Eastern Promise: Sergiy Derevyanchenko
Eastern European fighters are the hot boxing commodity of the moment. While the upside is represented in current stars Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev or Vasyl Lomachenko, obviously there is the gamble of purchasing a knockoff product that is knocked out before a promoter can cash in. Lou DiBella’s lottery ticket in this Russian Roulette is highly-touted Ukrainian middleweight Sergiy Derevyanchenko, whom he unveils for an eager boxing public on “ShoBox” (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast), tonight. Because of Derevyanchenko’s vast amateur background and success, he is being moved rapidly, taking on veteran former world title challenger Elvin Ayala in only his sixth professional outing. A victory spotlights Derevyanchenko for high-profile bouts in a top-heavy middleweight division seeking strong challengers to WBA titleholder Gennady Golovkin or as a viable opponent for other Al Haymon 160-pound entities such as Daniel Jacobs and former WBO beltholder Peter Quillin.
As an elite amateur, Derevyanchenko traveled the world, compiling an astonishing 390-20 record, defeating notables such as WBO junior middleweight champion Zaurbek Baysangurov, touted middleweight title challenger Matt Korobov and Olympic gold medalist Emilio Correa Jr. Also bested current rising star and countryman/stablemate Ievgen Khytrov, who co-headlines the ShoBox card. Derevyanchenko won two European championships before capping his unpaid career by participating in the 2008 Olympics. Signed with Lou DiBella last year; fighting exclusively in America, he has posted a perfect 5-0 record with four stoppages. DiBella is high on his star pupil, “Sergiy is one of the most decorated amateurs in the world and absolutely one of the best middleweight prospects in all of boxing. He has Golovkin ability. We feel that, in one year’s time, he will be ready to compete at the highest levels in boxing. Anything less than a world championship would be a disappointment.”
Those lofty ambitions extend to Derevyanchenko, who possesses a personality agreeable to the high demands and projections others have put on him. “It has always been my dream to be a world champion and fight the best fighters in the world. I am ready to do whatever it takes, taking one step at a time, putting in hard work to achieve my ultimate goal.” Like many boxers, and immigrants in particular (he and his wife plus a 5-year-old son live in New York City now), the theme of high effort, labor and appreciation are often voiced by Derevyanchenko. “I feel at home. New York is my second home. With hard work and a great team behind me, I will become a world champion in the middleweight division. There is no doubt in my mind.”
Derevyanchenko is not perfect though; scaling in a bit smallish at 5-foot-8 with a 69-inch reach, he is already 29-years-old. All of these are significant liabilities in a physically taxing division. He also suffered a points loss in the Word Series of Boxing, a paid, semi-pro boxing league with no headgear, to rising Argentine prospect Brian Castano. Guiding Derevyanchenko are veteran trainers Andre Rozier and Gary Stark Sr. (initially Derevyanchenko was trained by his father, who was a boxer, and he remained with one amateur coach until turning pro), who have witnessed Derevyanchenko do special things in training sessions. Rozier says, “Sergey is a fantastic technician that does everything great. He is very sharp, very fast and accurate with his hands, has great defense and creates opportunities for himself. He knows how to fight but there are things that we have to bend and sharpen up a bit. He is willing to accept that and, as a trainer, you just can’t ask for more than that.”
The co-promoter of Derevyanchenko, Max Alperovich of Fight Promotions, explained to THE RING magazine’s Anson Wainwright that while the move to professional boxing may look easy, it was not all smooth sailing. It took Derevyanchenko a while to find his comfort zone, “His nickname is ‘The Technician.’ He likes to study his opponents and probably, the first two fights when he started in the pro ranks, it took a little bit for him to get comfortable. From that point on, everything started increasing in terms of his performance.” Aiding that development has been regular sparring with middleweight titleholder Daniel Jacobs and for title challenger Curtis Stevens and fellow blue-chip prospect Ievgen Khytrov.
At the press conference to announce the Showtime event, Derevyanchenko said he was already fighting fit, well prepared mentally and starting the focus on a specific opponent. “I have been preparing for this fight for over a month now and still have another five weeks of camp left; everything is going according to plan.” The ShoBox mission statement of tough matchmaking and the hardcore group of boxing fans who appreciate that element inspire Derevyanchenko. “I can’t wait to showcase my skills. I’m truly thankful. Ayala is an experienced and proven contender and, without a doubt, my toughest opponent to date. That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that I will come out victorious from this battle.”
Although Derevyanchenko sports an impressive kayo ratio and some spectacular stoppages, he is more scientist than destroyer when it comes to his boxing style. “I’m a technician; my ring generalship, I’m a master boxer. I always feel I have the upper hand on that. I can adjust my boxing and fight short-range, mid-range, long-range, wherever I need to be.” As importantly, Derevyanchenko’s feet employ sublime movement as well as evaluation of distance on the defensive side, which is not appreciated by the mainstream in this offense-first era of boxing. An understandably biased and hype-mode Lou DiBella sees it similarly, “He has tremendous power in both hands and is a gifted boxer as well. He is the total package. He is a genius inside the ring.”
The man tasked with the job to put a stop to the Derevyanchenko juggernaut is desperate minded 34-year-old Elvin Ayala. The veteran has fashioned his anxiety into a winning streak which saw him upset Mayweather Promotions prospect Ronald Gavril in his last fight and win eight of his last nine bouts. “You will see that hunger and desire when I step into the ring on Aug. 7. The fight life is the life I chose. It’s why I was born into a broken home. It’s why I’ve been broke since I was born because the only place you can go from the bottom is either six feet deeper or up.” As you can see in Ayala’s statement, he is not likely to be intimidated, given his current mindset, and he can draw confidence from having faced and taken rounds from the likes of Arthur Abraham, Sergio Mora and David Lemieux.
In breaking down the fight down on paper, two statistics stood out that favor the underdog. Derevyanchenko has only had five professional outings compared with Ayala’s 35 and Derevyanchenko never needed to expand his energies beyond four rounds while Ayala has been eight rounds or more 12 times. However, Derevyanchenko has nearly every advantage once on the canvas, a comfortable boxer in the pocket, who takes the measure of his opponent before lashing out with quick but not lighting-fast punches that stun upon impact. Ayala is the type of quality step-up competition which Rau’shee Warren did not experience before meeting titleholder Juan Carlos Payano last week, which, with a high probability, led to his losing a tightly-contested and ugly affair.
Team Derevyanchenko is putting its pupil on a fast track to world title opportunities but do not envision a title fight misstep such as that which befell Warren. This is the reason a robust but assailable gatekeeper like Ayala has been lined up for a nationally-televised bout. They want to evaluate how Derevyanchenko cuts the ring off and fires the crisp combinations to the head and body. He is coming against a veteran who is not afraid to fire back. DiBella is sure his charge will emerge better, smarter and, as importantly, more recognizable. “In a very short time, all boxing fans will know who Sergey Derevyanchenko is.”