At 27 years old, the time appears to be now for Miass, Russia’s own Denis Shafikov. This Saturday, fresh off his best win, Shafikov will look to make his presence known in the lightweight division by attempting to best Alisher Rahimov over twelve rounds for the WBC Baltic lightweight belt at Sports Palace "Znamya" in Noginsk, Russia. Before you get all crazy about the belt, understand that regional belts weed out local wheat from regional chafe. Belts are how a southpaw from Miass, Russia, a town of roughly 150, 000, a large percentage of which is employed by the trucking company UralAZ, gets to the world stage.
Shafikov had a brother who passed away at a young age. For all intents and purposes he was an only child. “I’m an only child but I have a lot of relatives; A lot of aunts and uncles,” Shafikov told Maxboxing.com through translator and interpreter Stave Bash via Skype just days before his fight in Russia. “My father is a steelworker in the city. He has always done that and does it to this day. My mother is a principal at a school. Like a school teacher.”
However, before his brother passed, the two entered a boxing gym together.
“My father first took me to a boxing gym when I was seven years old. At the time I had a brother. He is no longer living. For about five years, I didn’t go back,” said Shafikov. “When I was twelve, a schoolmate of mine asked me every day for an entire month. ‘Let’s sign up for boxing. Let’s sign up for boxing. C’mon. Let’s do it.’ So finally I said ‘Fine. Let’s sign up for boxing.’ I was twelve when I signed up for boxing and I haven’t stopped since.”
As for why boxing didn’t initially take, Shafikov said “I think I was just too young. You know, I just wanted to jump and run around and try new things. I think when I was that age, just the regularity and doing the same thing of boxing didn’t click with me so I just wanted to try something else.”
Once Shafikov was able to focus long enough to understand the mechanics of boxing and all that comes with it, he understood the thing that drives all fighters on towards an ultimately unattainable goal: the rush associated with chasing a win and getting it.
“Part of it is because I enjoyed it and part of it is because I got addicted to it,” Shafikov said, explaining why he stayed in boxing the second time around. “It’s one of those things where you achieve certain things. You win a tournament here and a trophy here and then you get older and you go and you fight and you get challenged by other guys and you keep winning and winning and winning. I think I am still boxing to this day because I am addicted to achieving things in boxing.”
Once Shafikov started boxing, the plan was clear: gain as much experience before age 18 and then turn pro. He is one of the lucky people that understands their path early on and pursues it.
“I was an amateur for five years from age thirteen to age eighteen,” he said. “As soon as I turned eighteen, I decided to turn professional and I did. In the two years prior, I got up to number 3 in the nation in Russia as a junior. That was my amateur career. I turned eighteen and I became a professional.”
A natural southpaw, Shafikov has ridden his boxer-puncher style to 31-0-1 record with 17 wins by way of knockout. Initially, he was converted to thee right-handed “orthodox” stance.
“I write with my left hand but a lot of things I do with my right hand. Part of the reason is the Old Russian mentality is if a kid is a lefty they force him to do everything as a righty. They don’t want anyone to be different,” Shafikov explained. However, that early change does not appear to be terribly beneficial now that he fights as a full-fledged southpaw. “I can switch but I am much more comfortable in a southpaw stance.”
Shafikov was 11-0 in 2006 when he came to the US for a fight that fell through. The experience, which should have been for a regional title that would have ranked him here in the U.S., left Shafikov less than excited about pursuing his American boxing dream. But a return recently that has seen him begin training at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA has changed his mind.
Shafikov is currently trained by Ernie Zavala, who is a cagey veteran fighter turned trainer operating out of the Wild Card. An intelligent fighter who believes in using traps and technique to win over raw aggression and volume punching, Zavala is a nice fit for Shafikov’s style.
“We clicked,” said Shafikov of Zavala. “So that’s why he is with me now in Russia. The second time has been a much better experience and I am looking forward to working more in the U.S.”
Shafikov lamented the good weather in Los Angeles as opposed to Russia where it was snowing during the call.
“The first thing, be it the Wild Card or anywhere else is the weather,” said Shafikov. “The weather is better than anywhere else. Just being in Los Angeles and being able to run in the morning unlike now in Russia it’s snowing. That makes a major difference in any training camp. But the caliber of fighters and trainers there it’s definitely been a good training camp. And I think the results of that will show. I look forward to coming back and training there regularly.”
Shafikov’s best win was his last, a December 2012 decision win over Albert Mensah, a rugged African fighter who recently retired Michael Katsidis. The fight was contested at 140 pounds where Mensah enjoyed a size advantage. Still, Shafikov hurt late in the fight but he could not finish. Afterwards, Shafikov announced he would move down to lightweight despite that win garnering him a #2 ranking in the IBF.
“Even though I was successful in that fight the big realization that I came out from it was that the guys at 140 pounds are really big and I am small,” said Shafikov who stands 5’5” I am small to the point of I am 140 normally after my workouts. And that’s the way I always fought because in the amateurs the guys were the same size I was but 140 in the US? I don’t mind fighting them and I think I will be as successful as I was in the Mensah fight but the difference is that I hurt Mensah and the fight went the distance. He was too big to wear down. I think I will be much more successful at 135 at actually knocking guys out than I was at 140. I could still beat them up for twelve rounds but it will be tougher to wear them down inside the distance.”
Shafikov faces 25-1 with 12 knockouts Rahimov, a fighter whose style benefits Shafikov’s but who will provide resistant and aggression. The table of success is set for Shafikov.
“He’s a good quality opponent. He comes forward. He always comes forward,” said Shafikov who recently worked with Ruslan Provodnikov for his fight with Timothy Bradley. “I will have to trick him a bit. Turn him around. And fight him a certain way to where he doesn’t have advantages for his style. I know he has trained in the US against good guys and seen those styles so it will be a good test.”
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