Peering in at boxing’s heavyweight division from a safe (and social) distance, it appears that most of its significant fights have taken place via email, telephone call or discarded, disingenuous contract. Champions and recently defeated challengers have battled back-and-forth, killing time and building the commerciality of their bouts.
The next school of hungry prospects are, however, lurking in the sport’s shadows, edging towards world title contention with every brutal victory.
One of the most intriguing heavyweight talents is Russian knockout artist and accomplished amateur Arslanbek Makhmudov (10-0, 10 KOs). He spoke to Boxing Social about his march to the top of the division (with his words translated by Eye of the Tiger Management) and explained that, despite valuing humility, he is always “ready for war”.
Makhmudov, 30, recently signed a co-promotional deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy stable, but spoke initially of his introduction to boxing in Mozdok, Russia. The little town on the shore of the Terek River can’t boast many sporting icons from its tiny population, but as a child Arslanbek would arrive in one of its boxing gyms, unaware of his own ability or potential.
“I moved there when I was young,” said Makhmudov. “It’s a small city and it’s not a very rich place, so we didn’t have many things to do there. Our lifestyle was very simple. I started boxing when I was nine years old, but I didn’t think at first that I could make a living with my passion. At age 13, I realised that I had the talent and I started to become more focused. I was taking training more seriously as I had to improve to become a professional boxer.”
It’s difficult to imagine all 6ft 5ins of his imposing, muscle-bound frame skipping rope or shadow boxing in its infancy. But the gym would soon become something of a second home, instilling an element of discipline that was missing on the cobbles of Mozdok.
“When I was a kid, I was fighting in the street a lot. I just liked to fight and to punch [people],” Makhmudov calmly recalled. “When I entered the boxing gym for the first time, I liked it immediately and I was really impressed. My parents worked hard and I also had a few jobs as a kid, while I was studying. I worked in a gas station, actually. Later on, I went to the University in Moscow and I completed my degree in 2013.”
The Montreal-based heavyweight, trained by respected Canadian boxing coach Marc Ramsay, is nicknamed ‘The Lion’ and has impressed during his first 10 bouts as a professional. Before turning over with Eye of the Tiger, his amateur career led to a 12-fight winning streak in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing where many considered Makhmudov the man to beat at super-heavyweight. It’s that schooling that adds credibility to his charge at reigning champions Tyson Fury (WBC) and Anthony Joshua (IBF, WBA Super and WBO).
Makhmudov has served his apprenticeship and now, entering his early 30s, he is prepared to sit one final, gruelling examination. The celebrated names holding boxing’s meaningful titles won’t be stopped as briefly as Andrew Satterfield (KO1) or Avery Gibson (TKO1), but they can be caught – we’ve seen them wobbled and scrambling the length of the canvas. And the towering, often expressionless, Russian can really, really punch.
“I feel that I’m ready to fight any of them and I think that I would win,” stated Makhmudov. “I want to become world champion myself. Anthony Joshua, he is a good boxer and I respect him. I like that he stays humble. I feel the same about Tyson Fury, but I just think that he’s a better boxer, he’s more complete. Fury would win in a fight against Joshua.”
While fights of that magnitude may seem out of reach for now, it isn’t crazy to assume Makhmudov will cross paths with some of his fellow prospects to earn his world title tilt. Names such as Tony Yoka, Daniel Dubois, Joe Joyce, Efe Ajagba and Filip Hrgovic lie waiting, with potentially fascinating clashes in the pipeline over the next 18 months.
When asked about risking his unbeaten record, Makhmudov remained cool. He’s in this sport to fight the best – that much is clear. “I believe in myself and I believe that I can win that world title. I didn’t make it this far, moving out of my country, to lose,” he said. “I came here with the conviction that I will win and I will achieve my goal. It’s my only goal in life and it will happen soon.”
Makhmudov spoke of mastering the emotions he felt during a fight, explaining the need for balance. Of course, a boxer must feel confident when stepping through the ropes, but the hulking Russian admitted a degree of fear was necessary to perform at the highest level. It keeps you sharp. He’s a thinker, as much as a fighter, it seems.
The opportunity to climb the heavyweight ranks with De La Hoya and Golden Boy by his side has added fuel to an already-roaring fire. Makhmudov was keen to thank Camille Estephan, his long-time promoter and manager, for negotiating their recent Golden Boy deal. He hoped that with Eye of the Tiger on board, and with immense respect for De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins’ work, that he can begin to chase “the biggest fights, being as active as possible”.
After destroying his first 10 opponents with constant pressure and thudding hooks (including a one-round blowout of a tired, ancient version of former WBC title claimant Samuel Peter), Makhmudov will soon be asked to display further dimensions. Jonathan Rice extended him to the seventh round in May 2019, the only time the Russian has ventured past the third, but the result was eventually the same. Knockout.
The name of his childhood town, Mozdok, means ‘dense forest’, perhaps a fitting analogy for the present, crowded heavyweight landscape. Prowling on the periphery, ‘The Lion’ seems set for potentially huge nights in boxing’s glamour division. Though he remains polite and often quiet, Arslanbek Makhmudov is dangerous and soon the world will be forced to take notice.