On Saturday night, boxing fans will get the opportunity to feast their eyes on some of the best fighters in the world.
From London to Las Vegas, via Texas, the likes of Oleksandr Usyk, Naoya Inoue, Gervonta Davis and Leo Santa Cruz will be tasked with defending their status as some of the leading men in our sport. Meanwhile, in Russia, a familiar face will return after a two-year lay-off.
Former unified cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs) is seeking to remind the sport of the phrase, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ when he faces 43-year-old Albanian Nuri Seferi at the WOW Arena in Sochi.
“It has been a hard time for me,” the 27-year-old told Boxing Social earlier this week.
“I have not had any fights [in] two years. It is a very, very long time [out]. Right now, I am excited because I’m back in the ring and finally I have a fight. All my focus is for October 31.”
An injury to his left shoulder, which required surgery in 2018 and was then subsequently reinjured, is enough to not only disrupt a fighter’s career but raise the question whether they will ever be the same again.
To add some fuel to the fire, Gassiev, who has told Russian media outlets he is now a free agent, was sued for breach of contract by Warriors Boxing and Ural Boxing Promotions. The rights and wrongs of it all will be settled at another time and place. All in all, a challenging period for a man making his heavyweight debut and looking to make up some lengthy lost ground on other contenders.
“I say thank you for my mum, for my brother and for my family who give me strong mentality,” he said addressing the mental challenges that his out of ring problems have brought. “Thank you for my coach [Abel Sanchez] for giving me a warrior’s heart. For a strong mentality, I thank my country for this.”
Boxing Social asked Gassiev if he had ever considered retiring from boxing.
“I never ever had such thoughts and I never will have,” he said. “And, with God’s help, this is just the beginning, I hope.”
Gassiev’s opponent on Saturday, Seferi, should present little problem to the overwhelming favourite, even if he isn’t at 100%. Seferi was Plan C for Gassiev and his team after Kevin Johnson withdrew due to a passport issue and Nuri’s younger brother Sefer tested positive for Covid-19.
“It’s boxing,” Gassiev opined. “Sometimes we have a problem like that, but I am a fighter and I’m ready for anyone. Right now, I face Nuri Seferi, my next opponent. I hope I am ready for him.”
His focus may be on Seferi but his eyes are still cast on developments in his new division. His dream is to become a heavyweight champion one day by capturing one or all four titles. Gassiev told Boxing Social that he is feeling good at his weight (at time of writing) of 107kg (16st, 12lbs).
“I feel comfortable,” he said. “I have good speed and good movement. When I fight at cruiserweight, I spar lot of heavyweight fighters and I feel comfortable. Big guys, [are] maybe a little bit slower, but they had different power. I want to try the heavyweight division and we will see what will happen.”
Gassiev’s old foe Usyk, who comprehensively outpointed him in the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight final in 2018, has already dipped his toes in heavyweight waters by retiring Chazz Witherspoon in seven rounds in October 2019. Gassiev would like to renew his rivalry with the Ukrainian one day and looked ahead to Usyk’s upcoming fight on Saturday night against Britain’s Dereck Chisora.
“It’s a great fight. Dereck is a great fighter. A lot of experience, a real warrior,” said Gassiev. “We know Usyk is a good fighter. He has good legs, good speed and it is a great fight for the boxing world.
“Right now, I am at a different level [compared to Usyk] and with different fights. Right now, we have different ways to go. His focus [is] for Dereck. My focus [is] for Seferi. We [will] see what happens after Usyk’s fight and after my fight.”