WHEN Georgian middleweight Avtandil Khurtsidze arrived in the UK in 2017, he became an instant cult icon. “I’m crazy man,” he said, with his wild grin cracking a pumice-like complexion. “I’m crazy black man. I’m Brooklyn man. I’m Russian man. I’m Ukrainian man. I’m Georgian man. I’m a very beautiful man, man.”
But just a month before his scheduled bout with then-WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders, Khurtsidze was arrested by the FBI under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act and, after being found guilty in June 2018, faced up to 40 years in prison before a 10-year sentence was enforced. But how did Georgia’s greatest boxer become the chief enforcer to Razhden Shulaia, one of post-Soviet Russia’s most powerful crime lords and a key member in the most prolific criminal syndicate in the US, accused of everything from contract killings and kidnappings to the snatching of cigarettes and chocolate?
SPRAWLED across the banks below the Northern Imeriti Foothills, Avtandil Khurtsidze grew up in Georgia’s third largest city, Kutaisi. Fronted by villas, verandas and an array of pastel-tinted roofs, tucked between the Tuscan imitations lie deteriorating Soviet housing blocks and dilapidated factories. The heartland of empires throughout history, the city has been consistently ransacked and, aside from the last remaining Soviet statues, it’s the palatial graveyards, embellished with life-size effigies, which most readily illustrate its history.