“Now, I can tell you in my opinion, I thought that I knew everything about boxing. I was wrong.”
It’s a funny type of isolation, boxing.
Despite spending months preparing for bouts with trusted coaches, surrounding yourself with sparring partners and encouraging your gym-mates, the opening bell signals thirty-six minutes of soul-searching. The courage summoned by men and women, walking into local gyms engulfed by the sound of sacrifice, wasn’t ordinary, by any stretch.
In Bukhara, Uzbekistan, one little boy took that last gulp of air and stepped through the doors of his local boxing gym. He knew what he wanted to achieve, yet lacked any education in the finer facets of the Sweet Science. Those nerves, experienced by fresh meat, turned out to be nothing but a false alarm, as Shakhram ‘Wonderboy’ Giyasov (6-0, 5KOs) explained.
“I remember the first day at the gym, I didn’t ask anyone [if I could] go there, I did it on my own. It was 2003, I stepped into the gym and no-one was there! I put on someone’s gloves and started punching the bag and it was awesome!
“Then, the coach stepped in and he was angry. He asked me, ‘Who are you? What are you doing? You have to leave!’ I told him that I just wanna box! He told me that I have to go home and come back with my parents, otherwise I cannot stay at the gym. I remember I told him that I’ll leave, but I will be back and then I’ll become the next Roy Jones Jr! He just laughed at me and told me to leave [again].”
In the stellar career which would directly follow this brash introduction to boxing, he would win the highly-coveted World Amateur Championships and take the silver medal in the Rio Olympics. It was Shakhram who claimed the last laugh.
He was a natural, from day one. The image of Giyasov taking it upon himself to try on someone else’s gloves for size, before throwing entire combinations of guesswork at bags he hadn’t paid to use, told its own story. The twenty-five year old felt at home within the sport even then, much as he does now.
The product of an exceptional Uzbek amateur system, his professional career had taken off with alarming pace. Extraordinary talents such as Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (6-0, 3KOs) and Shojahon Ergashev (15-0, 14KOs) were taking the paid ranks by storm, but something struck me about their newest compatriot, sprinting to follow their lead. The sense of pride expressed by Giyasov was genuine, reminiscing on his time spent with his father, himself a fighter who ultimately fell short.
“I was born in Bukhara, it is a great, a historical city. It is a beautiful city [with] people from all over the world coming to visit, to look on the historical places and to visit the holy places. I’m happy that I was born there.
“Actually, my father was the first to put on the gloves for me and I remember being a kid and sparring him. He wanted me to become a boxer because he was a boxer. Unfortunately, he didn’t reach his goals and that’s why he wanted me to become much better than him, so he could be proud of me.”
“Nowadays, Uzbekistan’s boxers are leaders in world amateur boxing. That is because of the hard work which is made by the coaches and boxers, all over Uzbekistan. Also, of course because people care about boxing. The Uzbek government helps and supports boxing. Coaches are going to different countries [and] learning, boxers are very interested in learning, so it is also team work. I believe that in a couple of years, it will only get stronger.”
Within his first ten months as a professional, Shakhram had fought in Brooklyn, Hollywood, Atlantic City and Wembley stadium, determined to state his intentions from the word ‘go’. He’d faced a man with an undefeated record of fourteen wins, before facing Albert Mensah, who had won thirty-one of thirty-eight contests. Progression was key for the Olympic runner-up, as he embarked on his second calendar year as a paid athlete.
“Look at my [first] ten months of being professional. Look at my six opponents. I didn’t choose even one of them, I just trust my team and they know what I’m capable of, because they are with me every single day. My opponents, they’re bad ass! Look at the top champions of our sport, no-one had this type of opposition in their first 6 fights, even Olympians like Roy [Jones Jr], G[ennady Golovkin] or Floyd [Mayweather Jr].
He revealed ambitiously, “I want to fight five times this year. I want to try to go the distance of ten rounds with some tough, Mexican warrior on purpose. I just [want] to prove to myself that I’m breathing good and feeling comfortable. Then, I would love to get a couple of good names and dangerous guys! If everything goes well, I’ll be ready to challenge any champion at 140lbs by the end of the year! I would say that I’ll be ready to fight for the world title in fight number ten or eleven.”
The team that Giyasov spoke so highly of were the same Russian unit responsible for guiding Dmitry Bivol from amateur, club-house whisper to recognised world champion. Rumours of his promise had long circulated amongst boxing’s most ardent fans, but ‘World of Boxing’ had supported him throughout his transition. Now, they were continuing to help Bivol capitalise in a bustling light-heavyweight division. Alongside the WBA champion, their stable boasted Alexander Povetkin and promising heavyweight, Sergey Kuzmin.
Through speaking with Vadim Kornilov and Alik Frolov, I’d been impressed at their level of detail when dealing with media obligations. No stone was left unturned. Giyasov, their newest charge, had put his faith in their operation after being courted by some of the sport’s most attractive, big-named promoters. He was a blue-chip amateur, with the world at his feet. Prospects rarely come with such ready-made prestige.
“After the Olympic Games, I started receiving offers from promoters. After the World Championships, when I decided to turn pro, there were more offers and I’m that type of guy, I need to talk to people directly to see how they are. People from Germany and other countries were offering good contracts, but I wanted to go to the United States.
“I went to New York first, talked to people over there. Then, I went to Vegas and spent almost two months out there talking to different promoters, but since the beginning I had an offer from ‘World of Boxing’ and once I went to Los Angeles and met with Vadim and Alik, I knew that I [had] found my team in that moment, because we understand each other perfectly!”
“The contract was not the highest [paid] contract”, he explained, “But, it was the best contract for me, because almost everything I asked them was accepted with no doubt and they didn’t promise me something unbelievable, like other promoters did. They told me everything [and it was] real.
“Now, I can only tell you that I did the right thing. I honestly think that I have the best promotion, management and coaching team in the world. It is a family-type team. I know a lot of teams [where] no-one is as supportive!”
Two names that followed Shakhram like shadows were those of former opponents. He’d fought Kazakh prospect and Olympic gold medalist, Daniyar Yeleussinov, in the final of that same tournament where he eventually lost narrowly on points. Fellow Uzbek native, Shojahon Ergashev, had beaten Giyasov when the pair were at very different stages of their amateur careers. Recently, the two countrymen were filmed performing an impromptu head-to-head, spicing up the prospect of a return clash as professionals.
“Ergashev is aggressive, he comes forward. But to get deeper into it, I fought Ergashev in my first tournament when I came from youth amateur contests to the men’s and he was two or three years older and more experienced than me. But, it was 13-12 [to Ergashev] on points and I still don’t think he won. Of course, I’m more than ready and willing to fight him in pros if he’s going to be on my way to the title. I’ll prove that there are levels in boxing, and I think our paths will cross sooner or later.
“About Daniyar, we fought in the Olympic games final. Daniyar is a high-class, defensive perfectionist. There was many talks about our fight, I don’t agree with the judges, I think that I did enough for the victory, but I took it as it is.
“Daniyar is a great amateur boxer and a good friend of mine, I respect him a lot. I’m super-lightweight and he is a welterweight, but I think that I’ll get up in weight in couple of years and of course, that will be the highest interest fight for me. Many others [would want] to make this fight happen. I wish Daniyar nothing but the best, he is a very good guy.”
Mouth-watering clashes await the boy from Bukhara in the coming years as he sets out to become a household name. Back home, in the holy city, his family and friends watch on as he continues to carry their flag with pride. But, living in isolation in the States hadn’t dampened Giyasov’s spirit. He seemed happier than ever, chasing those dreams once concocted by the cheeky intruder at that first, local boxing gym.
Shakhram has come from a career spanning hundreds of amateur fights, leaving behind drawers full of accolades. Those long, gruelling sessions during camp and hollow, nervous pangs before walking to the ring, all contribute to life as a professional fighter.
The man who ‘thought he knew it all’ after winning an amateur title has had his eyes opened, facing the realisation that the real journey starts now.
“It’s a funny question! I don’t know really, my goal is to became the absolute world champion and to hold all four belts at the same time. That is to start with. I only know one thing right now, I have to work. Because, if I’m not gonna work hard every day, in ten years there will be nothing special to look at!”
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209