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In conversation with Israil Madrimov

Last weekend, Israil Madrimov, one of boxing’s hottest prospects, defeated the teak tough Eric Walker in a WBA 154lbs title eliminator over 12 hard-fought rounds. It was a hugely eventful encounter, with the Uzbek seemingly fatigued and absorbing a surprising amount of body shots in the middle rounds. Madrimov (6-0, 5 KOs) then landed a hellacious left hook in the ninth to flatten Walker, only for referee Gary Ritter to bizarrely rule it as a push and hand the dazed American five minutes of recovery time.

To his credit, Walker continued and, despite receiving some quite unnecessary punishment, he managed to hear the final bell. Madrimov emerged as the clear winner, but having been fast-tracked towards world titles some were left wondering if this contest signified a moment for his team to pause and allow him more development time before taking on the division’s top dogs. With such comments still ringing in his ears, Madrimov spoke exclusively to Boxing Social about the Walker fight and his future plans.

How did you rate your performance?

“It’s hard for me to rate my performance because we knew it was going be a tough fight. In every single interview, I said, ‘It’s going to be an ugly fight’. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m going to try to take the guy out. And, in this case, to take him out it has to be a rough, tough, ugly fight. I would have to put pressure on him as much as I can to try to wear him out because he’s that type of fighter. He’s a good fighter, but he’s just that style that’s really hard to look good against. I had two ways to go; one was to be safe and just box and make it boring. The other way was to go all out, and I always choose to go for the better fight. So it’s hard for me to rate because I knew exactly how it was going to be, and it happened the way we expected it would. Of course, I didn’t get the stoppage, I’m a little upset about that. Even though I think I did it doesn’t appear on my record. That’s why I’m upset.”

Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA.

You took the fight at three weeks’ notice. Tell me about your preparations for the fight.

“I’ll tell it as it is. Obviously, I’m always training and trying to stay busy. I didn’t do any boxing for four to five months, but I did train. I was running and wrestling once a week. I was active. No one would accept this fight against Walker. None of the prospects wanted to fight him, for a reason. But we’re in a different position. I need these fights. I need these rounds for future challenges because the title fights are going to be harder. Obviously, I needed experience so we decided to risk it and to go for it, especially with the situation with the pandemic. The fight was offered and I’m not used to declining fights. So we accepted and in those three weeks we did our best. I had seven sparring sessions with 140lbers. We couldn’t bring anyone in because of restrictions and we were worried in case someone got sick, so it wasn’t our best camp. Obviously, now I know that it’s not enough to get ready for such a tough fight but thank god it was enough to get the win.”

Walker put in an excellent performance and seemed to hurt you with some big body shots in the eighth round. Were you surprised by how well he fought?

“We were aware of him because we knew that he’d spent the whole training camp sparring with Shawn Porter. We knew that he was in his best shape ever. But we accepted the challenge. We had nothing to be afraid of. We knew it would be a tough fight, which we needed. We could have chosen an easy fight but moving towards a championship fights there will be no easy fights. A couple of guys were offered to us and we chose the toughest. Obviously, this was the WBA eliminator so we decided to go a more difficult way. 

“As far as him, was I surprised? I was surprised that he was a lot more aggressive than he usually is. I thought he was going to move around a lot like he usually does. He was pushing forward a lot. I can’t say I felt a lot of threat from his punches but I did start getting a little tired when I started putting on the pressure. I was a little over-excited that I needed to perform so I was pushing a little too hard. In the middle rounds, I did start to get fatigued, so we decided to change the work and let him throw. We could see him throwing with everything he has so my coach said, ‘Let him work. Keep your defence tight and try to catch him’. So we decided to switch it. It was a rough couple of rounds, he was letting his hands go and I was trying to keep it up with his defence and thank god it worked out. He started getting a lot more tired because of throwing all those punches and so I recovered and came back. Not taking anything away from him but by being so aggressive he helped me a lot. I learned a lot from this fight. It was the first time I’d gone more than six rounds and it was a good experience. I was happy with how it went. But nothing but respect for Walker, it was a great effort.”

What’s your perspective on the referee failing to give the knockdown in the ninth? He denied you a pretty spectacular KO.

“I was frustrated because I landed the perfect punch. The guy went down, I didn’t even touch him with my shoulder, it was a body motion. I’d loaded up on that punch, it landed, but I didn’t feel like I pushed him. I thought that it was over and then I saw that something was going on and my team told me to stand by. So I thought, “Okay, I’m going to finish him right now’. Then they gave the five minutes of recovery time! I didn’t really understand what was going on. When they said they were giving him time, I was just waiting. Obviously I wanted to finish him and then it was just a punishment for the next three rounds. He’s a hell of a fighter for never giving up, he’s never been stopped before, and I punished him for three more rounds. But the referee knows his stuff so probably he’s right. I was frustrated, but it was all great experience.”

Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA.

You finished very strongly and that’s your first 12 rounds in the bank. You must feel pleased to get those rounds in.

“It’s a little funny because I don’t feel any pressure, I just feel pressure from the [boxing] media because they’re saying, ‘Oh, I’m a human being, I make mistakes.’ I never said I’m not! There are great fighters in the history of boxing, guys like Floyd Mayweather who fought a guy in his [ninth] fight with one win and thirteen losses. Andre Ward, Golovkin and all the great amateurs and Olympians, they fought in the position I’m fighting in after 20 fights, having been much better amateurs than I was. 

“I do get it, I’m not American. That’s why I have my own path, my own road and I choose to fight the tough fights from the beginning. In my debut I beat the guy [Vladimir Hernandez] who’d just beaten Daniel Valdivia in back-to-back fights, and he was at that time a good prospect. To me, there is absolutely nothing bad from this fight except I think that I deserved the knockout. Other than that, I think it was a great experience. I fought a great fighter in Eric Walker in a fight that I needed at this point. Look at the greatest fighters; except for Lomachenko not many have faced the fighters I’ve faced in my first six fights.” 

Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA.

Looking back on the fight is there anything specific that you learnt from this fight, things you need to work on in your development as a pro?

“In every single fight worth fighting, there are things to learn. There are styles that are always difficult to look good against, and Eric was one of them. It was experience that I needed a lot. Looking forward to fights against Lara or whoever is champion, it’s going be more complicated. It’s a good learning experience. The first lesson, not to take tough fights at three weeks’ notice! Second lesson is to pace myself better and not overload with punches. I went against the game plan, which was to start slowly but I started with more volume. I just wanted to perform. I need to use more of my defence, use more time to recover and come back with combinations, not load up on every punch. Obvious stuff that everyone could see. It’s a learning experience and starting Monday I’m going back to the gym. The only thing I got back from my corner that they didn’t like was that I didn’t really use my jab, and I do agree with that. As soon as I started using my jab, I started landing with combinations. I get it. But I’m very happy with how god gives me these lessons. It goes the hard way, the tough way. I think it’s great! And now people are thinking that I’m an easy fight, so maybe it’ll be easier to get the championship fights!”

Looking forward, what’s next for you?

“As always, whoever DAZN tells me to fight I’ll fight. If we have an option we always try to choose the tougher fight. I don’t know how I’m going to be ranked after this fight, if I’m going be number one or if [Jarrett] Hurd is going be number one. If it’s Hurd, I would love to fight him. I feel like it would be a great fight. He’s a great fighter, a former unified champion. But there’s nothing pushing me back.”

Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA.

Main image: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA.