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Sillakh Loses and Grows

(Ismayl Sillakh)
(Ismayl Sillakh)

Coming into his bout on April 27th, 2012, Ismayl Sillakh was considered among the best light heayvweight prospects in the world. At 17-0, Sillakh seemed to be a boxer on his way to bigger and better things as he faced Denis Grachev from the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas as the headliner on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.” For much of the night, he was in complete control before he was shockingly halted by Grachev in the eighth round.
Just like that, Sillakh went from prospect to suspect. But it turns out this loss was really the beginning of his career because a year-and-a-half later, he finds himself facing WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev this weekend in Quebec City as part of an HBO doubleheader.
“I was shocked. I was disappointed but I started training like two weeks after the [Grachev] fight and I started pushing harder and I forgot about it,” Sillakh said of his lone defeat while at the Fight Factory Gym in Canoga Park last Thursday. When asked what he learned on that fateful night, he answered with a chuckle, “Most important is to keep focus every time. You have to be ready for everything. Our sport of boxing is a dangerous sport; we understand. So we have to be prepared for every fight. Every fight is important, so that’s my lesson.”

His trainer and co-manager, Shadeed Saluki opined, “Well, actually the preparation for the fight wasn’t right. Ismayl had managerial, promotional problems, a lot of things that were wrong leading up to the fight. So he didn’t think he was actually going to fight till three weeks out and even when we started training, then we didn’t get the proper sparring. The preparation was way off and so he wasn’t right, number one - he wasn’t right. So he learned a valuable lesson: going to a fight, you have to be properly prepared and I think as well as the promotion - as well as everything else - you have to be prepared for anybody.”
During that period of the Grachev loss, Sillakh was beset by inactivity. With that defeat, a decision was made that he would be as busy as possible. From this February to August, he fought four times, facing the likes of Daniel Allotey, Mitch Williams, Alvaro Enriquez and Konstantin Piternov in such small venues as the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It wasn’t about the money - quite frankly, there wasn’t much to be had – as it was about just building his record, his confidence and getting back in the habit of facing live bullets.
“I wanted that from the beginning. I wanted him to stay busy,” said Saluki. “He’s the type of fighter, he stays in shape, pretty much. Very rarely is he seven-to-10 pounds over his fighting weight. So when you have a fighter like that, you keep him busy, sharp, boxing, so you want to keep him active.”
Sillakh’s management even paid its - and his opponents’ - way onto these shows. This was the price of activity.
“This is what we need now. I got a good team behind me. I’m a boxer who needs to be active. That’s what I always asked for, my trainer, my management - I want activity. This is important. I want to be a world champion, so what I need to do to become world champion, I need activity,” said Sillakh, now 21-1 (17). He says he finally has the proper financial support backing his career. “Everything is coming true right now. So we’ve had a good year, four times, good activity, good training, proper training, everything.”
Sillakh was rewarded for his work by getting the assignment to face one of the hottest fighters in boxing, Sergey Kovalev, who has been destroying everything in his path. “He’s a good boxer. He’s got Russian amateur schooling but I know that style because I fought against Russian boxers a lot in the amateurs. I know exactly what he wants to do, so it’s not a problem,” said Sillakh, who hails from Ukraine.
When this bout was offered to Sillakh, there was absolutely no hesitation in taking it.
“None, not at all because [Kovalev]’s name came up one time before, before he fought for the title and we accepted the fight but they never got back with us,” said Saluki, “so we never ran from him. Actually, we wanted him.”
Kovalev recently ran through Nathan Cleverly in four rounds back in August to capture the WBO belt. It was as if Cleverly had a flyswatter to Kovalev’s Louisville Slugger. He was simply overpowered by “Krusher.” Kovalev’s last five outings have all ended in four rounds or less. Is the multi-skilled Sillakh the man to ask the important questions of Kovalev in the middle-to-late rounds?
Saluki states with confidence, “I think we are. [Kovalev]’s in for a test now and this is a big one. So he’s in for a fight. Ismayl is not an opponent. Ismayl can fight. He can box. He can punch. He can do it all.” When you ask him if the key is to get out of the early rounds, the trainer says, “I don’t think so because really, Ismayl can punch. He’s had 21 [wins], 17 knockouts, so it’s pretty even when you look at it. [Kovalev]’s got 22 fights, 20 knockouts and he has a draw - and he got a draw with a bum [Editor’s Note: the “draw” in question, against Grover Young seven fights ago, was first considered a second round technical decision. The ruling was a result of Young’s inability to continue due to an accidental foul; however, the result was changed to a no-decision per referee Zac Young]. So that could’ve easily been a loss.”
Sillakh is confident going in. For him, the Grachev loss is virtually miles behind him.
“We’ve had excellent preparation for this fight, 100 percent focused, mentally, physically. So I think I just beat him. I’ll just be myself. I’ll give it all my best. Just move, outpoint him, outclass him and then I’ll just finish him.”
So now that it’s all said and done, will Macao host future Manny Pacquiao promotions? According to Bob Arum, absolutely.
“I think it’s a tremendous market and I think Manny will return from time to time to Macao and I think it was an unbelievable event in Asia and it was really great for me to see, coming back yesterday, the front page of the international New York Times with a color picture of Manny and the front page of the Wall Street Journal. How often does that happen?” asked Arum, rhetorically. “So I just think that it was great for boxing, great for Manny, great for Macao and I think it was a huge, major success.”
Pacquiao’s next bout is scheduled for April 12th in the United States.
Arum stated that the rematch between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Bryan Vera could land at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on March 1st. The newly refurbished Forum in Inglewood, California was under consideration but was booked for that date...Arum says they will “definitely” do more than one card at the Forum in 2014...A fight between IBF lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez and Denis Shafikov is being seriously considered for February 22nd in Macao (which is when Top Rank will return to Asia)...Doesn’t “RG3” look like a guy who shouldn’t be out there for the Redskins right now? He just doesn’t look like the same guy who was last season’s “Rookie of the Year”...So Kobe signing that one last big contract with the Lakers, is that a good thing for the long-term prognosis for the Purple and Gold?...What was more heartbreaking, the death of Brian Griffin on “Family Guy” or Richard Harrow on “Boardwalk Empire”?...I can be reached at and I tweet at We also have a Facebook fan page at, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.

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