Record: 24-0 (17 KO) ... Streak: W24 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6'3½" / 76" ... Age: 24
Thoughts: A strong, young cruiserweight from Russia, now living in California, Murat Gassiev went from prospect to champion last December, when he went to Moscow and defeated Denis Lebedev by split decision in a fight that had no business being a split decision.
Lebedev, like Saturday’s opponent Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, has been a top name in the division for years. Because of an idiotic ruling by the WBA, Lebedev only defended the IBF belt in that bout, and still holds the WBA title, but Gassiev does have the IBF belt.
It was a big step up for Gassiev, after he’d shown promise in wins over the likes of Felix Cora Jr and Jordan Shimmell. And now he’s considered one of the top fighters in the division, one of the young guns leading a new era for the cruiserweights.
Gassiev doesn’t do much that’s really special, he’s just a good fighter, strong and tough, and has largely been able to overwhelm weaker opponents. Against Lebedev, he proved he can go a hard 12 with a real opponent, and that was the real question he had to answer going in.
Now he’s got Wlodarczyk in the quarterfinal of the World Boxing Super Series. He’s absolutely expected to win this time, and sometimes expectations and pressure (or lack thereof) can change a fighter. The biggest thing Gassiev might have to fight in this matchup is his own potential for a letdown performance.
Record: 53-3-1 (37 KO) ... Streak: W4 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6'1½" / 75" ... Age: 36
Thoughts: Wlodarczyk is a former two-time titleholder and has been a major name in the division for just over a decade now, dating back to his controversial November 2006 win over Steve Cunningham, where he won the vacant IBF belt.
Wlodarczyk lost that belt to Cunningham in a rematch six months later, took his foot off the gas for two years, and then faced Giacobbe Fragomeni for the WBC belt in May 2009. They fought to a draw, but a year later, Wlodarczyk stopped Fragomeni in a rematch to again win a vacant title. (Zsolt Erdei had moved up to cruiserweight in November 2009 and beaten Fragomeni, then vacated the belt without defending it.)
Wlodarczyk’s title reign was rocky, but lasted over four years. He beat Jason Robinson and (controversially) Francisco Palacios, then came from behind on the cards to stop Danny Green before beating Palacios cleaner in a rematch. He again found himself behind in a fight in June 2013, before stopping Rakhim Chakhkiev in the eighth round. A third fight with and win over Fragomeni came in December 2013, before Wlodarczyk lost the belt convincingly to Grigory Drozd in September 2014.
Since the loss to Drozd, Wlodarczyk has been pretty quiet. He didn’t fight at all in 2015, then returned for three wins in 2016 over Valery Brudov, Kai Kurzawa, and Leon Harth, all tune-up style fights. Wlodarczyk struggled this past May to beat Noel Gevor by split decision at home in Poland.
All in all, when you combine the fact that he’s 36 with the fact that he hasn’t faced top competition in three years, and didn’t look great in his last fight against a decent opponent, Wlodarczyk appears on the wrong side of things in this matchup. Gassiev is younger, can punch, and has career momentum going for him, and is coming off of a strong victory.
That said, Wlodarczyk has always been a battler, and at the very worst he’ll probably go down swinging. The World Boxing Super Series is a chance for the veteran to reestablish himself in a new era of the cruiserweight division.
Matchup Grade: C+. My gut feeling is this will be more fun to watch than that grade, but if it goes as most anticipate, with Gassiev winning, it would be a win over an aged and faded opponent. Still, no doubt worth tuning in to see.