We are coming towards the end of our look at the history of boxing in Kazakhstan. In this installment we look at the Soviet Union's return to Olympic competition, and a burly heavyweight body puncher who came within a hair of beating a legend.
After the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games--held in the land of their ideological enemy the United States--many Soviet boxers became disillusioned. One example would be Ayslbek Kilimov--arguably the most dangerous middleweight in the Soviet team at this stage--whose interested petered out after the disappointment on not being able to compete.
By the time the next Olympics came around in 1988--to be held in Seoul, South Korea--there were a gang of hungry amateurs striving to make their mark internationally.
One of them was a rugged Kazakh super heavyweight who had already established himself as one of the best unpaid fighters in the world.
By the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Aleksandr Miroshnichenko had been one of the elite super heavyweights in Europe for many years, winning a bronze medal as a teenager in the European Championships of 1983 as well as three Soviet championships.
As he grew into his frame and gained his man strength the burly Kazakh proved his worth not just as a boxer but as a body snatcher, which isn't too common with the giants. Banging to the body is common--making it the primary focus of attack is not, yet Miroschnichenko thrived in close where his opponents wilted.
He continued to thrive on the international stage--beating no less a fighter than Lennox Lewis via points at the 1988 'Intercup' tournament. Whilst not a particularly prestigious tournament, this acted as a pre-Olympic tournament, meaning the Kazakh--also a gold medallist at the 1986 Goodwill Games--was an early frontrunner for Olympic gold.
Also in the running were two future all-time great heavyweight champions.
Miroschnichenko received a relatively easy path into the semi-finals, dominating his opponents from countries that don't tend to produce inspiring heavyweights--Kuwait and South Korea--but in the semi-finals he was matched against a very formidable fighter.
A three-time Golden Gloves champion and one-time Pan-Am bronze medallist, Riddick Bowe was the brightest star of the U.S super heavyweight roster. Six-foot-five, with a ramrod jab and exceptional in-fighting skills for such a big man, Bowe was a fighter seemingly after Miroschnichenko's heart.
In the first round, Bowe nearly had his heart ripped out of his side.
Miroschnichenko came in close to Bowe, touching him with body shots. As Bowe tried to stave him off with a right cross--which the Soviet boxer avoided--he saw a left hook coming up high.
Bowe braced himself, and before he knew it he was on one knee--caught by a left hook to the body that had been masked by the head shot.
Bowe didn't seem badly affected, and bounced up immediately, but Miroschnichenko was on him, throwing hammers with the speed of a sickle, cornering the American and forcing him to drop below waist level for respite. A standing eight-count was administered, but this didn't count for any more points to the Kazakh than a clean punch would.
Now Bowe looked weary. Commentating on the fight was Dr. Ferdie Pacheco--who had seen many of the top heavyweights over the years in his capacity as Muhammad Ali's physician--commented on the idea that Bowe was trying to find a way out of the fight.
"It sure looks that way," he said, "He's got twenty-two seconds to make it."
In the coming years Bowe would prove himself one of the most resolute fighters of his era. His gut would be checked more than perhaps any other heavyweight of his time--the only other that could be given the nod in that debate would be his closest rival Evander Holyfield.
But with Miroschnichenko bearing down on him and punching his ribs into his internal organs, Bowe could have been forgiven for opting out.
He didn't. He had gold in his mind and he wasn't going to let his Soviet rival get the better of him. In a performance indicative of the fighter he would become in the pro ranks, Bowe gutted out the disastrous first round and punched out a decision win,punching his ticket to the gold medal match.
After the decision he was frank about the trouble he had been in,
"It's quite an embarrassment to be on the canvas. I had to get up and do what I predicted. We should go get Lennox Lewis now. I'm warmed up. He can get his silver. I got to get the gold. Anything less would be uncivilised."--The New York Times, November 25th, 1989
Bowe was stopped on his feet against Lennox Lewis, who added Olympic gold to his world amateur championship and solidified his position as the best super heavyweight amateur of his time.
Miroschnichenko had to settle for bronze, but would go one better at the following years World Amateur Championships--with Bowe and Lewis out of the picture--taking silver, only the incredible Cuban Roberto Balado besting him. In the same year, Miroschnichenko added to his trophy cabinet with bronze at the European Championships.
He had not been able to knock down the brick wall that was Riddick Bowe, but back home the Soviet Union was crumbling and the fighters that had been held back from the riches of the pro game would finally get their chance to wear gold around their waist rather than round their necks.
The Six Samurai
It didn't take long for promoters to come calling. The class of the Soviet school of boxing was well known, and there would be hundreds of top class prospects chomping at the bit to prove their worth--and make some real money--in the pro ranks.
It seemed a deal was quickly put in place to move six quality Soviets to the United States,
As many as six Soviet boxers will begin their professional careers in the US this year, following an agreement here on Monday between a US promotion firm and the Soviet Boxing Federation. Lou Falcigno, president of Momentum Enterprises, announced the exclusive contract in company with Victor Galaev, director-general of Sovintersport, which is responsible for the commercialization of Soviet Sports."There is a confidentiality clause in the contract, but I can say it is for ten years, worldwide, exclusive and a joint venture," Falcigno said, adding that six Soviet boxers will arrive here in October, although two may be sent over as early as June.--Associated Press, April 18th, 1989
Although the full roster was not announced, Falcigno did had one fighter in mind,
Falcigno said one of the boxers he was interested in was Alexander Miroshnichenko, who lost on points to American Riddick Bowe in last year's Olympics.
Heavyweights were still big business, and Miroshnichenko had probably endeared himself to the American top brass with his gutsy performance over the highly-touted Riddick Bowe.
But they never showed up. While the allure of the West may have been tempting, the Soviet six instead went a different route--Further East.
Led by 1988 Seoul Olympic gold medalist Vyacheslav Yanovskii, six amateur boxers from the Soviet Union will train in Japan to turn professional.
Yanovskii, the light-welterweight champion in Seoul, and five others signed a contract with Japan's Kyoei World Co. They are the first Soviet boxers to sign a contract with a foreign firm. Kyoei President Masaki Kanehira said the six had signed three-year contracts but declined to disclose the amount involved.
Kanehira said the five others are Yurii Arbachakov, the 1989 flyweight world champion; Alexander Miroshnichenko, the 1989 super heavyweight European champion; Vyacheslav Yakovlev, heavyweight bronze medalist in the 1986 world championships; Orzubek Nazarov, 1987 lightweight European champion, and Ramzan Sebiev, the heavyweight bronze medalist in the 1987 world championships.--Los Angeles Times, November 15th, 1989
This was a classy bunch indeed, although many of these fighters were feeling the effects of long, hard amateur careers.Not that the possibility that they might have already been past their best was any consolation to Lou Falcigno, who elaborated on the issues he had when trying to finalise the deal he thought was in place for them to fight in the United States,
Falcigno said that deal never became operative. ''Right away, I had problems,'' he explained recently. ''In May, I sent a trainer, Tommy Gallagher, to Athens for the European championships, and a look at some of the Russian boxers there. The Russians told him, 'Get away; leave here.' Gallagher phoned to tell me, 'I can't get tickets. I can't get names of the fighters. I can't talk to the coaches.'
''Not only did they give Gallagher the cold shoulder, but the fighters that were promised for the U.S., none of them showed up for the European championships.
''Other things happened,'' he went on. ''I was supposed to get a list of fighters with their weights and ages; I never got it. In August, I heard that a Finnish promoter, Kalevi Takala, was going to put on a card in Russia using Soviet fighters. I kept calling to ask about it. The Russians told me, 'No, there's no fight here.' Then I got an I.B.F. release saying the fights had been held,'' he said, referring to the International Boxing Federation.
''I called again. The Sovintersport people ducked the calls. So I flew over there and asked why the Russian heavyweights on Takala's card hadn't been offered to me first, as our deal called for. They told me, 'Oh, it was just a little fight,' and I said, 'I had an exclusive.' They said,'We didn't know it was like that.' ''
The Soviet representatives were clearly not the easiest to deal with, but the Japanese had managed to pull off a major coup.
Among those fighters, Yuri Arbachakov and Orzubek Nazarov were standouts in the professional game. Arbachakov won the WBC flyweight (lineal) championship and lost but one contest in his career. Nazarov--an Kyrgyz fighter who had trained under fantastic Kazakh boxer Abradshit Abdrahmanov as an amateur--won the WBA lightweight title and made six successful defences before suffering a career-ending eye injury in his only professional loss.
The tough super heavyweight Alexandr Miroshnichenko did not stay in Japan long. His former amateur rival Vyacheslav Yakovlev lost a decision in one of his early bouts in Japan and promptly retired. Miroshnichenko left the land of the rising sun unblemished, but spent the rest of his career in Europe and Kazakhstan.
Not that he didn't pick up a moderately impressive scalp whilst in Japan. He forced a stoppage over Ross Puritty--then a young fighter with just four pro bouts--who would go on to become somewhat of a high-level journeyman, spoiling the parties of lauded amateurs such as Jorge Luis Gonzalez and Wladimir Klitschko. Miroshnichenko forced Purrity to retire between the sixth and seventh rounds.
For much of his professional career the fearsome Kazakh broke journeymen in half with his patented body blows. He didn't take any major leaps in competition and seemed happy to use his reputation to fight wherever he could, taking in the sights of Belgium, Holland and even Curaçao.
He fought most of his bouts in his homeland of Kazakhstan. Boxrec is a valuable tool, but often doesn't tell us the whole story, so while it's possible that the seemingly inexperienced fighters Miroshnichenko was smashing on his native soil are simply suffering from a lack of recorded bouts, it may have been that these were showcase fights for the popular amateur star.
Less than three years into his career after knocking out fifteen of his twenty one opponents and yet to suffer defeat Miroshnichenko--perhaps unwittingly--faced off with another debutante being sent to the slaughter.
He ended up stepping into the ring against the most dangerous puncher he'd ever faced.
Twenty-four year old Oleg Maskaev was born in Kazakhstan, but considered himself a Russian. A champion amateur boxer in the military, as with other Miroshnichenko opponents in this part of the world there is the possibility that Maskaev was not making his pro debut in the true sense. It's also a possibility that the Kazakh body puncher was aware of Maskaev's prowess, but is it hard to get a firm source on just what went down that day.
Maskaev later told the story in his own words,
I was very young back then, a fight offer was totally unexpected and to be honest, I wasn't very keen on facing him. I was serving in the army in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), training (boxing) but there were no heavyweights around to really spar with. Our training camp was in the mountains, we were training really hard, were in a great physical condition, and then this fight offer comes out--An offer I couldn't refuse.
I was being told, "Oleg, it's a commercial money fight. You'll just box a little, earn some money".
It seems that Maskaev was being sent in as an opponent to pad the record of the lauded amateur. However, Miroshnichenko was ambushed by his less experienced opponent,
"I was young and reckless but I came to the fight fully focused and ready to give my opponent a real fight, which he wasn't expecting at all. I put pressure on him early in the first round and by the end of the third round Miroshnichenko's face was red - he took many punches. I knocked him out, it was a really nasty stuff.
Miroshnichenko got up but he was very wobbly and the fight was stopped."
Whether this was Maskaev's pro debut or not is neither here not there. It was Maskaev who went on to win a world title, renowned for being a devastating--albeit vulnerable--puncher and top ten mainstay over the next decade.
Alexandr Miroshnichenko never fought again after his embarrassing defeat to Maskaev. Instead, he focused his energy on training fighters, a staple occupation of boxers from the former Soviet Union.
He died aged thirty-nine after falling down nine flights of stairs in his hometown. The death was ruled accidental.
Miroshnichenko never came close to becoming a true contender in the heavyweight division, and should be thought of as a case of wasted potential. He should be remembered for his debilitating body blows--and twice putting 'Big Daddy' down.
In part 7, we will look at another decorated Kazakh amateur. This time, he makes it to the top--Becoming the first fighter born in Kazakhstan to win a world title. Along the way we experience some of the most bizarre and barbaric training methods ever subjected to a fighter, and meet two brash Americans. One them was viewed by many as the best amateur in the world. The other is one of the greatest to ever lace up the gloves.