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Denis Lebedev vs. Murat Gassiev this Saturday

Denis Lebedev

By Eric Baldwin: IBF/WBA cruiserweight champion Denis Lebedev (29-2, 22 KOs) will be defending his titles this Saturday night on December 3 against #2 IBF, #6 WBA contender Murat Gassiev (23-0, 17 KOs) at the Khodnyka Ice Palace in Moscow, Russia. This is a tough fight to predict a winner. Gassiev has the kind of power that makes him a threat to anyone in the cruiserweight division. However, Gassiev’s low work rate, slow hands and inexperience could prove to be his undoing in this fight. Gassiev has got to attack more and not wait so long before he throws his big power shots.

The 37-year-old Lebedev has only had one tough fight in the last six years and that was his 11th round knockout loss to Guillermo Jones in 2013. All the rest of Lebedev’s fights have been easy ones for him apart from the loss to Jones and his earlier controversial 12 round split decision defeat against Marco Huck in 2010 in Germany.

Gassiev, 23, is young and very inexperienced. He only had 25 amateur fights, and his fights as a pro have larely been mismatches against that didn’t have the talent to give him any problems. Gassiev’s toughest fight of his career was his match against the 6’4” Isiah Thomas (15-1, 6 Kos) last year in December. The fight was ruled a no contest after Gassiev hurt Thomas with a right hand to the head after the 3rd had ended. Thomas was too hurt to continue fight, and the match was scratched.

What’s unfortunate about that fight was that Gassiev had hurt Thomas with a right to the head just as the round had ended. The second right that Gassiev hit Thomas with after the bell didn’t seem to do much, because he’d already been hurt. Never the less, the fight was ruled a no contest. Thomas subsequently lost his next fight against unbeaten 2012 U.S Olympian Michael Hunter last May in losing a one-sided 10 round unanimous decision. That’s not to say that Hunter would beat Gassiev, because I don’t think he would, but Hunter did do a better job in dominating Thomas than Gassiev did in his fight.

Gassiev has the potential of becoming a big star in the boxing world if he can beat Lebedev. Gassiev is trained by Abel Sanchez, the same trainer that unbeaten middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin is trained by. Hopefully, Sanchez has worked on increasing the punch output and the pace that Gassiev fights at, because he waits too long before he lets his hands go. There are far too many lulls in his fights where he’s not letting his hands go. He can’t do that against the better fighters in boxing. It would be bad news if Gassiev takes a lot of head shots from Lebedev, Oleksandr Usyk, Krszysztof Glowacki and Marco Huck.

Gassiev is going to need to fight at a higher pace against Lebedev if he doesn’t want to fall quickly behind and possibly get knocked out by the Russian southpaw. In Gassiev’s fights against Thomas and Felix Cora Jr, he fought at too slow of a pace for his own good. Gassiev did eventually get to both guys with his power shots, but he took too many head shots.

Gassiev looked like a slow version of heavyweight Rocky Marciano, but with a much lower work rate than the boxing great. In Gassiev’s last fight against Jordan Shimmell, he knocked him out at the end of round one last May. Gassiev did nothing in the round until he nailed Shimmell with a tremendous left hook with six seconds to go in the round. The shot folded Shimmell in half, sending him down on the canvas out cold. The fight was then halted immediately. It was a devastating punch from Gassiev, because he landed it perfectly with huge power. There was no way that Shimmell could take a punch like that, because it was just way too powerful for him. Gassiev had only attempted one big right hand before that. The rest of the punches that he’d thrown had nothing on them in comparison.

Gassiev has knocked out eight of his last nine opponents he’s faced. The Isiah Thomas fight would have been a likely knockout as well if Gassiev hadn’t gotten carried away by hitting him after the bell. Thomas was going to have major problems if the fight had gone into round four. Gassiev was getting his offense ramped up, and Thomas was spending more and more time on the ropes where he was a sitting duck for Gassiev’s big power punches.

For his part, the southpaw Lebedev, 5’11”, is a real big puncher too. If Gassiev starts slowly in this fight on Saturday, he might not get a chance to get his own offense untracked, because Lebedev will knock him out. Gassiev can’t let Lebedev have free shots to the head of him for the first two or three rounds in this fight, because he could end matters quickly if given countless opportunities to nail him.

Lebedev knocked out IBF cruiserweight champion Victor Emilio Ramirez in the 2nd round in his last fight in May of 2016. Lebedev dropped Ramirez in the 2nd round. The fight was then halted at 1:18 of the round. Before that, Lebedev had beaten Lateef Layode by an 8th round knockout last November, Youri Kayembre Kalenga and Pawel Kolodziej. Those are pretty good fighters, and Lebedev beat them fairly easy.

The keys to victory for Gassiev come down to these areas:

– Punch output – Gassiev must make sure he throws enough punches to keep Lebedev from being able to land at will against him. That was the mistake that Gassiev made against Shimmell and Thomas. He let those guys hit him with a lot of shots before he finally nailed them with a big power shot that put them out of commission. Lebedev hits hard enough to where he could get to Gassiev before he is able to unleash one of his own power shots. Lebedev is likely going to be using a lot of movement to keep from getting hit by Gassiev, so it’s not going to be easy for him.

– Pressure – To win this fight, Gassiev is going to need to back Lebedev up, and keep him under constant pressure. Lebedev can’t dictate the pace in this fight. Gassiev won’t be able to win if he’s the one that is getting hit all the time. Gassiev must at least throw half as many punches as Lebedev. It’s probably too much to ask for Gassiev to throw as many shots as Lebedev, because he doesn’t seem to have the ability to throw a lot of shots in his fights. He’s very economical with his shots.

– Defense – It’s going to be important for Gassiev to block shots in this fight, considering that Lebedev has so much power. Gassiev tends to take a lot of shots on his forehead in his fights, which reddens as his fights progress. Gassiev will need to hold his hands higher to block those punches that come high on his forehead, because those could be knockout blows with Lebedev being the one who is throwing the shots.

Gassiev’s trainer Abel Sanchez knows what he needs to do for his fighter to win against Lebedev on Saturday. You’ve got to hope that he’s trained Gassiev well enough for him to be able to have a chance of winning. This is a big step up for the 23-year-old Gassiev to go from fighting the likes of Shimmell and Thomas to fighting a world champion like Lebedev. Gassiev might not be able to knockout this guy. In that case, he’s going to need to try and win a decision. The only way Gassiev can do that is if he makes sure to let his hands go enough to get the points win.


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