and around the top ten throughout most weight divisions. Alexander Povetkin has long been a bona fide heavyweight contender, and Denis Lebedev has mixed in high circles at cruiserweight. A weight below at 175 lbs, Sergey Kovalev has burst on to the scene in the last eighteen months with a series of stunning early finishes, compelling some to label him the division’s champ-in-waiting.
Lower down the scales, junior welterweight Ruslan Provodnikov is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport today, while Evgeny Gradovich’s relentless style has won him admirers, and an alphabet belt, at featherweight. Dmitry Chudinov and Matt Korobov are decent prospects at middleweight, and Russia has a whole host of talented fringe-men too, such as Grigory Drozd, Zaurbek Baysangurov, Khabib Allakhverdiev and Denis Shafikov, to name a few.
Fans and Venues
Boxing in Russia does not garner as much support as other sports, such as hockey and football, but it is certainly among the list of favorites. Often-used venues include the Olympic Stadium in Moscow and CrocusCity Hall in Myakinino, while Russian fighters sometimes venture slightly west to Germany in search of big fights.
As a relatively new nation to pro boxing, Russia has understandable room for growth in this area. Still, fans drove in big numbers even to watch hometown fighters against American big fighters decades past their primes, from Roy Jones to James Toney.
Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian boxers were strictly amateur. There was an importance placed upon sport as a means of expounding Soviet ideals through their athletes, and Soviet boxers were consistently successful in Olympics and World Championships.
Since then, Russia has, like many other former Soviet republics, continued to produce high quality amateurs. Indeed, since its first Olympic entry in 1996, Russia has often found itself at the summit of the boxing medals tally, and it stands only behind Cuba in performance at World Championships. Many of these top Russian amateurs – two recent examples being Egor Mekhontsev and Arthur Beterbiyev – are now attracting the gaze of western promoters. Clearly, the Russian amateur system produces positive results.
Many of Russia’s top fighters often travel abroad to further their professional careers. Provodnikov is trained by Freddie Roach, Gradovich by Robert Garcia, Kovalev by Don Turner and Povetkin at one time or another by Teddy Atlas.
Povetkin is, however, currently trained by Alexander Zimin. Zimin is highly regarded, and has trained many of Russia’s best fighters to world honors. He is perhaps the best qualified Russian trainer, having previously worked with excellent Russian fighters, such as Yuri Arbachakov, in the past.
History and Significance
Russia is relatively new to professional boxing, and as such its history is a short but growing one. The current batch of fighters means Russia is perhaps more prevalent than it has ever been in professional boxing, and this trend looks set to continue given the spate of top class amateurs it produces. With this in mind, Russian boxing will only grow in prominence as a national sport.
Russia has nonetheless been given professional esteem thanks in particular to two excellent fighters worthy of Hall of Fame induction in Kostya Tszyu and the aforementioned Arbachakov. Tszyu was one of the greatest light welterweights of all time, competing and succeeding at world level for a decade, while Arbachakov was a top flyweight in the 1990’s.
Pound for Pound Top 20
Sergey Kovalev is Russia’s sole member of our top 20 pound for pound – at number 17.
Bonus Points: 1
Overall Boxing World Cup Score for Russia: 17 points