Finally the wait is over, and the World Series of Boxing Season V Finals between Astana Arlans Kazakhstan and defending Champions Cuba Domadores is ready to begin.
The National Tennis Centre, Astana is the venue for the Finals, where on Saturday 20th June, fans across the world can watch the first leg live, free and on demand from 17:15 (GMT +6) at AIBABoxingTV.com.
Kazakhstan are statistically the most successful team in WSB history, as they have reached at least the semi-finals stage of each WSB season, and they claimed the Season III trophy after an incredible run of success.
They began Season V determined to reach their third WSB Finals, and won the first 13 matches of the Regular Season with considerable dominance.
Their home form was particularly impressive, with the team finishing the group stages undefeated in Kazakhstan having dropped just three individual matches in front of their passionate fans.
Meanwhile, after winning the Season IV Championship in their debut campaign, Cuba Domadores began the fifth year of the competition in outstanding form, winning all 14 matches of the group stages, and losing just seven individual bouts in the process.
A Cuban fighter placed at least fifth in the rankings of each WSB division, and they achieved their ninth and tenth whitewash victories of the season in their semi-final clash with Mexico Guerreros, as they defeated their North American rivals 10-0 on aggregate.
With a winning percentage of over 90% in Season V, the Cubans will be confident of successfully defending their title, but Kazakhstan are desperate to reclaim their throne which will reassert themselves as the best Franchise in WSB.
Cuba won the Pre-Season “Clash of Champions” match away in Kazakhstan 6-4 on aggregate after opening up a 4-1 lead in the first leg, although Astana Arlans secured a 3-2 victory in the second leg.
The Light Flyweights (49 kg) will kick off the Finals in Astana, as home star Temirtas Zhussupov (3-1 in Season V, 5-2 overall) meets 18-year-old Cuban sensation Joahnys Oscar Argilagos Perez (6-2 in Season V).
2013 Asian Championships gold medalist Zhussupov is approaching the prime of his career at 27-years-old, and he will want to use almost a decade’s worth of extra experience to make life difficult for his precocious Cuban opponent.
Perez finished fourth in the Light Flyweight rankings after producing many spectacular results, with the 2013 AIBA Junior World Champion making the step up to WSB competition with considerable confidence and composure.
Light Flyweight is the quickest weight division in WSB, so each boxer will be attempting to use their reflexes and skill to prevent the other from dominating the contest.
Because this is the first match of the Finals, both will be keen to stamp their authority on the match in order to produce the victory for their Franchise, but they will have to be wary not to expend all of their energy at once.
An excellent Bantamweight (56 kg) clash follows between Kazakhstan’s undefeated Kairat Yeraliyev (3-0 in Season V) and Cuba’s London 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez (3-0 in Season V, 5-0 overall).
Yeraliyev only made his WSB debut this season, but the 24-year-old has more than made up for lost time with three impressive victories, including a triumph over London 2012 bronze medalist Michael Conlan.
An entertaining fighter who pressures opponents with constant movement, Yeraliyev holds a victory over Ramirez from the 2013 AIBA World Championships, and will be eager to win their rematch to give Astana Arlans a considerable victory in the WSB Finals.
The fiercely talented Ramirez has been something of an enigma in this competition, with only five appearances made over the past two seasons.
He has won all five of those bouts however, and the Olympic Champion looked back to his best form in his semi-final match against Ivan Delgado.
This could be one of the most entertaining matches of the entire Finals weekend, as it combines the brawn and pressure of Yeraliyev with the effortless combination punching of his Cuban rival.
Kazakh Light Welterweight (64 kg) Samat Bashenov (6-0 in Season V, 13-5 overall) will take to the ring next when he battles Cuba’s number one ranked Yasnier Toledo (7-0 in Season V, 12-2 overall).
Bashenov has accumulated a well deserved undefeated record so far this season, and the reigning Kazakh National Champion’s four years of WSB experience makes him a veteran member of the Astana Arlans squad.
The 26-year-old is a cerebral and intelligent fighter who attacks the weaknesses of his opponents, while negating their strengths at the same time.
Unfortunately for Bashenov, Yasnier Toledo has showed little to no weakness so far this season, which makes the two-time AIBA World Championships silver medalist one of the most dangerous fighters to compete against this weekend.
Toledo’s remarkable 6-0 record in the group stages was especially impressive as four of his matches took place away from home, with his victory over Mexico’s second ranked Raúl Curiel García particularly impressive.
Despite his undoubted quality, Toledo lost in the Season IV Finals, so he will want to fully prove his worth on the grandest stage of them all against Bashenov.
A pulsating Middleweight (75 kg) match will follow when Meiirim Nursultanov (6-0 in Season V, 8-1 overall) fights Arlen Lopez (7-1 in Season V, 8-2 overall).
2010 Asian Games gold medalist Nursultanov has enjoyed a tremendously successful campaign, which includes a memorable triumph over Poland’s Tomasz Jablonski.
The 21-year-old prospect defines his boxing style as universal, and he frequently deploys fast hands, an excellent defense, and tactical nous.
Despite losing his WSB debut in the Season IV semi-final to Russia’s Artem Chebotarev, Arlen Lopez was entrusted again in the Finals against Azerbaijan Baku Fires, and secured a vital win over Khaybula Musalov.
That victory transformed Lopez from a prospect to a major league player, and he began Season V as Cuba’s first choice Middleweight.
The 22-year-old has not let himself or his coaches down since that decision was made, with seven wins in eight matches this season leading him to achieve a qualification quota for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games after finishing second in the rankings.
Lopez is tall for the weight, which means he often enjoys a sizeable reach advantage which he uses to perfection by peppering rivals with constant jabs while searching for significant power shots.
Nursultanov has proved to be able to perform well against larger fighters however, so their clash should be a very skillful affair.
A match which would grace any of the greatest boxing events in the history of the sport will close the first leg in Astana, as Heavyweights (91 kg) Vassiliy Levit (8-0 in Season V, 14-0 overall) and Erislandy Savon (8-0 in Season V, 16-0 overall) finally face each other in a WSB ring.
Both Kazakhstan’s Levit and Cuba’s Savon have dominated the WSB Heavyweight division over the past two seasons, with each fighter amassing an undefeated record to rival any streak in sport.
Levit began his WSB career at the start of Season IV, and finished with a 6-0 record at the end of the campaign.
The Kazakh star clearly worked on his power prior to the fifth edition of the competition, as he has won eight consecutive matches this season, with five TKO victories included in that phenomenal record.
Only one of Levit’s opponents has lasted all five rounds in Season V, as two more of his rivals were disqualified before the final bell.
Erislandy Savon also made his debut in Season IV, and was awarded the Boxer of the Season trophy after winning all eight of his matches, with two bouts being won by TKO.
Savon, the nephew of three-time Olympic Gold medalist Felix Savon has clearly inherited the family trait for boxing, and has continued his undefeated record into Season V with a further eight victories.
His power has improved too, with five TKO wins clearly displaying the dynamite he possesses, particularly in his hooks which are often used from out of nowhere.
Despite both competitors winning all of their matches in the Regular Season and amassing the same amount of points in the process, Levit finished first because of his superior TKO record, and he was awarded the Rio 2016 Olympic Games quota as a result.
After two years of planning and anticipation, both boxers will have five rounds to attempt to use their skills and heart to achieve complete supremacy, and the two perfectly matched fighters should produce a battle that will live long in the memory.