The spectacular World Series of Boxing (WSB) Season V Finals saw Astana Arlans Kazakhstan defeat Cuba Domadores over two legs to become the first team in WSB history to win two Championships.
Kazakhstan’s tremendous triumph also proved to be historic for two of their squad members, as Croatian duo Filip Hrgovic and Hrvoje Sep each earned a third WSB team triumph.
The two men have competed in the most bouts across WSB’s entire duration, and they have each have won 20 matches through all five seasons of the world class competition.
Hrgovic won all seven of his bouts in the Regular Season of Season V with six stoppage successes, while Sep achieved a superb 6-1 record at Light Heavyweight.
The latest season produced another innovative step for WSB as every boxer was eligible to earn a qualification quota for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
For the majority of WSB weight classes two quota positions were available, but for the Super Heavyweights, only the top ranked boxer would qualify, which Hrgovic achieved in great style.
“It was a great season,” he says to WSB. “It was very important for me qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and we also won the team trophy. It’s amazing, I can’t imagine a better season.
“In the ring everything was perfect, it was easier for me because I only fought five rounds once, and after that my matches didn’t go past three rounds.”
Hrvoje Sep narrowly finished outside the top two at Light Heavyweight, but still produced some excellent results.
“It was a very good season, but the finish was not as I had seven fights, and I only lost my last one,” he reveals.
“After that I had to make one of the hardest decisions in my career not to compete in the WSB Final, but we became champions again and we made a big contribution to that.”
Part of the unique appeal of WSB is that each bout is held over five rounds, and Sep showed why that format is so entertaining when he recovered from a poor start away in Caracas to defeat Caciques Venezuela star Albert Ramirez.
That victory remains one of Sep’s fondest memories from all five seasons in the competition.
“When you have five rounds, you have more time to make your tactics work. Sometimes over three rounds it goes very fast. Like that fight in Venezuela, in a regular AIBA match I would have lost , but in WSB you have more time to attack,” says Sep.
Both boxers have been trained by Leonard Pijetraj since the beginning of their careers, and the Head Coach of Leonardo Boxing Club has been an integral part of the duo’s success.
“I train a lot in Croatia, and we live for boxing. I am 100% in this sport and when you live like that it’s all about determination,” explains Hrgovic.
“He is a very good trainer who is one of the best in the world, and he is a great tactician,” says Sep.
Pijetraj spoke to WSB regarding the success of Hrgovic and Sep, and revealed some of the reasons behind their record-breaking triumphs.
“They are completely dedicated to boxing and strictly follow all professional rules. They are in full training 11 months in a year, and live like Spartans in the training camp.
“Both are very willing to learn and progress, and they never underestimate the opponent. For every match they are preparing like the world champion is on the other side,” he remarks.
The hat-trick of WSB titles for the Croatian crusaders began in the first WSB season, when they helped Paris United shock the world to win the inaugural Championship over Astana Arlans.
Neither boxer had much international experience heading into WSB, having only competed in around 60 bouts between them.
Despite their lack of matches, the two fighters had begun to make a name for themselves in boxing circles, as Sep had won two Croatian National Championships and fought in the 2009 AIBA World Boxing Championships.
Hrgovic, aged 18-years-old at the time, won the 2010 AIBA Youth World Championships mere months before his first WSB bout to signify his status as one of the most exciting prospects in pugilism.
The Super Heavyweight achieved a 5-1 record in Season I in spite of his incredibly young age, and also won one of the WSB greatest matches of all time against Russia’s Sergei Kharitonov.
“I would compare that match with Ali vs Frazier,” says Pijetraj. “I think the bout was the most interesting boxing match in the heavyweight division in the last 10 years.”
Sep was there firsthand to view the contest, and praised the work of his coach during proceedings.
“Our coach had to be very calm and smart to give him the right advice and the right tactics. He played a very big part in that victory.”
Hrgovic too has happy memories of the battle.
“It was a real test for me and a good fight. I took him all five rounds, and it was a really good performance.”
Paris United were the underdogs throughout the season, but an exceptional team spirit resulted in them winning the most unexpected of championships.
“That was special because nobody expected Paris United to win that year. We didn’t have the biggest names or a lot of money, so that was a true sporting success story because of the hard work from the whole team,” remembers Sep.
It was the third season that proved to be even more successful however, when they transferred to the decorated Astana Arlans Franchise.
The move was instantly fruitful, and they each enjoyed remarkable seasons as Astana Arlans defeated Ukraine Otamans in an unforgettable final.
Hrgovic won four of his five matches, including a semi-final success over Gerardo Miguel Bisbal, while Sep amassed a 6-1 record including an amazing final win over Sergiy Lapin.
“At that time it was the highlight of my career, and the most special championship. I had some good wins in Season I and II, but at the beginning of the third season the President of Astana Arlans gave me gold trunks, and he told me “I give you gold and you bring me gold in the fights!
“That was special for me, because I helped my team with my win because it was a really close final which went to the tie-breaker. My win on the first night was very important,” he says.
“Hrvoje was brilliant in that match, and won the decisive point for Kazakhstan,” relives Pijetraj.
Astana Arlans again reached the semi-finals of Season IV where both boxers increased their winning records, before Kazakhstan sealed their second championship success in Season V.
The relationship between the Croatian fighters and Kazakhstan is an excellent one, which has provided supreme dividends for each side.
“I often say Kazakhstan is my second home because the love, attention and care we get from Astana Arlans and the fans is unbelievable. With all this help and support you get, it’s hard not to fight with all you’ve got,” says Sep.
Hrgovic has also produced many of his best victories in Astana, and is appreciative regarding the success he and the team has achieved.
“Astana Arlans has big sponsors, a really serious team and the Kazakh people are very friendly and kind. We have boxed for three seasons there, and when we come to Kazakhstan they appreciate us,” remarks Hrgovic.
“I’m very thankful to Astana Arlans that they gave me an opportunity to fight,” he adds.
Head Coach Pijetraj has traveled around the world, and admits he has “never seen better conditions than in Kazakhstan. The Coaches are on a world class level, but at the same time very friendly.”
Two talented Croatian athletes becoming three-time Champions is one of the most rewarding sporting stories of the past decade, and both men are happy they have managed it together.
“It’s a huge help to have Sep as my teammate,” says Hrgovic, while Sep believe that his Super Heavyweight friend has the potential to become “the number one guy in the sport and the face of boxing.”
By the time they celebrated winning Season V of WSB, the tournament has transformed completely from the very first time they had lifted gold.
WSB is now a global juggernaut with team Franchises from five continents fighting worldwide in venues which attract thousands of fans, plus on television and online across every corner of the planet.
An incredible amount of Olympic and AIBA World Championships medalists regularly compete, while many future stars of the sport also begin their ascent towards the big-time in the hallowed WSB ring.
After five astonishing seasons of unparalleled prosperity, Hrgovic and Sep will next aim for gold at the 2015 AIBA World Boxing Championships in Doha, Qatar, with both hoping to achieve world honours which will give them even more confidence when they once again fight in WSB.
The entire boxing world hopes to see them back for Season VI, which is on course to become the biggest season of all time.