After becoming only the second Franchise in World Series of Boxing (WSB) history to win a fixture against Cuba Domadores in the first leg of the Season V Finals, Astana Arlans Kazakhstan perfectly repeated their success in the second leg to claim a second WSB Championship in front of their home supporters in Astana.
A 6-4 aggregate triumph only begins to tell the story of the most dramatic Finals weekend of all time, as both teams produced some of the greatest performances in the history of this competition with so much pressure at stake.
It was Kazakhstan who reigned supreme however, and much praise should be given to their Head Coach Marat Jakiyev who inspired tremendous belief in his fighters, and expertly masterminded the necessary tactics needed to defeat the great Cuba Domadores.
The second leg began with a blistering Flyweight (52 kg) battle between Kazakhstan’s Olzhas Sattibayev (5-1 in Season V, 5-2 overall) and Cuba’s Yosbany Veitia (15-1 in WSB).
Veitia was undefeated in this competition heading into the contest, and was the overwhelming favourite as the majority of boxing fans expected the current Cuban National Champion to even up the aggregate scoring.
Sattibayev had different ideas though, and stood firm from the outset, cutting an imposing figure in the centre of the ring.
After claiming the first round due to his superior work rate, the Kazakh continued his form into the second frame with Veitia unable to fully utilise his traditionally relaxed style.
Sattibayev won the third round as well on all three scorecards, which left the Cuban needing a knockout to prevent the fourth Domadore defeat of the Finals.
Although he closed the gap with a high tempo performance in the fourth stanza, his rival remained stoic amidst the flurries of fast punches he was facing, and he soaked up the pressure with his own attacks.
The Astana Arlans athlete was superb at breaking up the rhythm of Veitia, and ultimately claimed the victory 49:46 across the board.
This result put Kazakhstan 4-2 up on aggregate with just four fights to go, which put immense pressure on Cuban Lightweight (60 kg) Lazaro Alvarez (9-0 in Season V, 15-1 overall), who topped the Lightweight rankings after the group stages
As a two-time AIBA World Champion, Alvarez is used to high pressure situations, and expertly maneouvered himself through his clash with Zakir Safiullin (2-4 in Season V) to win the contest by split decision.
Safiullin was impressive despite the defeat, but could not compete with the rapid punch output of Alvarez who enjoyed a successful start to the bout.
Although one judge preferred the earlier work of Safiullin, the remaining two scorers appreciated the expansive work of Alvarez, who ignored the roars of the Kazakh crowd to keep composed and box to his calculated gameplan
There was no tracking back from either competitor as they frequently met head-on in the middle of the squared circle, but it was Alvarez who exploited the rare pockets of space with more success, and secured the split decision verdict to even up the scoring in the second leg.
Astana Arlans still held an overall advantage on aggregate however, and their lead lengthed in the next contest after one of the greatest performances in WSB history.
Aslanbek Shymbergenov (3-1 in Season V) is the current Kazakh National Champion, but was an overwhelming underdog in his Welterweight (69 kg) clash with London 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist and former AIBA World Champion Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo (5-3 in Season V, 10-3 overall).
Sotolongo’s status as the favourite was further strengthened in the opening round as he opened up his full range of shots, with a consistent variation of stinging punches dazzling even the partisan crowd.
The Cuban has had a mixed campaign in WSB this year, but looked back to his best as he oozed confidence in the first two frames, and looked set to romp home to a comfortable victory.
Shymbergenov was only just beginning however, and began to use his slight height advantage to considerable effect, with his jabs and quick right hands starting to make their mark.
A fast pace had been set early, but the energy of Sotolongo began to deplete drastically as Shymbergenov weathered the storm and began to dominate with his own attacks.
Cheered on wildly by his ardent supporters, Shymbergenov asserted even further control in the fourth round, and stunned the Cuban in the fifth frame with more devastating punches at the close of the contest.
The most unlikely comeback had indeed been achieved, as the Kazakh’s hand was raised in victory after a well deserved unanimous decision verdict had been reached.
Now Kazakhstan was ahead 2-1 on the night, and 5-3 on aggregate, which meant that Cuba’s two-time World Champion Julio Cesar La Cruz (8-1 in Season V, 13-2 overall) needed to defeat Astana Arlans Light Heavyweight (81 kg) Nurdaulet Zharmanov (0-2 in Season V) in order to keep the Finals dream alive for the Domadores.
Luckily for Cuba, La Cruz is one of the best fighters in this competition, and he impressed from the very first seconds of the bout with outrageous footwork and head movement teamed with dynamic forays forward.
Zharmanov is a very tough boxer, but was bamboozled by the fluidity of his Cuban opponent, whose already vast confidence grew further as the bout progressed.
La Cruz lit up the National Tennis Centre with sublime jabs to both the head and body, which negated any attempts from Zharmanov to sustain meaningful attacks of his own.
The outstanding performance from the Domadore was the first time in the Finals a Cuban fighter had looked completely at ease in the ring, and his performance resulted in an extremely wide unanimous decision victory.
Now the scoring was even on the night with one match to go, which meant if Cuba prevailed, a tie-breaker Sudden Death bout would be required for the third successive season.
Kazakh Super Heavyweight (91+ kg) Ivan Dychko (2-0 in Season V) had different ideas however, and completely composed his bout with Cuba’s Yohandi Toirac who was making his first appearance of the season.
Dychko has won medals at two AIBA World Championships as well as the London 2012 Olympic Games, while the cerebral fighter also enjoyed a considerable height advantage over the youthful Cuban.
Toirac attempted to move inside in order to rough up the giant Kazakh, but despite getting through with a couple of sharp right hooks, he could not sustain the pressure needed to fully impress the judges.
Many fighters would have got carried away with the pressure and excitement of possibly winning the Championship, yet Dychko was unfazed across each round, and kept his distance to sap the energy of Toirac.
Despite the heat in the building reaching a glowing temperature, Dychko was the coolest man in the venue, which allowed him to produce a methodical performance built on stiff jabs and stinging right hands.
The tactics worked to perfection, and he claimed the vital and historic victory without losing a single round on any of the three scorecards.
When Dychko’s name was read out as the victor, the noise levels rose even further, as it confirmed that Astana Arlans Kazakhstan had become WSB Champions for the second time.
Celebrations reverberated not just around the National Tennis Centre, but all throughout Kazakhstan, and they will continue long into the night.