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World Series of Boxing week 9 previews: Is a Cuba vs. USA playoff match-up looming?

Credit: AIBA

Sometimes sport offers special moments; this could be one of them. A potentially explosive and historic match could be in the making; could Cuba vs. USA happen for the first time in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) Playoffs?

Deliberately separated in the Official Draw of the Regular Season in order to avoid any potential administrative difficulties, the possibility of Group B leaders Cuba Domadores drawing the USA Knockouts in the Playoffs now looks increasingly likely. Such a match would be a significant event indeed.

It would be the first time since Fidel Castro banned pro boxing in 1962 that representatives of the world’s two traditional boxing super-powers would face off in a boxing event outside the rules of traditional AIBA Open Boxing (AOB).

With Cuba now looking set to win Group B, they would face the fourth placed team from Group A in the Playoffs. The Argentina Condors could still catch the USA Knockouts if they can take at least one point from their away match to the Algeria Desert Hawks. A win there with the full three points would really pile the pressure on the Knockouts, particularly if the American outfit fail to get at least a point against Team Germany this weekend. Will it be the USA or Argentina vs. the new WSB super-power, the Cuba Domadores?

Well actually there is a third scenario that could play out, though on paper it is more unlikely. A collapse in German form in their final matches and the Knockouts defeating the star studded Season II winners the Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder could still see them take third in the group. A highly unanticipated fall in Cuban form could have the same effect, allowing defending champions, the Astana Arlans Kazakhstan, to top Group B. Not only is a collapse in form unlikely however, but both the Cubans and the Germans have a game in hand over their pursuing opponents. This then looks like a race to the wire between the USA and Argentina. And with the Knockouts enjoying a three point advantage over the Condors, the race is very much theirs to lose at this stage.

Algeria Desert Hawks vs. Argentina Condors

At various stages of the season, it looked like both of these two teams stood a good chance of going through to the Playoffs, such was the open nature of this Group. However, as the weeks have gone on, the possibility has begun to slip from the hands of both teams. The Hawks as hosts of this week’s encounter find themselves four points adrift of the USA and the nearest Playoff spot.

They do however have a game in hand, and can still mathematically find a way back into the equation if the USA slips-up under pressure in the next few weeks. But they absolutely must win outright this weekend to stay in contention. So too must the Argentina Condors. A failure for them to win and a victory for the USA this weekend will essentially shut the door on a Playoff opportunity bar a miracle.

Both teams seem to be offering chances of redemption for some of their weaker performers, all of whom will be desperate to improve their records.

Condors Flyweight (52kg) Fernando Martinez is a diamond among the rough this week however with a 6-3 record over two seasons and some respectable opponents. The Condors will want him to be on top form to set them off on the right foot against debutant Mohamed Tamma. Reda Benbaziz had one of the most difficult debuts imaginable in his last outing at Lightweight (60kg) against veteran Italian boxer Valentino Domenico and we may find he has a better match up in Brian Nuñez of the Condors.

With plenty on the line for both teams, the selection is an interesting one, indicating perhaps that the thoughts of both teams have already moved somewhat to developing their athletes for next season. One thing is for sure, individually some boxers will be earning potentially career saving wins this weekend and others could be in real trouble after tomorrow night, but which will be which? The battle will be fierce.

USA Knockouts vs. Team Germany

With so much now at stake, the Knockouts will be pleased that this match is taking place on home turf. Miami has become something of a fortress in recent weeks and the USA will want to ensure their place in the Playoffs as the main priority. A win here would help seal the deal; a slip up, and the door swings wide open for either the Hawks or the Condors, depending on the result of their critical match.

Team Germany have a strong squad, and they are turning out in force in Miami. Twenty five year old Serge Michel is a German boxer on the up. The Light Heavyweight (81kg) has a 3-3 record but impressed in his last outing against the Desert Hawks’ Hichem Kaalaour, he will be a difficult gate keeper for 21 year old Indian boxer Sumit Sangwan who will be making his debut. The Knockouts talent scouts have been in good form this year however with several new impressing boxers. This includes the likes of Venezuelan Welterweight (69kg) Gabriel Maestre, who went 1-0 after his win against Luis Veron of Argentina in Week 7.

The 27 year old also put in an impressive performance at the AIBA World Boxing Championships Almaty 2013 but will have a real fight on his hands against the young Arajik Marutjan who is 1-2 but both losses coming to some of the best in the business (Michel Tavares and Vincenzo Mangiacapre both of the Italia Thunder). The USA are further hampered by a Walk Over at Super Heavyweight (91+kg). Can they secure a crucial win despite the pressure, or will we see the tension in the group continue to build?

Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder vs. Ukraine Otamans

With all the excitement elsewhere, it’s almost easy to forget that this week we also see the clash at the top of the table between Season II winners Italia Thunder and Season III runners-up, the Ukraine Otamans. Despite the gap that has opened between these two teams and the remainder of the table, the bragging rights between them have yet to be settled.

British boxer Andrew Selby will be making a long awaited return at Flyweight. Last season’s number one seed has been used sparingly by his new team, the Italia Thunder, but remains unbeaten in the WSB with a 7-0 record. World silver medallist Welterweight Robson Conceição is next out for the Thunder followed by local favourite Vincenzo Mangiacapre, Light Heavyweight sensation Abdelhafid Benchabla of Algeria and the explosive Mihai Nistor at Super Heavyweight. Whist the Italians are finally fully unleashing a dream-line up from their talent rich team, the Otamans are sending a talented but younger squad.

Week 9, Group B: Cuba vs Kazakhstan!

Here it is; the BIG one. The match everyone has been waiting for is finally being contested this weekend: the Cuba Domadores versus the defending World Series of Boxing (WSB) champions, the Astana Arlans Kazakhstan. Can the Domadores repeat their astonishing away victory in Almaty on home soil in Havana? Or will the Kazakh boxers respond with an assault of their own?

Cuba Domadores vs. Astana Arlans Kazakhstan

Unquestionably the most highly anticipated match of the Regular Season is the rematch between the defending champions and the pretenders to the throne. Last time out, Cuba caused a sensational upset by beating the Arlans in Almaty 2-3. The Cubans are putting out a full strength team, including some of the biggest names in boxing such as World bronze medallist and WSB number 1 ranked Flyweight (46-49kg) Yosbany Veitia, and number one ranked WSB Heavyweight (91kg) Erislandy Savon.

The Arlans head coach Sergiy Korchynsky, has, it should be remembered, masterminded WSB titles in the last two consecutive seasons. The man is widely regarded as having one of the best tactical brains in boxing and so in the face of the greatest rival his team is likely to meet this season, he is not sending a full strength team.

Think about it. The Arlans have already qualified for the Playoffs. They need their top boxers fresh for the business end of the season. They want the Cubans to know as little as possible about their boxers whilst getting the most information possible on the Domadores’ athletes. They want to remain tactically unpredictable. What is the solution? You bring in the fringe members of your team.

Kazakhstan is the world’s most dominant boxing nation currently, with greater depths of talent than perhaps even the Cubans. They have plenty of excellent young boxers who are hungry for a shot at some of the big names. They have nothing to lose and there is very little tape to study of their performances. This makes them dangerous. The Cubans meanwhile have their reputations on the line. They don’t just have to win, but to win comfortably.

Thus the question is, can the young Kazakh boxers push the Cubans hard? If so, how hard? Will it be enough to rattle them before a potential future clash with the Kazakh first team? Or will they be crushed? Either way, Korchynsky must be admired for having the courage to risk playing the long game.

Azerbaijan Baku Fires vs. Russian Boxing Team

Bragging rights for the mid-table dominance are at stake between the neighbourly rivals, though both are comfortably through to the Playoffs. Again, this should therefore necessitate a tactic of resting the first team boxers for the epic battles ahead and to allow the younger less experienced boxers to gain some valuable time on the canvas.

This is exactly what Team Russia is doing. The Azerbaijan Baku Fires however, seem unable to resist the temptation to put some of their better athletes in the ring, as running the risk of losing at home in a derby match is not the kind of thing they go in for.

Therefore they have star Middleweight (75kg) Mikalai Vesialou taking to the ring. He has only ever lost to the Great Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the WSB, so we can expect him to put in a solid performance alongside Abdulkadir Abdullayev. The Azeri Heavyweight has an exceptional record of 7-2 with four of those coming by way of TKO or KO. However, he has failed to get a win yet this season and will want to make amends for that.

Another one to watch is Gaybatulla Gadzhialiyev at Light Welterweight (64kg) who is the current number 3 ranked boxer in the WSB at that weight category. For the Russians, watch out for Petr Khamukov who is 2-1 at Middleweight as he could make an impact. His only loss is also to Derevyanchenko, so this should be an interesting bout to watch in this match.

Hussars Poland vs. Mexico Guerreros

The Hussars Poland will be looking to make the most of their home draw against fellow strugglers the Mexico Guerreros. Tomasz Jablonski will be leading the team out at Middleweight. His 3-3 record is tellingly one of the team’s strongest and his Week 5 win over Yerik Alzhanov was crucial for the Hussars and he will be hoping to repeat the performance against debutant Enry Saavedra.

The Mexicans meanwhile will be looking to veteran boxer Juan Romero at Light Welterweight to give them some much needed points on the board and add to his 10-5 record.

Other than that, both teams are looking to build for next season and, much like in the Algeria Desert Hawks verses Argentina Condors match this weekend in Group A, they are giving some of their poorer performing boxers some chance at redemption.

The opportunity for the brave Hussars Poland to get their first win of the season is there for the taking this week against an inexperienced Guerreros team, but will it be taken?

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