Egidijus Kavaliauskas fires up a ‘Mean Machine’ on Friday night
Outside the ring, there’s a conspicuous presence that exudes from the only Lithuanian from a new wave of Eastern Bloc talent settled in Southern California. Maybe it’s how seamlessly fitted his clothes are or the chiseled frame that fills them but even the uninitiated doesn’t need to know his identity to know for sure that he’s an athlete of some sort. Like most of the Eastern European and Russian fighters who come to the United States, there’s an unassuming quality to him and, once in awhile, he’ll crack a smile to prove that he’s not just some muscular robot. He’s limited with his English but is, at least, trying to learn. Regardless he didn’t come here to be a personality in the sport of boxing and who he really is will remain a mystery, for the time being, because it’s not all that important. Who he is trying to become is much more relevant.
Egidijus Kavaliauskas is his birth name but “Mean Machine” is the catchy alias you’ll be sure to hear more often this Friday night on ESPN (9:00 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT). He’s sure to sport the same unemotional and unobtrusive look as he enters the ring but, once the bell sounds, his fighting style will be the discerning factor of the name they want you to remember.
“I am so glad and proud for the Mean Machine to climb to a new level. Thank you, Top Rank, for giving the Machine an opportunity to make his debut on ESPN,” says Egis Klimas, a fellow Lithuanian, who manages Kavaliauskas.
Making his debut on the network, Kavaliauskas, 18-0 (15), has been awaiting this fight for some time now. He has fought on TV before – a few times on the Spanish language network UniMas – but never on a stage like this. Not to discount the importance of his 2008 and 2012 Olympic bids that highlighted an experienced amateur career, Kavaliauskas is part of this recent immigration of talent facilitated by Klimas at the gym he bought and dubbed the Boxing Laboratory in Oxnard, California. Of course, WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko is the face of this stable but what comes with being overshadowed in the limelight brings opportunity to learn from the Ukrainian phenom’s unmatched work ethic and also pick the brain of he and his father, Anatoly Lomachenko – not only one of the most sought-after trainers but also perhaps the most exclusive. Kavaliauskas has been there all along, since Lomachenko made his professional debut and, after making his own in 2013 under the Top Rank banner, he’s been scattered around various undercards – some big, some small. However progressive steps toward Reno, Nevada, where, at the Grand Sierra Casino, he will have his first step-up fight under those proverbial bright lights.
David Avanesyan, 23-2-1 (11), is thought to be the man who will answer some questions about Kavaliauskas. A 29-year-old Russian fighting out of the U.K., Avanesyan doesn’t have the same amateur experience but bouts against Lamont Peterson and an aged Shane Mosley outdo anything Kavaliauskas has seen in the ring. In his American debut, Avanesyan retired Mosley for good, after beating him rather easily to a wide unanimous decision win. That spelled his first defense of an interim WBA welterweight trinket, leading him to a bigger fight against Peterson, on American television last February. Despite losing to Peterson on the cards, Avanesyan gave the former 140-pound titleholder all he could handle, over the course of 12 rounds. Even though it was in defeat, it’s arguably his most impressive performance to date. It took Avanesyan 10 months to get back into the ring but after outpointing in a soft touch over eight rounds, last December, the fiery boxer-puncher is expected to be a game test for Kavaliauskas and currently sits at No. 5 in the WBA’s welterweight rankings.
“I don’t remember much about Avanesyan, when we were in the amateurs, but he will, for sure, be my toughest opponent in the ring,” said Kavaliauskas in a Top Rank press release. “I am very excited to show the best of me in this fight. Thank you, Top Rank and ESPN, for giving me this opportunity – one step closer to getting a world title belt.”
In the amateurs, Kavaliauskas has seen plenty of fighters from all over the world but it would be remiss to not mention that the results have come up short. In both Olympic appearances, he never made it to the second round and a bronze medal in the 2012 World Amateur Games highlights his amateur career. Shortcomings or not, those years will forever be a time of great experience, rather than great accomplishment, especially considering how vastly different the pro game is. That’s where Kavaliauskas’ fighting style is thought to be better suited and, so far, there are plenty of examples as evidence.
After going all four rounds of his professional debut, Kavaliauskas went on a tear from 2013 through 2015, stopping all 10 of his foes and warranting some much much-needed rounds. In the first fight in which this writer saw Kavaliauskas compete ringside, in November 2015, Jake Giuriceo was thought to give Kavaliauskas rounds and he was blasted out of there with a right hand in under a minute. The quick outing gave Kavaliauskas an opportunity to round out the year, in the following month, and Pablo Munguia didn’t make it to the third. In Kavaliauskas’ first bout of 2016, a competent, slick boxer in Prenice Brewer was tabbed to give him a tough target and, after being dropped in the second, only to never escape the round, it was a shocking beatdown. Being ringside for that one as well, I felt it was certainly Kavaliauskas’ best performance, at that time. After asking Brewer about his opponent, the Cleveland, Ohio, native was left simply amazed at the power and, looking at his resume since, hasn’t quite been the same.
In April of 2016, in Studio City, California, Kavaliauskas was finally given rounds by German tough guy Deniz Ilbay but, in winning every single round on the judges’ scorecards, there still wasn’t much pushback. If you want to find adversity in the early stages of Kavaliauskas’ career, you must go to October 2016, where, back at the Sportsman’s Lodge, in Studio City, he went eight rounds with Cameron Krael and walked away with a close unanimous decision win (77-75 across the board). Krael, who hasn’t lost since that night, gave Kavaliauskas all sorts of issues with hand speed on the inside, in the latter half of the eight-rounder. You won’t find a more dire situation in Kavaliauskas’ young career than in the seventh round with Krael, when he was legitimately stunned by a right and stricken with a leaking cut from the same punch. That night warranted the longest break for Kavaliauskas between fights but, since then, he has knocked out all three men put in front of him in 2017, leading into this Friday night.
All the work Kavaliauskas has done thus far has earned him a No. 9 welterweight ranking in the WBA and a No. 4 ranking in the eyes of the WBO – a sanctioning body that seems to always find the Top Rank fighters before any other. Jeff Horn, the current WBO titleholder, will be fighting Terence Crawford in April (both of whom are also signed by Top Rank) and, considering most of the top welterweight opponents are on the other side of the political divide within the sport, having Kavaliauskas be that guy would be huge on their side of the street. Beating Avanesyan is the overall goal, of course, but doing it impressively is of great importance. After all, having a nickname like Mean Machine brings on a certain expectation to the unsuspecting viewer and there will be plenty of those on Friday night.
In the main event of the Top Rank card on ESPN, Ray Beltran and Paulus Moses will vie for the vacant WBO lightweight title. Kavaliauskas-Avanesyan is the co-feature and American prospect Shakur Stevenson will open the televised show.