ASTANA ARLANS IN GUIYANG, CHINA
Boxers who had been used to competing in a home or away corner in the WSB for the past six months suddenly found themselves in neutral territory today for the first leg of the WSB Team Finals at the Guizhou University Stadium in the city of Guiyang, China.
It quickly became clear that the opposing boxer was not the only opponent to overcome tonight, as all the boxers had to adapt to fighting in a completely different time zone and a much higher altitude than they are used to.
It was yet another devastating performance by the Astana Arlans' naturalized Kazakh Kanat Slam that gave the Arlans the edge on the first night. Slam stopped Paris United's Stéphane Cuevas in the first round of the middleweight contest to notch up a fifth victory for the season. Slam has won all but one of his fights inside the distance, starting with a thrilling knock-out in his debut in week six of the competition.
Paris United had decided to rest their star bantamweight Nordine Oubaali for the Individual Championships in two week's time, selecting Giorgi Kilanava from Georgia to take to the ring for only his third time this season with the unenviable task of facing world number one WSB bantamweight Kanat Abutalipov of the Astana Arlans.
Despite the enormity of the task, Kilanava commanded respect in the ring and remained unfazed by apparent taunts from his opponent, who appeared to be grinning through his gumshield in the second round.
But it was Kilanava who took the upper hand in the third round, momentarily landing Abutalipov on the ropes. Abutalipov countered in the closing seconds of the third round but the Georgian made a break in the fourth and continued to dominate in the fifth. However, it was too late to make up the difference and Abutalipov took the split decision 46-46, 48-47, 48-47 to open the scoring in the Arlans' favour.
"I'm very happy," Abutalipov said after the bout." Although my opponent wasn't as strong as I expected, I still found it a difficult fight."
Paris United's lightweight Rachid Azzedine missed out on a place in the Individual Championships by four seconds and was determined to make up for this against Merey Akshalov in the University of Guizhou Stadium tonight.
By the end of the second round he was ahead after a cut to his opponent had to be attended to twice by the ringside doctor. He maintained the lead through to the end to take a win by unanimous decision 49-46, 48-47, 48-47.
"I had one bout before this and I'm glad about that because I was worried that the cut might open up again," he said. "The bout was difficult because of the jet lag"
The middleweight encounter was over very quickly as Stéphane Cuevas came faced a barrage of punches from Kanat Slam from the opening bell. After only half of the first round had elapsed, Cuevas appeared to be unsteady on his feet and the French corner threw in the towel, handing Slam his third straight win inside the distance.
In contrast, the only way the light heavyweight bout between Hrvoje Sep and Ramzjon Ahmedov would have finished early would have been by a knock-out as the boxers traded punches so equally that at one point in second round they even managed to land connecting punches each other at the same time.
Although Sep opened strongly to win the first round, in the later stages of the contest both boxers were visibly tired and Ahmedov took a slight lead. In the closing rounds both boxers hunkered down low to slug it out and the fight was too close to call.
The judges confirmed Ahmedov as the winner with a split decision 47-48, 48-47, 49-46.
Heavyweights Tony Yoka and Ruslan Myrsatayev opted for a very open fight, much to the delight of the spectators, who could see evenly traded blows clearly connecting.
Yoka landed a crushing blow in the second round but moments later Myrsatayev caught him off guard with a straight right that had him staggering a couple of meters back to the ropes.
As the altitude took its toll, both boxers already looked tired by the third round, but nevertheless dug deep into their reserves to withstand the full 15 minutes in the ring.
With Yoka ahead going into the final round, a straight left that connected with Myrsatayev sealed the victory for Paris United to close out the first day's scores 3-2 in the Astana Arlans' favour.
"I was very tired and I think my team mates were as well," Yoka said after the bout. "Part of that is down to the time difference and part to the altitude."
Youth Olympic Champion Yoka has a great ally in team-mate Filip Hrgovic - the second Croatian boxer of Paris United, who will close out the competition tomorrow night.
"Even if me and Filip are still young, I think we are two of the best junior heavyweights in the world at the moment and we are going to do some damage," Yoka says.
"Filip and I follow each other closely and we have a great friendly competition."
The scores make for a thrilling finale tomorrow night in Guiyang in which Hrgovic could play a decisive role in the final bout.
Yoka's advice for his colleague: "I will tell him he'll be tired because of the altitude but we are here for the team and that's what helped me to find that little bit extra tonight."
Copyright © World Series of Boxing 2010 http://www.worldseriesboxing.com