“I am ready to play.”

It is no great surprise to Sergey Lipinets that he is facing a change of opponent this Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville.

The 31-year-old Russian (16-1, 12 KOs) fights for the interim IBF welterweight title against unbeaten Canadian Custio Clayton (18-0, 12 KOs). Originally, Lipinets was supposed to face Kudratillo Abdukakhorov but the IBF No.1 contender had to withdraw due to visa issues. The fight had already been put back two weeks after the Uzbek had requested more time to secure a travel visa. 

“During the time when we were getting ready to fight Kudratillo Abdukakhorov it was always up in the air that we might not fight him and there were different names floating around,” Lipinets told Boxing Social through his manager and translator Alex Vaysfeld.

“At some point, I was supposed to fight Chris Van Heerden [who was put in place as a back-up plan in September] who is a complete southpaw. In the camp, we were basically getting ready for different styles then they threw the guy at us that we are fighting now, Clayton. It was something that came up in the last minute. I have sparred with all types of sparring partners during the camp that if they threw two different guys at me to fight in the ring, I would be ready to do that, too!” 

He continued, “It’s not like the last fight [against Jayar Inson WTKO2], which was a complete 180 from John Molina who is, no disrespect, a one-trick pony and is just a guy that comes forward and punches with the right hand. This was two completely different guys, a southpaw [Inson] that is big enough and strong enough who moves around. I took it like a champ, and I had no problem taking the southpaw [on] and you saw the outcome as well. I am ready.”

Lipinets (left) dismissed Inson in two rounds last time out in July 2019.
Photo: Stewart Cook/Fox Sports.

The Inson fight, which presented Lipinets with the 16th win of his career with his only loss coming to Mikey Garcia in 2018 – was 15 months ago. Prior to Covid-19 it was eight months, nowadays a standard period of absence for a fighter. Lipinets vs Abdukakhorov had been looked at for February but it wasn’t to be, putting Lipinets on the inactive shelf for a far longer period than he would have liked. But the cool and calm Russian said that it has not been time wasted.

“I wasn’t partying, I wasn’t hanging out somewhere away from the gym. I was in the gym and [my trainer] Joe Goossen was teaching me and showing me new things,” said the former IBF 140lbs champion. “We took all the time to perfect my game and it made me a little more elusive and a little more deadly in the ring so to speak.”

During this fight week, like other fighters before him, Lipinents finds himself in a bubble at the Mohegan Sun Casino. He described it as a “little weird”’, but it isn’t a huge departure from what he was used to before such mild incarcerations had to be enforced on boxers and their teams.

“It’s part of the game and I am ready to play,” he said. “It’s a big enough room that I am in. It is a suite and there is enough room to be shadow boxing and [to do] a little workout here and there. They opened the gym for us as well. I have been speaking with my family, reading books and playing chess. It’s just a routine that is something I do during camp anyway. When the camp starts there is not too much time to go out and have fun.”

Saturday’s interim title fight takes Lipinets one step closer to becoming a two-weight world champion. Lipinets picked up his first official world title three years ago shutting out Japan’s Akhiro Kondo, following in the footsteps of fellow Russian 140-pound world champions Ruslan Provodnikov, Eduard Troyanovsky and the legendary Kostya Tszyu. Lipinets’ first defence came against Mikey Garcia. A modern-day superstar, Garcia became a four-weight champion overcoming Lipinets in an enjoyable tussle in San Antonio, bringing an end to his 126-day reign as champion.

“I’m quite happy with my whole boxing career,” Lipinets said reflecting on his six-and-a-half-year career to date.

“First of all, I was champion of the world when I had 13 fights. There was no amateur pedigree like [Vasiliy] Lomachenko had or all those other guys had. I was always behind guys like him. They never liked my music so to speak. I always fought guys that were supposed to win at some point. From my fifth fight, I was fighting guys that were dangerous and ones that other guys wouldn’t fight.

“I’m happy. It wouldn’t be possible without my team and Al Haymon has played a major, major role in my whole career and he’s tremendous. Nobody ever lost faith in my abilities. My team are always next to me and it’s a family affair from that point on. The bottom line is I am ready, ready to become champion of the world one more time and then prove to everybody that I belong at the top of the division and fight all the big names.”

Lipinets hasn’t lost since linking up with top trainer Joe Goossen.
Photo: Stephanie Trapp/TGB Promotions.

The big names at 147lbs are a mix of pound-for-pound entrants, multi-weight world champions, former world champions, future hall-of-famers and an all-time great in Manny Pacquiao. The only way is up for Lipinets who sits on the periphery of the top 10. A win against Clayton this weekend will not do much to change that but a victory against the full IBF [and WBC] welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. would catapult him into the upper echelons of the division.

Spence, now recovered from his high-speed car accident which took place just over a year ago, defends his titles against former two-weight champion Danny Garcia on December 5. A stiff test of Spence’s recovery powers. The Garcia fight will be his first outing since beating Shawn Porter in a thrilling battle in September last year.

“Before the accident happened to Spence, I would have probably leaned toward Spence hands down,” Lipinets said when asked for his Spence-Garcia prediction.

“His last performance against Shawn Porter was not what everybody expected it to be, and he showed some flaws and a couple of holes opened up. I don’t know [who wins]. I believe it is going to be a 50-50 fight and we will know if we have got the same old Errol Spence the first time he gets hit.”

Main image: Sean Michael Ham/Mayweather Promotions.