Fazliddin Gaibnazarov turns pro with Top Rank Promotions
As far as Olympic gold medalists go, there are high expectations and big occasions right from the get-go, once they begin their pro careers. That much can be said for many amateur standouts and Olympians in general, such as Michael Conlan’s pro debut in New York last month, an extravaganza in itself put on by Top Rank Promotions.
Then tonight, his potential future rival Shakur Stevenson – who won Olympic silver for the United States in Rio De Janeiro – is also highly-touted and thus opens up Top Rank’s pay-per-view show at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Conlan and Stevenson were some of the most accomplished amateurs to come out of this past Olympic cycle but the man who accomplished something they didn’t – win Olympic gold – is further down the card and relatively out of the spotlight.
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov of Uzbekistan indeed won gold in Rio in the light welterweight division and Top Rank has high hopes for him as a pro. That is evidenced in his first pro fight being set for eight rounds against a capable opponent in Victor Vazquez.
However, Gaibnazarov isn’t like Stevenson and Conlan in that he doesn’t speak English and he’s from a place that doesn’t have a huge ethnic diaspora stateside like the Irish do. Like others before him who gradually learned the language and built their way up to the upper echelon of the rankings, there is a process to bring fighters to the top, no matter where they’re from. With manager Egis Klimas’ track record, it’s safe to say that any fighter with him is worth keeping an eye on and has a good chance to ascend toward the higher levels of the sport.
Over the past decade or so, it’s been shown that fighters from the former Soviet Union can be built into some of boxing’s bigger stars, as long as they have the in-ring performances to warrant greater interest. With his extensive amateur background, it’s expected that the Uzbek southpaw will be moved quickly, so it probably won’t be too long before he’s stepped up from the untelevised undercard and seen by many more eyeballs.
Since winning gold in August, it’s been quite a journey for the soon-to-be 26-year-old. He relocated to Oxnard, California after signing with major player Klimas, also bringing over his trainer Abror Tursunpulatov. It’s been quite the lifestyle change for Gaibnazarov, coming from Uzbekistan to a place with a completely different culture and language.
“I’ve been here for three months. It was hard during the first month but, after that, I adapted,” he told UCNLive.com through Klimas.
Winning a gold medal in Uzbekistan means being a popular figure and thus Gaibnazarov had a ton of friends, old and new after the Olympics. Everyone knew him and he was going around the country by his own account. Now he no longer has that luxury, as just he and Tursunpulatov came stateside.
Among his stablemates in Oxnard at the Boxing Laboratory are former IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight beltholder Sergey Kovalev, WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko, WBO cruiserweight titleholder Oleksandr Usyk and Klimas’ vast stable of beasts from the East. While away from home, Gaibnazarov’s training alongside some of the sport’s best fighters, those with whom he can communicate in Russian.
Gaibnazarov’s Uzbek team in Rio won a total of seven medals in men’s boxing and topped the medal tally among countries, yet he was the only one on the whole team to leave the amateur ranks and go pro. According to him, that was always the plan.
“I always thought about going pro, even when I was young. Maybe some of my other teammates will go pro or maybe they’ll stay for another Olympics,” he stated.
Boxing from an early age, his original love for fighting actually came from wrestling. He also likes the UFC and mixed martial arts in general.
“I love wrestling,” he beamed in his best attempt at English.
In the ever growing international sphere of boxing, Gaibnazarov is the latest to base himself stateside to pursue a dream of accomplishing glory in the pro ranks. Fighters like this make huge sacrifices to leave their homelands and the social and financial security that comes with being highly decorated in amateur and Olympic boxing. The sacrifice is so much so that Gaibnazarov’s two kids are back in Uzbekistan.
When asked what he missed the most about Uzbekistan he replied, “My family and my kids.”
His journey in the pro ranks won’t get off to an easy start, which is a testament to what Top Rank’s matchmakers think of him. In his nine pro fights, opponent Victor Vazquez has twice went on the road to Philadelphia and beat home fighters there, which is no easy accomplishment. The Yonkers, New York, native will be coming to win; make no mistake about it. Vazquez has gone six rounds three times, while Gaibnazarov has one five-round World Series of Boxing bout under his belt, heading into this eight-round affair.
With such an ambitious start to his pro career, Gaibnazarov will likely enter the discussion in the lightweight division with relative swiftness, with the backing of one of boxing’s major promoters in Top Rank. With a huge and highly accomplished amateur career behind him, he really is the first Uzbek Olympic medalist to turn pro since Muhammadqodir Abdullaev after 2000, and now likely won’t be the last, as the wave of fighters coming to America from the former Soviet Union increases every month.
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.