African boxing powerhouse Golden Gloves has signed promotional deals with three exciting young international prospects – Gary Sweeney of Ireland, Roman Zhailauov of Kazakhstan and Otabek Ibragimov of Uzbekistan.
Rodney Berman, who recently propelled the UK’s Martin Murray to a championship shot against Golovkin, explained the rationale behind his company’s move beyond Africa. “The underlying reason is the massive rise in popularity in boxing in Europe and Eastern Europe, particularly as we are so far off the beaten track in Africa.”
Zhailauov has fought twice in South Africa already as part of the deal, with Sweeney making his professional debut in Johannesburg in September. Ibragimov will debut as a Golden Gloves fighter in Ukraine – he already has two fights scheduled – to be followed by his unveiling at a tournament in South Africa in December.
A veteran of around 300 amateur bouts, Sweeney is a seven-time Irish champion who captured silver at the European Championships and has fought all over the continent in establishing himself as one of the top amateur cruiserweights in Europe.
Before leaving for fight camp in Johannesburg in late August, he will resume training in Marbella, Spain under the good hand of world-rated Matthew Macklin, who will ensure he gets top-class sparring and accommodation.
Sweeney will then team up with leading trainer Colin Nathan, who looks after WBA and IBO minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler, for his September 19 debut.
“I’ve always liked the pro game so I’ve decided to give it a shot,” said the 21-year-old whose brother Michael is a veteran pro.
Said Michael: “We were thrilled to go with Golden Gloves, who have an excellent reputation and are well-established. I believe Gary will go far. Why not box and get paid for it?”
Sweeney worked out with Nathan during a stopover in South Africa last month and Nathan was very impressed. “His fundamentals are strong, his instincts are good and he’s a strong puncher.
He’s going to be a very exciting addition to the cruiserweight scene and I look forward to working with him.”
Sweeney has fight dates pencilled in for September 19, December 2 and February 2016.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has pushed out some world class boxers in recent years, chiefly world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, Beibut Shumenov and Zhanat Zhakiyanov. Thanks to Golden Gloves, we may soon add another name to this illustrious list in the form of junior-welterweight Zhailauov.
Having recently celebrated his 21st birthday while preparing for a bout in South Africa, he is 15-0 with nine stoppages.
Rodney Berman has already christened him “Baby GGG” on account of his baby-faced looks and punching power, which was evident with a one-round blowout of Luyanda Jako last month.
“He’s got a good right hand and is very strong with quick feet,” said former world title challenger Harold Volbrecht, who trains him for his South African fights. “I took him on the pads and he picked things up quickly. Despite the language barrier, he understood perfectly what to do. He’s a natural.”
Manager Alex Kuznetsov, who hails from Ukraine, explained that Zhailauov has boxed since the age of 10, engaging in 150 amateur fights and winning a junior national title before turning pro in 2012.
He comes from a family of boxers. His father Hayrat boxed, as did his uncle Yersin, who won the WBO Inter-Continental super-bantamweight title 11 years ago.
Before his last fight, he set up camp in Kiev in the Ukraine and secured the sparring services of former WBA welterweight champ Vyacheslav Senchenko, who famously ended the career of Ricky Hatton.
Zhailauov is the national welterweight champion and also the WBC Asian champion. There are no big names on his record, but, like Golovkin himself, he is being slowly built with a view to making an assault on the world rankings in the medium-term.
Ibragimov is a 24-year-old southpaw who plans to campaign at super-middleweight.
He had 180 amateur fights, highlighted by winning the national title. He also participated at the World University Boxing Championships and was crowned Asia youth champion.
Asked about his three acquisitions, Berman said: “We know all about the Fighting Irish, so I’m very excited. We’re doing a three-fight deal with an irrevocable option to renew. I’m delighted Gary will be teaming up with Macklin, an old pro who knows the ropes and will be a superb influence on the youngster.
“If Roman comes through his September bout, we’re aiming to secure him a WBC Youth title shot in Monte Carlo in November. Ibragimov will work on the same basis as Roman. He will train in his home country and then head to South Africa a few weeks before his fights. We’ve also signed a three-fight deal with an irrevocable option to renew.”