Revving up the ‘Mean Machine’ for a title shot
We have just celebrated the most American of holidays but boxers born in the former Eastern Bloc have found a welcoming home in the United States, as befits this nation of immigrants. So it is good timing for a Lithuanian boxer who has fought his entire career in the U.S.A. to feature on a card so close to the Fourth of July. Egidijus Kavaliauskas, 19-0 (16), nicknamed “Mean Machine,” is rounding into form as a viable welterweight title challenger to the WBO beltholder Terence Crawford and IBF titlist Errol Spence Jr. In order to get to those champions, Kavaliauskas must push through Dominican roadblock Juan Carlos Abreu, 21-3-1 (19), as the ESPN-televised co-feature to Jose Ramirez’s WBC junior welterweight title defense against Danny O’Connor (9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT). Anything less than a convincing win puts Kavaliauskas outside of the current welterweight fray, that includes more recognizable names such as Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and Adrien Broner.
At 30, this is optimal timing for a world title push, even though Kavaliauskas has been a mature boxer for years. The combative boxer/puncher has been groomed for such glory since the amateurs, representing Lithuania at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, as well as participating at three World Amateur Championships. Kavaliauskas estimated his amateur resume at around 260-40 but quickly realized his aggressive style was more suited to the pro game. He has rarely been tested, registering 19 wins since turning pro in 2013. At 5-foot-9 with a 71-inch-reach, he has the physical tools to employ an impressive skill-set amassed as an amateur. Kavaliauskas says he never regretted his move to America, “When I come here to U.S.A., I found my style, what I like to do – I like to fight, take pressure to the guy. Here boxing is the top. I knew the team would be good and I would get stronger.”
The one obvious problem Top Rank had to solve with Egidijus Kavaliauskas is a name that is hard to pronounce and remember. Simply put, it looks like a bad Scrabble draw and does not roll off the tongue. Attempting a Google search without knowing the correct spelling may lead to parts of the internet you tell your children to stay away from. This has led to Kavaliauskas taking on the moniker of ‘Mean Machine,’ which is suited to his ring demeanor. Kavaliauskas explained how and why it came about: “My nickname makes it easier for Americans to remember me. My friend Evgeny Gradovich – The Mexican Russian – he gave the nickname to me. I was in the gym preparing for a fight, losing weight. Every fighter, when he’s losing weight, is mean and I was super-mean. I don’t want to talk with nobody, and Evgeny called me ‘Mean Machine.’ Everybody liked it.”
Kavaliauskas passed the biggest test of his career, in his most recent outing, with a sixth round stoppage over former WBA “regular” titleholder David Avanesyan, who is best known for pushing Lamont Peterson in a heated fight and handed Shane Mosley his final loss. Kavaliauskas showed patience early, controlling distance with an onerous jab and solid movement. That precision jab and body punching paid off in the sixth round, when Kavaliauskas switched up and landed a devastating right hand, followed by a searing left hook. It put Avanesyan on his back foot and against the ropes. A series of 25 unanswered punches forced referee Tony Weeks to step in and save the obviously concussed Avanesyan from further punishment.
Gracious outside the ring, Kavaliauskas does bring a bit of his nickname to every fight, “I do get real mean the moment I leave the locker room, walk up the ring steps and get onto the canvas. And this is going to a big year for me. I am getting closer to my goal, a world title fight.” To reach that goal, Kavaliauskas enters this outing with an exacting focus and intent on stopping Abreu, in the violent manner he displayed against Avanesyan, “This is a great opportunity to show everyone watching on ESPN what the Mean Machine is made of. I want a title shot soon but I have to take care of business against Abreu to make my dreams a reality. It’s going to be a toe-to-toe battle, and I know I will be victorious.”
Currently rated in the Top 5 by three of the four sanctioning organizations, Kavaliauskas maintains the highest ranking within the WBO, in which he currently stands at No. 2. Even if a title shot is not the immediate result of the Abreu fight, though certainly attainable since Crawford and Kavaliauskas are both promoted by Top Rank, a good payday may arise in Australia. A fight with Jeff Horn was raised by Horn’s manager Dean Lonergan in an ESPN interview, “It’s a tough fight (against Kavaliauskas) but if we take that fight, and win that, we’re right back in contention for the number one spot and maybe the mandatory.”
A mandatory spot enables promoter Bob Arum to slot Kavaliauskas, if he emerges with a victory, in for Terence Crawford’s scheduled October 13 title defense. When asked about that potential, Arum only stated, “He could be the opponent,” before rattling off the names of three other challengers he is considering, in Jose Benavidez Jr., Carlos Adames and WBA “regular” beltholder Lucas Matthysse. Of those three, Matthysse is the most likely but only if he can defeat Manny Pacquiao in a July 15 bout that some are still skeptical that will come off. From that list Kavaliauskas would seen the second-best choice, in terms of box office and stylistic match-up. After the David Avanesyan fight, Kavaliauskas pronounced his readiness, “I want to face the best. Hopefully my next fight is a world title. Crawford is fighting Horn for the world title. I want to face the winner.”
Dominican Juan Carlos Abreu is a hard-punching welterweight who has never been stopped and still enters fights with a winning mentality. In losses to two top undefeated prospects, Jamal James and Alex Martin, Abreu scored knockdowns but was unable to seize those advantages, losing by decision in both outings. Only former champion Humberto Soto was able to decisively outclass Abreu, whose otherwise consistent pressure has forced 19 stoppages in 21 victories. In terms of size, Kavaliauskas and Abreu are mirror images, and, even in style, they are similar, as they focus on imposing their will to dictate where the fight takes place in the ring.
Last year Abreu put in a career-best performance, stopping popular Mexican Jesus Soto Karass, putting an end to the fringe contender’s career. In that win Abreu showed his positives, most notably a powerful left hook (which Abreu said he needed more, as he hurt his right hand in the second round) he employed, as both a lead weapon and counter strategy. If Abreu can time a much faster Kavaliauskas is a serious doubt but, on the basis of pure power, Abreu is a live underdog. Though a superior boxer, Kavaliauskas has been drawn into the trenches before, which would be a plus for fans but dangerous against someone like Abreu, whose thick upper body absorbs punches as well as it dishes punishment out.
Bob Arum is of the opinion that a good performance has the potential to put Kavaliauskas into the consciousness of fans, enabling him to push for a Crawford fight. Arum said a key to his thinking is that Kavaliauskas never backs away from challenges, and is willing to make promotional concessions to reach his goal, “Because he’s with manager Egis Klimas, they’ll fight anybody. I’ve never seen guys like this. They don’t give a shit who we put them in with. They’ll fight anybody, which is great.” Arum also pointed out another important factor: “He’s a fun fighter. He fights the whole time and he has good knockout power. He’s the whole package. He’s a very pleasing fighter. We’re selling entertainment and he brings entertainment.”