Mike Altamura signs Olympic gold medalist Daniyar Yeleussinov
Daniyar Yeleussinov was one of the stars of boxing at the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, last August, and now he’s set to enter a new chapter of his career in the professional ranks.
The 25-year-old signed with upstart MJA Entertainment, led by boxing industry veteran Mike Altamura of Australia. To some, it may seem odd, on the surface, that such a high-level fighter turning pro would elect to sign with a new promotion out of Australia but there are big plans in store for the Kazakh southpaw. One aspect of the plan is to promote and build in China, with Yeleussinov being a centerpiece.
China has huge potential for growth in the boxing world and Altamura is spearheading an effort to bring the sport there to the next level.
“There have been elite fights in China but there hasn’t been elite promotion that engages fans. We want world-class talent and obviously Chinese talent to develop, both of which will get us on the radar really quick,” Altamura told UCNLive.
Yeleussinov is one of those world-class talents. Aside from his Olympic gold medal win at welterweight, he went 246-14 as an amateur with a gold medal at the World Championships in 2013, a silver in the same tournament in 2015, an Olympic stint in 2012 and various other accolades. He’s a big star in Kazakhstan, has done commercials and modeling and the idea is he’ll be able to transition that charisma into other markets, starting with China and then branching out from there.
The Chinese are no strangers to seeing foreign athletes compete in their country. Just look at basketball or soccer right now, in which clubs are throwing around eight and nine-figure deals to players like Carlos Tevez. Stephon Marbury became a star there when he was well past his prime. Combat sports, in general, are growing rapidly and there are numerous MMA and kickboxing shows every weekend there with some of the best foreign talent on display. Boxing could be poised for a similar wave of foreign fighters, which has already began on lower levels. As the sport develops, more and more Chinese will be competing alongside them.
Back to Yeleussinov: It’s quite rare that Olympic medalists – or even Olympians in general – from Kazakhstan turn pro. The notable ones have been Vassiliy Jirov, Gennady Golovkin and Beibut Shumenov.
“Most don’t turn pro because they’re looked after by the national boxing federation and are guaranteed work in the system when they’re done fighting, whether it be coaching, training or in the office. It’s a big risk to turn pro,” Altamura elaborated.
In Kazakhstan now, boxers from the national team must ask permission before turning pro. Yeleussinov received that permission and Altamura noted it’s very important for the promotional and management sides to establish a good relationship with the federation.
“It’s necessary to build up a good reputation with the federation. A lot of people just want to come in and take the athletes without replenishing the system.”
With the wave of fighters from former Soviet countries heading to the pro game lately, more Kazakhs are turning pro and those with good amateur pedigrees like Meirim Nursultanov, Madiyar Ashkeyev and Askhat Ualikhanov are among them. But in large part, the boxing talent in Kazakhstan has been untapped.
The country has a long history of being a powerhouse in the amateurs. At welterweight, Kazakhstan has won the gold medal at the last four Olympic Games. Altamura said all four winners could’ve been world champions. Yeleussinov is the most recent.
As for how he’ll be moved, it looks like he’ll be on a faster track, like many fighters in recent years with highly accomplished amateur backgrounds. His promoter is confident Yeleussinov can cope well with the switch to the pro game.
“In his first fight, it’ll be his choice whether to fight six or eight rounds. It’ll be against a solid opponent, not the usual .500 record type. We’ll assess from there. If we see something that needs to be worked on, we’ll make adjustments. If he’s blowing out really solid guys, then we’ll step him up quickly.”
Yeleussinov’s older brother Dauren is also a pro and has been training out of various locations stateside. Daniyar was out training with him and trainer Derik Santos in Boca Raton, Florida, prior to the Olympics. Things are still being worked out on the training setup that he’ll employ. To date, he’s been trained by his father Marat Yeleussinov.
Daniyar isn’t just the beginning for Altamura’s venture into China and beyond but a necessary piece of the puzzle.
“Daniyar is important because he’s an A-level guy, the type that you build companies around.”
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.