Denis Lebedev vs Murat Gassiev
BY KID HERSH
From Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow, Russia, came Denis Lebedev (29-2, 22KO's) vs Murat Gassiev (23-0, 17KO's) on Sky Sports. Lebedev is defending his IBF cruiserweight world title but in odd twist of events not his WBA world title, as they somehow managed to negotiate to not include that title in the fight. So, even if Gassiev wins, Lebedev will be the holder of the WBA world title despite there being no catchweight to the fight.
The fight started off with both fighters very cautious of the others power. Lebedev was landing some light right hooks from the southpaw stance and Gassiev was sizing up the champion to see what openings he had or could create. Two minutes into the round Gassiev slammed home a right hand that backed up Lebedev; it was by far the best punch of the fight. Lebedev took it well, as we all figured he would, but Gassiev carries immense power and Lebedev is in for a long night unless he figures out how to not let those types of clean power shots through his guard. In the second round we got more tactful boxing from these two bruisers; exactly what I did not expect in this fight! Lebedev was conservative with his punches and picking his openings while Gassiev was doing the same but reaching with his punches and a bit off the mark. In the third round Gassiev was getting closer to the champion one inch at a time. He was also pressing harder and looked more loose and crisp with his punches as he used his speed and youth to get off first on Lebedev. In the fourth round Gassiev was pressing hard and looking for openings for his right hand. Meanwhile Lebedev adjusted to the heavier pressure stemming from the third round much better in the fourth as he pivoted and turned around Gassiev to make him reset frequently and blunt his output from the previous round. In the fifth round Gassiev was immediately throwing brutal power punches to the body of the champion and caught him with a left hook to the liver less than a minute into the round. The shot put Lebedev down on the canvas in agony of course, but he was able to rise (as expected for this tough guy) and use his legs to get away from further damage masterfully until the final thirty seconds of the round, where Gassiev went back up top and landed a powerful right flush that shook the champions legs. In the next couple rounds Lebedev was able to establish his jab effectively but he was still clear the prey that was being hunted by the young hungry lion. Gassiev was looking to land his powerful, straight right hand and doing it in spots but more importantly he was clearly the ring general as he stepped forward and was making the fight with his aggression that was making the champion very flustered and uncomfortable. This continued through the eighth and ninth rounds, with the big punches still coming from Gassiev and his exhaustive pressure. He landed a right hand followed by a left hook midway through the ninth round that clearly displayed just who was in charge of the fight. Another blistering straight right hand crushed home at the end of the ninth round as the damage was mounting on Lebedev and his face was starting to distort into an image of the Guillermo Jones fight. What was amazing to me was that Lebedev had not landed a clean power shot on Gassiev all fight until early in the tenth round when he landed a beautiful straight left that backed Gassiev up momentarily. Gassiev showed that he is in fact the real deal though, as Abel Sanchez has been telling us, because despite the power shot from the longtime veteran landing about as clean as you could ask for and it being a punch that would hurt or drop anyone out there Gassiev waved Lebedev in for more! He was back pressing the fight before long again, as he has been for the entirety of the fight, but the shot did take just a bit of steam of the young lion. In the championship rounds the fight turned into a close quarters one - the type I thought it would be from the start! Lebedev was simply exhausted and ready to trade with Gassiev by the end of the eleventh round which is exactly what happened. Surprisingly, Lebedev held his own in the exchanges. Normally that would not be surprising at all but with the way this fight was going for so long this would have been disaster for Lebedev earlier one but ever since he was able to land a clean power shot on Gassiev in the tenth round he took the edge off of his punches which is likely what made the swapping of punches possible at this point. In the twlefth and final round it was more trading of punches with it being a bit hard to tell who got the better of it but I would lean towards Gassiev simply because he was the one constantly pressing forward and imposing his will while it looked to me like Lebedev was engaging because he was exhausted and had no other option. Amazing performance here by Gassiev as he has officially burst onto the scene and proven Abel Sanchez correct with his predictions that Gassiev is the future of the division and perhaps boxing in general. He is only 23 years old!! The cards came in a bit of a shocker as Gassiev won a split decision via scores of 114-113 Lebedev and then 116-111 and 116-112 for him.