Light Heavyweight World Champion Julio La Cruz returned to the ring in imperial fashion last night just eight weeks after being shot in the hip in an armed robbery in Havana. Cuba now has an unassailable lead at the top of Group B, having won all of their matches so far. However they didn’t have it all their own way this time around…
Hurshid Tojibaev became the first boxer in the history of the WSB to win a bout in Havana. The Azerbaijan Baku Fires will also go down in history for being the first ever team to take a point away from Cuba at home. None of that can take away from the fabulous performance the Cuban team have put in during this Regular Season, which they wrapped up last night. On their debut year in the WSB, the Cubans have produced one of the most emphatic table topping performances that the league has ever seen.
The Flyweights (52kg), Lightweights (60kg), Welterweights (69kg), Light Heavyweights (81kg) and Super Heavyweights (91+kg) contested this match.
Bout of the match
Welterweights Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo took on up-and-coming Yauheni Ramashkevich of Azerbaijan. The Fires boxer has been impressive so far this season and really is one to watch for the future. He is calm under pressure, has a great work ethic and always puts on a brilliant display of boxing. Yet when you are in the ring with the current Olympic Champion and 2009 World Champion, life is always going to be tough. Watching how fluid the Cuban is in the squared circle, it’s incredible to think that he seems to have slipped behind Arisnoidys Despaigne, the current WSB number one ranked Welterweight in the Cuban team’s thinking. Both fighters put on a terrific display, with the Azeri never outclassed but not able to make much headway against the sublime Cuban. Despite his 1-2 record, there is a big future ahead for Ramashkevich in the WSB, he clearly has the talent to box well even against the very best. For Iglesias Sotolongo meanwhile, the only thing blocking him from becoming the top WSB Welterweight is perhaps his own team mate Despaigne. Watching that internal competition for selection swing back and forth could be very interesting indeed. This is a bout that is worth watching again on AIBAboxingTV.com
Boxer of the match
Whether he has won or lost this week, there was only ever going to be one boxer of the match. For Light Heavyweight World Champion Julio La Cruz, to have recovered from being shot just eight weeks ago, including surgery to take a bullet off his hip, and to even be present in the ring this weekend would make him worthy of being boxer of the month let alone the match. Yet the dominant way in which he performed against a dangerous world-class opponent in Teymur Mammadov, who is a former world silver medallist, was awe-inspiring in its own right. The Azeri, an awkward southpaw, didn’t make things easy and the Cuban either and caught him hard on a few occasions. He also boxed well enough to keep the home crowd quiet for the first half of the bout, winning the opening round and looking solid in the second. La Cruz really came alive from round three on using his slick evasive skills with some very accurate counterpunching. Somewhat surprisingly, he also engaged in some front foot boxing when his opponent began to back down. The fact that his victory came at a crucial point during the match only added to the justification in awarding him boxer of the evening. His win ensured that Cuba came away with the victory.
The turning point
Cuba debutant Yoandris Maceo took on hard hitting Azeri Super Heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov at a key juncture in the evening. With the score at 3-1, Maceo had the chance to firmly shut the door on the Azeri challenge for the evening, whilst the “Bad Boy” Makhmudov had the chance to make history if the Fires were to become the first ever team to take a point from Cuba at home. And we can tell from the headline, it was the Azeri who swung the match in the favour of his team. Debut or not, taking on and beating a Cuban in Havana is a big achievement and it took the Fires boxer’s record to a very respectable 5-2 with three of those coming by way of KO or TKO. The result also catapulted the Azeri to become the number 2 ranked Super Heavyweight in the WSB. The Cuban was light on his toes for a big man, but the Azeri had the reach advantage. Seven seconds into round three, Makhmudov, who has proven stopping power, threw one of the biggest uppercuts the WSB has seen so far this year, that dropped the advancing Cuban to his knees and sent his gumshield flying to the far end of the ring. From there on out, the Cuban fighter’s offense slowed considerably, but he deserves credit for jumping back up to his feet at all.
Fact/Stat of the match
Coming into this match, the Cubans had lost only 10% of their bouts as the WSB’s most successful team this season, whilst the Azeris by contrast had lost 40%.
Quote of the match
“Just when Ramashkevich thinks “I’ve got this guy”, he’s gone” – Our commentator on the evasive prowess of Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo in our bout of the night.
It is a terrible injustice for Uzbek Lightweight Hurshid Tojibaev that he finds himself buried in the write up, given that he will now go down in WSB history as the first man to ever defeat a Cuban in Havana. Unfortunately the circumstances around La Cruz’s astonishing return leave us with little choice. His opponent Pablo Vicente was by no means out-gunned despite the fact that he was making his debut against a continental Silver Medallist, with three seasons of experience in the WSB, and pushed his opponent close on points. The 24 year old Uzbek however now goes to 4-3 in the WSB and makes history in the process.
The same could be said for the bout between Leodan Nunez and Magomed Abdulhamidov,which was really a contender for bout of the night, and was certainly the closest fight on the score cards. It was a stunning debut for the Cuban Flyweight who defeated an opponent with 12 bouts of experience and only one previous loss across three seasons.
Coming up next
Both teams have progressed to the Playoffs. Their exact opponent’s remain to be determined, but should things remain as they stand, then the Cuba Domadores would face the USA Knockouts or Team Germany in the quarter-finals, depending on this weekend’s other matches. In a similar vein, the Azerbaijan Baku Fires look set to face either the Ukraine Otamans or the Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder.