ONE of the great ironies in boxing is how fighters can so often look entirely unassuming when they’re away from their brutal trade. Knockout artists transform to resemble benevolent geography teachers, bloodied warriors morph into angelic choirboys. There are exceptions, of course, and one such example is Russian heavyweight, Arslanbek Makhmudov, a man so terrifying if you found him in bed with your wife you’d tuck him in and ask him how many sugars he takes in his tea.
“All the time, I’m like a hungry lion going hunting!” he declares to Boxing News when discussing this weekend’s fight with Carlos Takam (Friday, September 16). “Now it’s my time. These next three, four, five years. It’s my time. I have to destroy everyone.”
The 260-pound giant credits the ancient region of Circassia as the place which fed his passion for fighting. Situated along the north-east shore of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe, its inhabitants form part of the rich and diverse tapestry of ethnic groups which make up today’s modern Russia. Growing up there left an indelible mark on Makhmudov, with word-of-mouth tales of bravery and heroism on the battlefield against the Russian Empire only strengthening his desire to make his people proud.
“Circass is a special place. The people expect sport, the people expect power. I was born in this small city [Mozdok], around 50,000 people. All the time you have to show people you are strong, if it’s in the street or at school. You have to fight and show people you are strong and you can beat everybody. Look at the history. All the time Circass was like a warrior place. A place of war. And over time this place had movement [alluding to the genocide and subsequent diaspora of Circassians in 1862-64]. War and movement. That’s why I think the people respect strong people. Powerful people. That’s why people love sportsmen.”
Introduced to boxing by his uncle at nine years old, Makhmudov quickly found pleasure in channelling his aggression into the noble art. A successful amateur career was to follow, yet within him a thirst for pounding opponents into submission remained from his wild days of teenage brawls, a craving he feels is responsible for his 100 per cent KO ratio (14-0) as a professional.
“I remember when I was a kid and I fight in the street. I remember even if I fight with a big guy I had in my mind, ‘If I touch him, hit him very good, very hard, he will never fight me again!’ This was the mind I had even when I was a kid.”
Guiding Makhmudov through his professional journey is Montreal’s highly respected trainer, Marc Ramsay. Over the years the likes of Jean Pascal, Eleider Álvarez, and Artur Beterbiev have all thrived under Ramsay’s tutelage, and with Makhmudov showing so much promise Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions recently announced a multi-year co-promotional deal for the Russian. Such backing has delighted Makhmudov, strengthening his gratitude for the lengths Ramsay has gone to in trying to understand what makes him tick.
“Marc Ramsay really knows his job. He has good experience with many champions. For me it’s easy to create a good relationship because he already worked with Artur Beterbiev. We almost have the same culture. We’re from almost the same place. Marc is very smart. He reads about our culture. He knows about our culture from where we are and what we do. He understands we are special guys. He understands that and helps us.”
The link between Makhmudov and Beterbiev is indeed a significant one. The light-heavyweight champion was fundamental in introducing Makhmudov to his training team in Canada and has continued to offer counsel on all aspects of professional boxing, from the bewildering shenanigans at play within the sanctioning bodies to the mental preparation that’s crucial for anyone hoping to compete at the highest level.
“Artur helped me in my career. He explained to me all this political stuff in professional boxing, how it’s working. He helped me a lot. He gave me a lot of advice about training and everything. I appreciate that and always say thank you for him,” he says. “My preparations are very important because boxing is not just punching. You have to be smart, you have to have a high IQ. That’s why you have to always analyse yourself, analyse your opponent. I have to remain motivated all the time. My motivations are to be champion of the world, that’s my important goal.”
Standing in the way of this target is Carlos Takam, an experienced contender who represents a step up in class for the man known back home as “The Lion.” Makhmudov is eager to test himself against the division’s very best as quickly as possible, but with 10 of his 14 KO victories coming in the first round (five inside 40 seconds) both he and Ramsay are acutely aware of the need for challenging rounds. The hope is that Takam can provide just that, but when the man you’re facing wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Game Of Thrones finding opposition who aren’t cowed into submission before the opening bell has rung has proven difficult.
“Carlos Takam is a very good opponent at this time. It’s a good opportunity for me to show I’m ready a tough opponent. I’m ready for any opponent, honestly. I’m ready for a bigger opponent, for top guys, champion guys. I’m ready for that. But I have just 14 fights, I think I need more experience. Good guys like Carlos Takam. That’s why it’s the perfect fight for me.”