Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder ensured they would end the regular season second in Group B after defeating Astana Arlans Kazakhstan at the Mediolanum Forum in Milan. 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Vincenzo Picardi, Serbian sensation Branimir Stankovic, 2011 WSB Individual Champion Abdelhafid Benchabla put in some quality performances however the home side were shocked with the first ever career World Series of Boxing (WSB) loss for 2012 Olympic silver medallist Clemente Russo.
The Thunder’s intelligent Serbian Stankovic got the action underway in Milan as he locked horns with 20-year-old Kazak debutant Roman Chshegrinov in the Lightweight (57-61kg) contest. His experience and height advantage told as the orthodox Serbian was clearly dominant in the first with some stinging hooks doing the damage. Stankovic continued to demonstrate his power, finding his target on several occasions to also take the second. The Kazak then went on the offensive in the third, knowing he had to do something, and stylishly took the round with some unrelenting attacks. The Serbian though came back with a vengeance in the fourth, unloading some powerful combinations, with a flurry of head shots seeing Chshegrinov having to take a standing eight count. It was a very good fight by Stankovic, who also took the fifth to put his team 1-0 up on the night.
At Middleweight (68-73kg), classy French southpaw Michel Tavares struggled to get to grips with stocky Aisin Asset in the first with the 30-year-old Kazak moving inside to good effect. The Frenchman though had just done enough in the first half of that round to take it on the judges’ scorecards. A great left over the top by Tavares had his rival in some trouble midway through the second as the Thunder boxer cranked up the pressure with some quality combinations to dominate that round. An excellent third by Tavares had the Frenchman in the ascendency and from there the wind was in his sails. Asset worked hard but could simply not cope with the speed of the home boxer with Tavares simply too good. The class of the French 24-year-old shone through as he recorded his second home win of the season with an emphatic victory to extend his WSB record to 10-5.
It took a while to get going in the Light Heavyweight (80-85kg) bout between the Thunder’s Algerian superstar Benchabla and the impressive Estonian Ainar Karlson but when it did, it was thoroughly entertaining to watch. The Italian team’s 26-year-old speed merchant was class, showing his full repertoire of shots throughout the five rounds to outbox his rival. It was a professional performance by Benchabla who peppered his opponents with some sweet punches. The tall and rangy 24-year-old Karlson played his part in an good contest but ultimately the quick feet and quality selection of shots of Benchabla gave the Thunder an unassailable lead in the match.
Charismatic Italian pocket dynamo Picardi began well in his Bantamweight (50-54kg) battle with Kazakh newcomer Elik Abdraimov as the 29-year-old good movement and intelligent selection of punches saw him dominate the first two rounds. Abdraimov was not overawed by the class of his opponent and showed good aggression in the third with his jab setting him up to land some good hits as he turned the fight on its head by claiming rounds three and four to go into the fifth frame level. Picardi dug deep and his experience told in the final round as he landed some hard and precise hooks to take the win.
It was a real scrappy affair in Heavyweight (91+kg) contest between Thunder team captain and Italian boxing icon Russo and the Arlans’ Mihai Nistor as the Romanian 22-year-old tactic of roughing up his rival worked. Nistor was like an unstoppable force, constantly moving forward and pinning the 30-year-old two-time Olympic silver medallist to the ropes. Russo was trying to box on the counter but was struggling to contain his onrushing rival who was relishing facing the unbeaten Italian star. Nistor was inspired and his sensational performance saw him bring Russo’s unbeaten record to an end.
Italia now travel to USA to face the Knockouts in Reno on Friday 1 March whilst Kazakhstan host Germany that same day.