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Once-high-flying Shumenov is back on track with a new boxing style after a stumble

16 августа 2015, 19:21

April 20, 2014, was the worst moment of Beibit Shumenov’s boxing career.

The 31-year-old, who held two of the world’s four light-heavyweight titles, fought 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins that night with the goal of taking Hopkins’ two titles. That would make him the undisputed champion in his weight class.     

Instead, Shumenov lost a 2-1 split decision to Hopkins, who, despite his age, is one of the world’s greatest fighters – and a man who will surely be in the Boxing Hall of Fame one day. Hopkins’ 55 career victories include knocking out the legendary Oscar de la Hoya in 2004.

The loss to Hopkins was particularly bitter for Shumenov, whose pro career started in 2007, because he knew he had the tools to win, but failed to devise a winning strategy.

“Shumenov, often a volume puncher, was nothing like that, giving Hopkins too much respect,” one boxing reporter wrote. “He was throwing one punch at a time and was wide open for Hopkins' left-right combination.”

Hopkins said that he had trouble with Shumenov’s “awkward style” at first. But “I’ve been around 26 years, seen everything and I made the adjustments.”

Shumenov made no adjustments, costing him the bout.

Beibit Shumenov and Bernard Hopkins. ©AFP
"Obviously, I chose the wrong strategy,” he said. “I'm kind of angry I lost the fight. I am a true warrior. I couldn't get the victory. I wanted to fight the best, and tonight it was not my best."

But sunshine follows downpours, and Shumenov, whose pro record is now 16 wins and two losses, made two changes after the Hopkins fight that put this career back on track. Those shifts, he believes, will help him reach his goal of becoming the world’s top fighters.

The first change that the native of Shymkent, Kazakhstan, made was hiring a trainer rather than continuing to train himself.

The second was moving up to the cruiserweight division, where boxers can weigh between 176 and 200 pounds. The light-heavyweight division where he’d fought his first 14 bouts is for boxers between 168 and 175 pounds. Shumenov struggled to make the 175-pound limit in his last several light-heavyweight outings.

Renowned Cuban trainer Ismael Salas has changed Shumenov’s style from a straight-ahead puncher to a boxer who relies on footwork as well as arm muscle.

Shumenov’s first victory under Salas was a fifth-round knockout over Bobby Thomas Jr. n December of 2014 in Washington.  But Thomas was lightly regarded. The question was whether Shumenov’s change of style would work with a formidable opponent.

The answer came when Shumenov won a unanimous 116-112 decision in his adopted city of Las Vegas against the respected B.J. Flores, who loves to stand toe to toe with an opponent and slug it out. The victory gave Shumenov the interim World Boxing Association cruiserweight title.

Beibit Shumenov. Photo courtesy of expressnews.com

Instead of going with the brawling style that many boxers from the former Soviet Union grew up with, Shumenov used Muhammad Ali’s float-like-a-butterfly, sting-like-a-bee style of dancing in and out on the slower Flores.

Flores had clearly expected Shumenov to brawl with him – a style that would have favored the 36-year-old Hispanic-American, who has a 31-2-1 record. Flores was not only surprised but perturbed about Shumenov’s change of tack.

“Beibut always comes forward,” Flores said after what he’d proclaimed to be the biggest fight of his career. “He is always aggressive and a really strong fighter. But tonight he ran all night.”

It’s tough to win a fight when you’re chasing your opponent backward the whole time, Flores griped.

If that snarky comment was supposed to irritate Shumenov, it didn’t work.

Flores, who is “a very strong guy,” was “lunging and looking for a knockout” the entire fight, Shumenov said. “ In contrast, Shumenov, who has earned 10 of his 16 victories by knockout, said he was looking for points against Flores.

Photo courtesy of undisputedfightmag.com

By not slugging it out with his opponent, he improved his chances of winning, he suggested. “I fought a smart fight,” he said.

Shumenov said he was hesitant when he began working with Salas about whether to abandon the brawling style of fighting that had brought him so much success.

He had won his two light-heavyweight titles – one of them the World Boxing Association crown and the other the International Boxing Association laurel – with his straight-ahead style.

In fact, he was using that style when his name went into the record books. He won the World Boxing Association title in 2010 only 10 fights into his professional career – the quickest of any light-heavyweight boxer ever.

The victory over Spain’s Gabriel Campillo in Las Vegas avenged a loss to Campillo that Shumenov suffered in Shymkent in 2009 – his only loss before fighting Hopkins.

Although understandably nervous about changing a style that had brought him so far, Shumenov decided to trust Salas and “see what would happen. I am very happy that I made the right choice.

"Ismael is the coach I dreamed of finding," Shumenov said. "We have a lot of similarities in our boxing backgrounds. I learned in the Soviet Union system, and the Cuban system that Ismael teaches is very similar.”

Salas said Shumenov has always displayed two characteristics of top fighters -- mental toughness and a commitment to training hard. 

The Cuban, who has also trained the professional fighters Jorge Linares, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Jessie Vargas, has been teaching Shumenov refinements that will make him a better all-around boxer.

"I am still in the learning process," Shumenov said. "Ismael is the best trainer in the world, so every time I go to the gym, I always learn something new. Boxing is not a gladiator match. Boxing is an art. You use your skill, you use your position, you use your angles and footwork. You don't have to go and kill or be killed."

Beibit Shumenov. Photo courtesyof myboxingfans.com

Many boxing experts and sports journalists have cluck-clucked about Shumenov training himself before hiring Salas.

The implication was that the Kazakh was conceited, believing that no one knew better than him how he should prepare for his fights.

It wasn’t a case of arrogance, Shumenov said recently. He was simply unable for a long time to “find the right person for the job.”

He believes his decision to move up to cruiserweight will improve his chance of leaving the lasting boxing legacy he covets.

"All I thought about was making weight when I fought at 175," he said. "There was too much stress on my body to lose weight, and it was also affecting me psychologically because all I thought about was losing weight. Now, as a cruiserweight, I have no problems making weight. There is no stress at all.”

With his weight-making headaches behind him, he said, “I have only positive energy at the gym."

Shumenov said his ultimate goal “is for people to recognize me as a great fighter.”

With a top trainer and a more appropriate weight class, “I feel like a brand-new person,” he said.

That confidence should go a long way toward helping him achieve his goal of becoming one of the greats.

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