‘I want to unify division, then move to heavyweight!’ – IBF world cruiserweight champion Gassiev
The fighter nicknamed ‘Iron’ will defend his world title against battle-hardened former world champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk of Poland on Saturday in New Jersey, a state well known for its Polish diaspora.
Speaking to RT Sport at his US training base, Gassiev, unbeaten in his 24 pro outings, said the atmosphere at the Prudential Center, Newark, will not affect him heading into the fight.
“Of course on Saturday, more people support Włodarczyk, because [there are] a lot of Polish guys here and a lot of Russian guys come from my city, from Moscow, and I don’t feel alone in the ring,” the 24-year-old said.
Gassiev won the IBF crown last time out against Denis Lebedev in Moscow in December. In that fight, Gassiev dropped his 38-year-old opponent in the fifth stanza with a vicious body shot on his way to a split decision victory.
Many observers, however, felt the younger man had dominated the veteran of seven championship bouts in just his first world title showing. The feat was made all the more impressive as Gassiev, although himself a native Russian, was facing a staunchly pro-Lebedev crowd in his country’s capital.
Initial plans by his management were to have the young fighter back in the ring as soon as possible after his title victory, but fate dictated Saturday’s fight will be his first since that night at Moscow’s Khodynka Ice Palace.
“It’s a little bit sad because long time I don’t have a fight but for these 10 months we do a lot of work and I show this work on Saturday,” Gassiev promised.
Training under the tutelage of revered Mexican-American Abel Sanchez at the trainer’s purpose-built 'The Summit' headquarters at Big Bear Lake in the Californian hills has been 10 months well spent.
There, 8,000 meters above sea level, Gassiev learns his trade alongside Kazakh middleweight menace Gennady ‘Triple G’ Golovkin, ranked by Ring magazine as the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Sanchez has been so impressed with Gassiev’s progress that he has gone as far as to label the fighter from Vladikavkaz “the next Triple G.” A hefty tag given Golovkin is a unified and unbeaten middleweight champion, but Sanchez’s words carry weight given his experience.
Gassiev is indifferent to the praise and reacts with characteristic humility, if not with slight embarrassment, to the comparisons, but there is no doubt his aspirations match Golovkin’s achievements.
“First of all I want to be unified champion in cruiserweight division and after I want to move up to heavyweight division. I think only about this tournament, and after we will see what happens.”
Gassiev must first negotiate his way past Włodarczyk in his WBSS quarter-final, and make it past an array of top-class fighters, of which many believe Ukrainian WBO titlist Oleksandr Usyk to be the strongest.
He is also now the only cruiserweight representing Russia, with Dmitry Kudryashov having been knocked out in his quarter-final by Cuban puncher Yunier Dorticos, who Gassiev will face should he be victorious Saturday.
“You know it’s boxing, sometimes you fight against Russian guy, American guy, it’s part of the business. That’s it,” Gassiev says.
“First of all thanks a lot who make this tournament. It’s great opportunity for fighters. I hope it will continue, it’s a great opportunity for the best fighters to see who is the best. [Usyk’s] a great fighter, Olympic gold medalist, world champion, good boxing skills, he’s very good fighter, I respect him,” he added.
A fight with Usyk is obligatory if Gassiev wants to fulfil his dream of becoming unified cruiserweight champion, following in the footsteps of US great Evander Holyfield.
Gassiev’s ring name has led to another comparison, that of fabled former heavyweight champion ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson - the youngest man to wear the heavyweight world crown.
As he explained to RT Sport last December, “in my native language (Ossetian), it’s pronounced ‘I-ron,’ which means my nationality. But in the US it’s just ‘Iron’ like… like iron!”
Now, Gassiev is content to just be himself as a fighter and focus on his first bout in 10 months, his first title defense and his first WBSS; the time for plaudits can wait as far as the man himself is concerned.
“I can’t say I’m next Golovkin, [or] I’m next Tyson, I need to be Murat Gassiev and that’s it!” he laughs.
By Danny Armstrong, for RT Sport