Although he is only 38-years-old, Ivaylo Gotzev has been on the fistic scene for 14 years. As a former amateur boxer in his native Bulgaria, he was friends with several fighters who competed at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Seeing them so close to achieving their dreams made him realize that he had to find a way to make a living in boxing. He brought several of those fighters to the United States, where he augmented his meager boxing income by working in the construction business.
Before long he owned his own firm, with business interests in Hawaii, Arizona and California. The money he earned in construction enabled him to pursue his first love of boxing.
He traveled to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he signed gold medalist Vassiliy Jirov of Kazakhstan and current WBO heavyweight champion Sergei Lyakhovich of Belarus to professional contracts.
Along the way he also managed former WBC lightweight champion Stevie Johnston and the once promising junior welterweight title challenger Hector Lopez.
At the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney he signed hard-punching heavyweight Samuel Peter of Nigeria. Many observers consider the Nigerian Nightmare, who is now 26-1 (22 KOS), the most dangerous heavyweight in the world today.
He took Jirov all the way to the IBF cruiserweight title before being what he described as “betrayed.”
“He defended his title four times under my management,” said Gotzev. “He left me when he was 31-0. I put Jirov-[James] Toney together, but then Jirov backstabbed me. I was very hurt by that.”
Thankfully his memories of the past and thoughts of the future with Lyakhovich and Peter are not so troubling for him.
“I’ve been with Sergei his whole career, and he has always showed so much heart,” said Gotzev. “There are lots of fighters with skills, but fighters with so much heart are few and far between. Sergei is one of them.”
Gotzev was very impressed when Lyakhovich lost a close Olympic decision to Paea Wolfgramm of New Zealand, but didn’t let the disappointment of the decision destroy his fighting spirit.
“It was a [bleeped]-up decision,” said Gotzev. “Paea went on to lose in the super heavyweight gold medal match to [Wladimir] Klitschko. I believe that Sergei beat Paea, and he would have also beaten Klitschko.”
Gotzev said that he couldn’t believe the power possessed by Peter at the amateur level.
“He had so much raw talent and sheer power,” said Gotzev. “Just like some fighters are blessed with skills, I am blessed with an eye for talent. I can often see what no one else can see. And I got what it takes to bring the best out in everyone I sign.”
Gotzev has managed Lyakhovich and Peter since day one of their professional careers and continues to do so until this day. When he speaks of Jirov, however, his anger level seems to rise.
Stories about bad boxer/manager breakups abound in boxing and there are always two sides of the story. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.
What one can’t ignore, however, is Gotzev’s tremendous success in a relatively short period of time. As an immigrant boxing impresario who does things his way, his more than healthy self-image is well deserved.
“My specialty is getting guys to the top, and I’ve proven that I can do that over and over again,” he said. “A lot of managers have a habit of stealing fighters, but I pride myself on starting out at the bottom with my fighters and working our way together to the top. No matter who comes along, they have trust in me.”
Just recently Gotzev says that Lyakhovich and Peter have been besieged with offers from other entities. Unlike Jirov, he says they have re-signed with him because their mutual trust and loyalty runs deep.
Gotzev says that the respect he has for his two heavyweights is unparalleled. Unlike many of their contemporaries, both are willing to fight any and all challengers.
Klitschko, he says, has a style that will not draw fans to the sport. He cares only about winning, and not the least about pleasing the fans.
As an example, he cites Klitschko’s fight with Chris Byrd, which he described as a mismatch long before it even took place. He couldn’t understand why anyone was getting the least bit excited about it.
Moreover, he says that Klitschko’s rumored fight with James Toney in the fall is equally distasteful to him.
“What is Klitschko going to do, jab Toney all night long?” he pondered. “Toney doesn’t deserve anything after showing up so fat against Hasim Rahman. Toney is overweight, over-aged and over-hyped. Both of my heavyweights would destroy him.”
No one can ever accuse Gotzev of being a wallflower or of not speaking his mind. He is young, brash and smart, all of which are key ingredients for success in a business that is often compared to the drug industry in terms of honesty and integrity.
So far, Gotzev’s record is intact, as both a businessman and a manager of integrity. He hopes to only enhance this year when he soon returns to his Bulgarian hometown of Ploviv where the 2006 World Championships are being held.
“I already got my eye on a few fighters,” he said. “Believe me when I tell you; if I sign them they will become world champions. My eye for talent hasn’t failed me yet.”