Beterbiev vs. Gvozdyk this Friday on ESPN
As Russia and Ukraine dominate the news, both countries have become inextricably linked to the current impeachment inquiry in Washington DC. Up the road in Philadelphia, two world champion boxers–one Russian, one Ukrainian–are preparing to meet in a light-heavyweight unification bout.
As their home countries wage war against each other, their thoughts are 5,000 miles away, focused not on the opponent’s country, but on the man he will meet in the center of the ring at Temple University’s Liacouras Center on Oct. 18. The winner will leave the ring as WBC/ IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion of the world.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) is the current WBC Light- Heavyweight Champion, having defeated Adonis Stevenson via knockout in the 11th round of their Dec., 2018, bout in Quebec, Canada. The knockout would end Stevenson’s boxing career.
IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) defeated Gvozdyk when the two met as amateurs–Beterbiev representing Russia, Gvozdyk representing Ukraine.
Ukraine Arrives on the American Stage
In recent weeks, calls for President Donald Trump’s impeachment became deafening after Ukraine released the transcript of a phone call between its President, former comedian Volodymir Zelensky, and Trump, which included an exchange about former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Trump urged the newly elected leader to investigate the younger Biden.
The impeachment inquiry will examine whether Trump held up $400M in aid to Ukraine with the intention of releasing it when the country began an investigation of Hunter Biden, and one into Ukraine’s role in the 2016 US Presidential election–a conspiracy theory, which Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, have repeatedly pushed publicly. The premise is that Crowdstrike, a California-based company that was brought in to investigate the Russian hack of the Democratic party’s servers that election year, is owned by a Ukrainian.
Zelensky, who played the President of Ukraine in a television show called Servant of the People for four years, was elected in a landslide victory in April and began his term as Ukraine’s sixth president in May. He’s an unwitting participant in American politics, which was made clear during a 10-hour, informal question-and-answer session last week with reporters in Ukraine. He spoke dismissively about the potential that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election, saying he would have to be shown a reason to proceed with any joint “theoretical” investigation.
Like the boxers training in Philadelphia, who are focused on their fight and not on war and politics, his mind is elsewhere – working to end the conflict with Russia on Ukraine’s Eastern border.
His constituents, the people of Ukraine, are not focused on American politics and elections. “The Trump phone call is being covered right now in Ukraine,” said Petro Shugurov, former Ring Magazine Ukraine Writer and Contributing Editor who lives in the country. “Mostly just that Zelensky was involved. The Ukrainian people have enough to worry about with our own politics.”
The American and the Canadian
While the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has a complicated and lengthy history, the roads that led Beterbiev and Gvozdyk to Philadelphia are well-traveled.
“The Boxing Federations of Russia and Ukraine are very similar,” said Shugurov. “They still operate like they did during the days of the USSR. The Russian Federation is like God Almighty to boxers in Russia–there are a lot of programs to support them and they receive stipends.”
Both boxers were decorated amateurs. Beterbiev had over 300 amateur fights and won gold and silver in world-level contests in Milan and Chicago. Gvozdyk had over 250 amateur bouts and won a bronze medal for Ukraine in the 2012 Olympics in London.
Gvozdyk is followed closely by those in his home country of Ukraine and Ukrainians stateside, despite moving to California five years ago to focus on his career: “One month ago, we went to the Ukrainian Festival. There were a lot of Ukrainian people there and I was surprised that a lot of them knew me. We spent a couple hours there, signing autographs and taking photos.”
Gvozdyk, whose father had a brief career as an amateur boxer in Ukraine, is living out his dream in California. “When I asked my wife to come to California with me, to leave her home, she said the most important thing is that I’m going to go with you,” Gvozdyk said of his wife, Daria. He acknowledges that it can sometimes be difficult to be away from family as the two raise a family, but the kids–two boys and one girl, ages 3-10–have traveled the world with their parents. “Our kids are the most quiet kids on the plane when they travel. They don’t cry. They know it’s pointless.” Gvozdyk lost his mother in 2014.
Politics is not a topic that Gvozdyk is anxious to discuss, going so far as to say he doesn’t know what’s happening. “It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’m just an athlete. I don’t want to make any parallels to the fight. I am living in California, he is living in Montreal. I just don’t know anything about it.”
“Teddy Atlas, Gvozdyk’s trainer, runs a tight ship,” said J Russell Peltz, who is co-promoting the championship fight with Top Rank. “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s not focused on what’s happening on the other side of the world.”
His opponent, Beterbiev, shared the sentiment. “Any war is bad for people, but I really don’t want to talk about it,” said the Russian, who relocated to Montreal six years ago to further his career. “It’s far from me in Canada.”
Shugurov hints at other motives at why the boxers don’t want to talk about life in the former Soviet bloc: “They are high-profile athletes and they don’t want to upset anyone. They don’t want to have problems like those that have happened with other boxers.
“Ukrainians and Russians are everywhere and they are like a network. Fighters as a whole don’t want to get involved. They want to make money and not have problems. Beterbiev, he’s Canadian now. Gvozdyk is American.”
Beterbiev’s family life nearly mirrors that of his opponent. Married with four children ages 2-8, Beterbiev lost his father to an accident when he was only sixteen. His father was just starting to enjoy his son’s career. “A couple days before he died, I won a bronze medal in a tournament. He said to me: ‘You won this fight. Now go go go. I believe in you.’”
Raising a family away from home hasn’t been easy for Beterbiev and his wife, Medena, though Beterbiev’s mother has traveled to Canada to help.
Much Can Change in Ten Years
Ten years ago, Ukraine was led by Viktor Yushchenko, who had survived an assassination attempt by poison five years prior. There was political chaos and a gas dispute with Russia. Putin was not yet President of Russia, but it was understood that he was in charge of the country. There was tension between the two countries, but nothing that matched the war and hostility they are facing today.
“We had beat Germany together,” said Shugurov. “We fought Nazis together. A whole lot of people believed we should be one country. While Ukraine had a Western-friendly leader, there was a brotherhood between the people of the countries.”
The US had a different president, one not embroiled in an impeachment inquiry permeated by Russian and Ukrainian ties.
Ten years ago, two fighters, one from Ukraine, one from Russia, met in a boxing ring with the Russian besting the Ukrainian. The two fighters, now husbands and fathers, undefeated world champion professionals, living away from home and seeking the glory that comes with unifying world titles, will meet in the most pivotal fight of their respective careers. It’s a fight that transcends politics and war, whose winner, at least in the boxing world, will be declared Unified Champion of the World.
Luis Collazo vs. Kudratillo Abdukakhorov co-feature
Collazo-Abdukakhorov will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes immediately preceding Beterbiev-Gvozdyk at 10 p.m. ET, while the undercard will stream on ESPN+, the leading multi-sport streaming service, beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
“This is a fight that will deliver action and a top contender in the talent-rich welterweight division,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Collazo-Abdukakhorov is a great complement to Beterbiev-Gvozdyk, and it’s only fitting that a card like this is coming to the great fighting city of Philadelphia.”
“I’m just ready to go. The Jose Benavidez Jr. fight didn’t happen because he was hurt or whatever, but trust me, you are going to see an incredible performance that will steal the show on October 18,” Collazo said. “I’m coming for everything. It’s now or never. I can’t wait to show out in the great city of Philadelphia.”
Abdukakhorov wants to showcase his talent against Collazo
“And I would like to thank Top Rank for giving me this opportunity to fight a great former champion,” Abdukakhorov said. “I am looking forward to showcasing my talent to the world. This will be a great fight, as Luis Collazo is someone who comes and gives 100 percent every fight and his aggressive style is adored by many fans.
“He [Collazo] has the heart of a true warrior. I do believe his age will be a factor, and I will try to capitalize on it. I am coming to this fight with every intention of beating him to cement my status as the mandatory for the IBF world title.”
Collazo (39-7, 20 KOs), the 38-year-old Brooklyn native who held a piece of the welterweight title from 2005-2006, is seeking one last crack at the brass ring. He has won three in a row since a 2015 KO loss to Keith Thurman, whom he hurt with a body shot and nearly knocked down.
He is closing in on two decades as a pro and holds victories over the likes of Jose Antonio Rivera and Victor Ortiz. Most recently, he earned a split decision verdict over Samuel Vargas. Abdukakhorov (16-0, 9 KOs) earned the IBF No 1 ranking with a unanimous decision over Keita Obara March 30 in Philadelphia. A road warrior who was born in Uzbekistan, Abdukakhorov has fought in Uzbekistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and the U.S.
In other Beterbiev vs. Gvozdyk undercard action:
- Light heavyweight contender Michael Seals (23-2, 17 KOs), fresh off his one-punch Knockout of the Year contender over Christopher Brooker on June 8, will lock horns with Elio “La Maquina” Trosch (14-8-2, 7 KOs) in a 10-rounder.
- Undefeated knockout artist Joseph “Blessed Hands” Adorno (13-0, 11 KOs) will take on Argentinean veteran Damian “El Pana” Sosa (9-2, 7 KOs) in an eight-round lightweight contest. Sosa has never been knocked out as a pro, while Adorno has nine stoppages within the first two rounds.
- South Philadelphia-born heavyweight sensation Sonny “The Bronco” Conto (4-0, 3 KOs) will make his fourth pro appearance in his home city against Steven Lyons (5-5, 2 KOs) in a four-rounder. Conto has sparred the likes of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and top contender Kubrat Pulev. He last fought August 10 at the Liacouras Center, winning a decision over Guillermo Del Rio.
- Josue “The Prodigy” Vargas (14-1, 9 KOs) will look to make it nine consecutive wins versus Denver native Johnny Rodriguez (9-4-1, 6 KOs) in an eight-rounder at super lightweight.
- John” El Terrible” Bauza (13-0, 5 KOs), a 21-year-old Puerto Rican super lightweight prospect, will fight the upset-minded veteran Donald “Bulldog” Ward (11-11-1, 5 KOs) in an eight-rounder.
- Super bantamweight prospect Jeremy “Magic Hands” Adorno (2-0, 1 KO), Joseph Adorno’s younger brother, will face Misael Reyes (1-2, 0 KOs) in a four-rounder.
- Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez (17-0, 11 KOs), who returned from a nearly two-year layoff with a first-round knockout on July 13, will face Leonardo Doronio (17-16-3, 11 KOs) in an eight-round super lightweight bout.
Beterbiev vs. Gvozdyk ticket information
Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Peltz Boxing, tickets priced at $150, $90, $75 and $50 (not including applicable fees) are on sale now and can be purchased at the Liacouras Center Box Office, www.liacourascenter.com or charge by phone at 800-298-4200.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) September 23, 2019
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