Avni Yildirim: ‘I am Avni Yildirim and I am here to destroy’
The most interesting fight of the weekend takes place in Europe and has no American television exposure. The “World Boxing Super Series” super middleweight tournament pits Turkish slugger Avni Yildirim, 16-0 (10), against slick Chris Eubank Jr. 25-1 (19), the son of English boxing iconoclast Chris Eubank. Yildirim will enter the ring with a chip on his shoulder, against the father and son, because the WBSS allows seeded boxers to choose their opponents. Eubank Sr. chose Yildirim, in the obvious belief that Yildirim is the weakest possible foe. Ahmet Öner, Yildirim’s manager and coach, is as colorful as Eubank Sr. and has absolute belief in his protege, “Our relationship is like a colonel and a soldier. Sometimes I call him ‘John Rambo’ and I am ‘Colonel Trautman.’ He is my Rambo; I made him and I am very happy with what I’ve made.”
Öner’s Turkish terror has a solid amateur background (112-20 record), securing a place in the world championships at light heavyweight, but faltered at the final stages of most competitions. As with many quality pros, Yildirim had an aggressive style that was much more suited to the pro game. If you believe Yildirim’s record is a product of home cooking (all but three of his foes had winning records), think again. Yildirim has fought in Turkey, Germany, America, Italy and, most recently, Mexico, where he knocked down and dominated Marco Antonio Periban. He appeared on my radar in his sixth professional fight, when Yildirim easily beat a faded but still useful version of former light heavyweight world champion Glen Johnson in Miami, Florida.
When Yildirim was asked to described his style, he gave a self-reflective and accurate response: “My left uppercut is probably my best punch but my straight right has also improved a lot. My biggest quality in the ring is that I always move forward; I have no fear and there is no stepping back. I am applying a lot of pressure and also fight my opponents mentally because I don’t back off. It’s very exhausting to fight somebody who keeps coming at you, regardless of what you are throwing at him.” He sharpened many of those aggressive tools as a preferred sparring partner for champions like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, James DeGale and Arthur Abraham.
The 26-year-old Yildirim says he watched and admired Chris Eubank Sr. as boxer but that he made a big mistake in choosing him as an opponent, “Chris Eubank, I respect. Before, he was a good fighter. His son, I think, is not a good boxer. I’m really, really ready for a great fight. It is my time. This is Champions League; when the tournament finishes, I am a hero. I am here to make a dream come true and I do not see anyone take that dream away from me. I am not an Instagram or Facebook fighter like Eubank Jr. I am Avni Yildirim and I am here to destroy.”
The passionate Yildirim can get carried away with his warrior rhetoric at times but it never seems insincere or staged to draw viewers. Yildirim is a lot like the way he fights inside the ring, straightforward and uncompromising. “This tournament is a chance for me to fight the best in the world. It is an honor for me to compete against these guys, all giants in the super middleweight division. I respect Chris Eubank Jr. and his champion status. If I did not have the skills to win, I would not be a part of the World Boxing Super Series. I believe I have what it takes to win. I am looking forward to entertaining the crowd.”
Yildirim also appreciates that the fight is taking place in Germany, which he says reflects the belief his management team has in him. “I am very happy that the fight is in Stuttgart because, for me, it is like a second Turkey. I am fully focused on this. Chris should be too.” Then, Yildirim scoffed at Eubank Jr. training at the Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas, Nevada. “What is Chris going to learn there, apart from hide-and-seek? I like (Floyd) Mayweather (Jr.). He is a special guy but Eubank is not Mayweather. Seriously, what is he going to learn from a welterweight, to run away for 12 rounds? The fans want a fight; I want a fight. If he is man enough, me versus Chris will be a good fight.”
At the final press conference, Ahmet Öner flew into a profanity-laced outburst, directed at a snickering Eubank team member, off camera, which did nothing to enhance his reputation, or that of boxing. Though not averse to staging drama to hype a fight, it looked like Öner was in a legitimate rage. Yildirim remained stoic, seemingly unfazed or agitated by the chaotic scene. Yildirim said of Öner, “He is a strong person, with a great and goal-oriented personality. I look up to him. He knows exactly how I can beat anyone and gives me strategic advice, not only in the ring but outside of it as well. Whether in a fight, training, or nutrition, Ahmet always has the right answer ready for me.”
A former professional fighter himself, Öner has a fighter’s view of the opposition instead of that of a lead promoter, “I do not fear Eubank Jr. He has nothing to stop Avni. Eubank is a kid, a spoiled kid, who thinks he is a brave tough guy. He is not. His father was an actor and a fighter with good power punches. Eubank Jr. has good movement but he has no power. Eubank Jr. is a cheap version of Floyd Mayweather. He thinks he is Mayweather but he is not.”
However, when it comes to his fighter, Öner has no problem switching back into promoter mode. Öner thinks he has created the perfect stalking machine, “Avni never gives up. The word ‘brave’ describes Avni. He is ‘Braveheart’; he is like Rambo. Many of the other fighters in the tournament, they care for the money; that is not Avni. Avni’s dream is to become a world-recognized fighter. He wants to be a hero. He loves when people pay attention to him. Boxing is a tool to achieve this. He does not care for the money; he cares for the glory.”
Chris Eubank Jr. is coming off a career-best performance, dominating shop-worn former world champion Arthur Abraham only two-and-a-half months ago. The effusive father thinks Yildirim is the type of opponent who will bring out the best in his son, “(Yildirim) has been tipped as a dark horse. Of course he is a dark horse but my son is a stallion. Dark horses don’t compete with stallions.” The son is equally confident and is not worried traveling out of the United Kingdom (although he and his team switched hotels for “security reasons”) for the second time in his career. “I don’t mind about fighting in Germany. I honestly don’t mind where I fight. I could be fighting in a phone box. It really doesn’t matter to me, as long as I get the win. That’s all I care about.”
Chris Eubank Jr., who traveled to America for higher quality sparring at Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s gym, sees himself as the clear favorite. “Yildirim’s chin hasn’t been tested. I will test it to the absolute limit and, if it has even the slightest bit of weakness, he won’t last six rounds.” A clearly focused Eubank expanded on that at the final press conference, “This is the first fight for me in this tournament and I am here to make a statement. I am the man and I am the man to beat. There will be no mercy for Yildirim. I am here to win. I am not here to make friends. I am not here to look pretty and be a celebrity. I am here in this tournament to become the champion.”
In the final analysis, Chris Eubank Sr. said he chose Yildirim for two reasons: First, because he believes the division and pairing of boxing attributes favors his son. Second, Eubank Sr. views Yildirim as fighter who can bring out the best in his son, given the action style he presents, “I am very much looking forward to this fight. I think it is a great match-up. Styles make fights and the reason I picked this man at the draft gala, in Monaco, is that he is a fighter. He comes forward. He is very active. He is very open. He takes risks – which he will pay for in this fight. I can’t wait!”
The victor moves on to face the winner of the WBA super middleweight title fight, on October 14, between George Groves and Jamie Cox. Chief boxing officer of the WBSS Kalle Sauerland said this match-up is probably the most exciting of the four quarterfinal bouts, “In his last fight, Yildirim beat a Mexican in Mexico. That says a lot about Yildirim. In Chris’ last fight, he made a master class performance at Wembley against Arthur Abraham. So, it is two absolute fighting men, absolute talents, that belong in the World Boxing Super Series. We are looking forward to a tremendous fight!”