In their last home match of the World Series of Boxing (WSB) regular season, Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder face Group B table-toppers Astana Arlans Kazakhstan in a mouth-watering showdown this Saturday 23 February (21:00 local time) at the Mediolanum Forum in Milan. Victory would put the hosts in pole position to ensure a second place finish when they visit USA a week later. The Italian team have eyes only for the win and with 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Vincenzo Picardi, Serbian sensation Branimir Stankovic, 2011 WSB Individual Champion Abdelhafid Benchabla and 2012 Olympic silver Clemente Russo all set to take to the ring, you would not bet against them.
Charismatic Italian pocket dynamo Picardi will get proceedings underway when he battles Kazakh newcomer Elik Abdraimov at Bantamweight (50-54kg). The 29-year-old got back to winning ways in week five with a flawless victory of American Joe Gregory Perez but it will be a trip into the unknown against the orthodox Abdraimov, however with home advantage, expect Picardi to put on a show for the fans.
Rock-hard Stankovic will once again look to wow the crowds in Milan as he locks horns with another Kazak debutant, 20-year-old Roman Chshegrinov, for the Lightweight (57-61kg) contest. With his experience and height advantage, the orthodox Serbian is the clear favourite. His unrelenting, no-holds barred approach has won him a legion of fans and after a clinical victory against up and coming German Kastriot Sopa in his last appearance, he will be high on confidence coming into this bout.
At Middleweight (68-73kg), classy French southpaw Michel Tavares will get another opportunity to showcase his talent when he takes to the canvas versus 30-year-old orthodox Kazak Asset Aisin. The Frenchman has faced three of the top four fighters in the division away and unfortunately for him came out on the losing each time, but after impressing in his first outing at home with a win, he will be keen to once again show the home crowd that he is capable of producing real magic in the ring. Aisin, although a WSB rookie, boasts an 8-1 record in the professional ranks so should not be taken lightly.
Buoyed by a sensational victory against European Champion Joe Ward last time out, Algerian superstar Benchabla will get another opportunity to strut his stuff when he is pitted against the impressive Estonian Ainar Karlson in the Light Heavyweight (80-85kg) bout. 26-year-old speed merchant Benchabla enjoys peppering his opponents with his full repertoire of shots, making him one of the most entertaining boxers to watch. The tall and rangy 24-year-old Karlson recorded a solid victory on his WSB debut so will provide stiff opposition.
Thunder team captain and Italian boxing icon Russo, with his perfect 17-0 WSB record, goes into his Heavyweight (91+kg) contest versus the Arlans’ Romanian 22-year-old Mihai Nistor as overwhelming favourite. The 30-year-old will have to be on his guard against the 2011 European Championships bronze medallist with Nistor a notorious heavy-hitter. Russo though will have gotten a few tips from teammate Tony Yoka who beat the Romanian in week four.