IF Saul Canelo Alvarez is building a chess set of the British men he has beaten for display somewhere in his latest mansion, then Remigijus Ziausys could build an army of gnomes at his home in Lithuania.
Alvarez has beaten seven British boxers, the most wins by a good fighter against good British opposition. Jacob Matlala and Arthur Abraham are also contenders with fights against six good British boxers; Baby Jake has actually had eight fights, including one in South Africa.
However, Ziausys has lost 67 times in visits to Britain, which is probably a record for a foreign boxer’s exploits in our land of fighting nomads. He has never won a fight in a British ring, but Ziausys and his granite chin deserve a bit of love for accepting an endless list of harsh fights. He must surely have diamond-card lounge access as a frequent flyer from Palanga International airport.
According to one or two people from inside the secret world of matchmaking, Ziausys is not finished yet with losing to British boxers. The big lad from Klaipeda in Lithuania has lost 107 times in 134 fights and he is the untouchable King of the serial losers from the Eastern Bloc. And that, by the way, is a serious title. The matchmakers that I spoke to all had a fondness for their personal favourite from the Bloc.
Ziausys has some serious competition and some high-standards of durability to maintain.
The pioneer from the Bloc was the incomparable Rakhim Mingaleyev from the Ukraine, who first fought in Britain in 1996. He set the agenda as a tough guy, pushing good fighters and he had that exotic feel because in 1996 there were very few fighters from the Bloc fighting in Britain. A boxer from Kiev in 1996 was impressive; the Ukrainian amateurs were strong at the time and in the summer of 1995, Wladimir Klitschko won three times to take the super-heavyweight title at the Liverpool Festival of boxing. They were serious fighters, and then came Mingaleyev and we had to start changing our thinking.
And Rakhim also had Philip The Regal Fondue as his agent, trainer, manager and fixer. Fondue was from Belgium, a dentist in one life, an internationally renowned big-game hunter in another, a moustached fixture at ringside and a crucial part of British boxing’s fabric for a long, long time. Fondue provided a seemingly endless list of bodies and Rakhim was his prize.
In 1998, Mingaleyev had back-to-back fights with Paul Ingle and Scott Harrison and in 2004 he fought Carl Greaves in Gibraltar. In total, Mingaleyev fought 41 times in British rings and lost every single time. He was a professional for 20 years, the veteran’s veteran, a man with cameos all over the world, but a soft spot for getting busted-up in a British ring.
Mingaleyev and Ziausys share a passion for taking fights they have absolutely no chance of ever winning. There are others, men like Konstantin Alexandrov from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic’s Jiri Svacina and Croatia’s Antonio Horavatic. All are hard men from the old Bloc. They are the men scuffling about at the back of the venue, their kit bags old and their boots even older. There are a lot of modern Fondues on the edges, ready to tell them what time the car will pick them up at the Premier Inn in the morning for the journey to Luton airport and the early flight to Riga or Sofia or Kiev. And, let’s be brutally honest, some of the imports from the Eastern Bloc have been clueless, abysmal, ringers, vulnerable men in the wrong game, but desperate for cash. They have been eliminated from our rings.
Bulgaria’s Stefan Slavchev has grappled and tangled his way through 30 fights in British rings. He was in one of the ugliest fights I have ever seen from ringside when he was disqualified against Paddy Barnes in 2016. Still, 30 fights on the road in Britain is impressive and he has completed one of boxing’s glorious triple triumphs: The boy from Sofia has fought at the Royal Albert Hall, the York Hall and Wembley, and he managed that sequence in three successive fights in Britain.
Back in 2011 at the now destroyed Coronet at the Elephant and Castle, Ziausys arrived for his four-rounder against Dillian Whyte. It was Whyte’s second fight and it went the full four rounds; Ziausys returned to Lithuania with something like 1,500 quid in his pocket. And seven weeks later he was back to go the full six with Del Boy Chisora; with Ziausys you paid for the rounds and you got them. He also squeezed in a six-rounder with Sam Sexton between the Whyte and Chisora fights and a loss in France and a win in his hometown.
And then last Saturday, Ellis Hopkins beat Bulgaria’s Borislava Goranova, a stone-faced pioneer if ever there was one. Hopkins is 20, was having her first fight: Goranova is not 20 and was certainly not having her first fight. Goranova’s stats are amazing: She has won 11, lost 64, turned professional in 2000 before Hopkins was born. She has fought 22 times in British rings, including a six-round loss to Jane Couch in Blackpool in 2002. Goranova is 42 now, but with so many more new female professionals chasing the dream in Britain, she has a good few years and fights left. “She is holding all the time,” complained Hopkins to her corner – yep, and she will do the same every time. Mingaleyev would be proud.
Borislava was stopped by Savannah Marshal and lost to Terri Harper and that means she has fulfilled another duty of the travelling Bloc fighter by moving all over the weights. She is a throwback, a veteran now of 80 fights. A female centurion? Wow, that’s mad.
So, Canelo has the names, the prizes, the riches, the fancy pajamas, but the serial-losers from the Eastern Bloc hold the records. They fight with nobody calling their name, they fight for the short, losing end of a small purse in converted cinemas and then kip down two to a room in a budget hotel. They are not pretty to watch, but they deserve our respect.