JOE JOYCE has traded an unknown Ghanaian heavyweight with a decent-looking record for a 36-year-old Croatian defeated 13 times in a 43-fight career.
It’s hard to know which of the two would be tougher for Joyce, who makes his fifth pro start this Friday (June 15) at York Hall, Bethnal Green, but let’s try and figure it out.
Richard Lartey, the 12-1 Ghanaian, is six-foot-five and has stopped nine of his beaten foes inside the distance but has fought just once outside his homeland (and that fight, one in Switzerland, stands as his only loss). His replacement, Ivica Bacurin, meanwhile, is limited and lacking danger, but is probably the more dependable and durable of the two.
Unlike Lartey, Bacurin, 29-13-1 (18), has fought all over the world and is known to British fight fans for going rounds with Tony Bellew (ten) and Dillian Whyte (six). He also fought Michael Wallisch for the WBO heavyweight title in 2016, losing over 12, and has been stopped only five times in a 10-year pro career.
He’s smaller than Lartey, by three inches, and does what it says on the tin – travel, try to survive, lose – but that, for Joyce, is okay. At this young stage in his career, he simply needs rounds and Bacurin, though a perennial runner-up, should be able to supply some of those.
It’s unlikely they’ll become household names – owing to the difficulty in saying their names more than anything else – but MTK Global have today announced the acquisitions of several top-quality prospects from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The names, easier to write than vocalise, are: Shakhobidin Zoirov and Hurshid Tojibaev of Uzbekistan, as well as Sultan Zaurbek and Azhbenov Nurtas of Kazakhstan.
Looking beyond the names, it’s clear the four have serious amateur pedigree. Flyweight Zoirov, for instance, has a 2016 Olympic gold, while Tojibaev has a victory over Team GB’s Joe Cordina, Zaurbek got the better of Olympic champion Robson Conceicao, and Nurtas defeated Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, another Olympic champion.
MTK Global CEO Sandra Vaughan said: “This is a real breakthrough for MTK Global. Central Asia is arguably the most productive conveyor belt of top-class boxers and this is just the beginning of our involvement there.
“The amateur achievements of these four young fighters are well-documented but we believe they will excel even further as professionals and we look forward to guiding their careers.
“Signing our first Olympic champion in Shakhobidin Zoirov is a huge moment. There really is no limit on how far we can progress – just about the only certainty is that he won’t be the last Olympic champion we sign.”
If history tells us anything it’s that boxers originating from a ‘stan’ country tend to know how to fight, both as amateurs and professionals. What’s more, Gennady Golovkin, the superstar known as GGG, is living proof that the language barrier, and an unconventional first and surname, isn’t enough to stop a great amateur becoming a great and famous pro.