If you base a fighter on appearance alone, then Konstantin Ponomarev does not raise alarms for concern.
There are no bulging muscles, intimidating stares or vocal taunts coming from his direction.
The Russian welterweight could easily fit in amongst university students from UCLA or USC. But the sport of boxing was his baby-sitter early in life, as both his parents worked.
“Yes, the town I’m from in Ural Mountains is a boxing town,” said Ponomarev, age 23, from Miass, Russia. “Parents are working and kids need to know how to handle themselves in the streets.”
Miass is an automobile-making town, kind of like Russia’s version of Detroit. It’s located just north of the Kazakhstan border.
“It’s maybe even worse than Detroit,” says Leo Khorolinsky, manager to Ponomarev. “They build mostly trucks there.”
Ponomarev (28-0, 13 Kos) will be coming like a Mack truck when he faces Mexico City’s Ramses Agaton (17-2-3, 9 Kos) on Friday, Nov. 20. The welterweight clash takes place at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. It will be televised on TruTV.
Ponomarev first stepped into a boxing gym at the early age of seven. It’s a sport that’s become a huge part of his life. Now he lives and trains in Big Bear Lake and has become part of the vaunted team that includes Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.
“This kid came to me with 27 fights and a very good background, work ethic and part of the Ural group and they are all hard workers,” said trainer Abel Sanchez. “Gennady Golovkin is kind of a mentor.”
The Russian welterweight has quietly and quickly let his boxing skills do the talking. Like so many others from his region they were raised in gyms as youths. But unlike the U.S., amateur boxing has more attention than pro boxing. It’s a difference that surprised Ponomarev.
“Pro boxing is completely different from Russia. The main reason is amateur boxing is much bigger in Russia. It’s very strong, but pro boxing here is very different from Russia,” said Ponomarev about this country’s preference for pro boxing. “It’s quite obvious this is the way to go to accomplish something in boxing and make a strong statement.”
After winning numerous amateur championships in Russia and Europe, the lanky welterweight decided at age 17 to delve into the professional side of boxing. His management decided moving to the U.S. was the proper move.
“Overall the family was supportive but my mom did not say no or yes,” said Ponomarev about moving to the U.S. to train and fight. “It’s a dangerous sport and she made me decide for myself.”
Though Ponomarev has obvious boxing skills developed in the amateurs, the amateur style hasn’t always translated into hard-hitting professional combat, where touches don’t equal hard blows. Numerous amateur stars have been exposed in the pro world.
So far, the product of the Ural Mountains has done quite fine.
After building an undefeated record in fights mostly in Russia, he was brought to the U.S. and continued the success. In his first American appearance on November 2013 he fought at Florentine Gardens in Hollywood and showed good skills against Northern California’s veteran Rogelio Castaneda Jr.. But a clash of heads and an accidental entanglement of legs led to an injury and the fight abruptly ended in a stoppage. Castaneda could not continue. Both fighters suffered cuts from head clashes. Ponomarev got the third round technical knockout victory but questions were not answered.
After another victory in Russia, he returned to the U.S. and racked up four more victories, including wins over former contender Cosme Rivera and the always dangerous Steve Claggett of Canada.
This past May, he was matched against another Canadian, the undefeated Mikael Zewski. The match took place at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Most of the boxing world was familiar with the knockout punching Zewski but few had ever seen Ponomarev. After 10 rounds it was clear that the Russian’s boxing skills were superior. All three judges scored it heavily in his favor.
Now he returns to Las Vegas, where he scored his biggest victory to date. He faces an unknown challenger from Mexico, another boxing crazy country much like his own.
“Fighting in Las Vegas, they are so strict and hard on opponents that they want to make sure the guys are good,” said Sanchez about the difficulty in finding quality opponents. Two previous opponents were recently scratched. Just this week, Mexico’s Agaton was found. “Finding someone on Konstantin’s level is difficult to match and we have to be ready for whatever is thrown at us.”
Boxing fans are slowly becoming aware of Ponomarev and he realizes their value.
“I wish to thank all those that supported me. I’m very humbled to make fans after my last fight. I want to be able to reassure those that follow me I deserve their attention,” said Ponomarev. “I would like to wish them health and prosperity and try to make sure that my results are worthy of their attentions.”
From Miass to Big Bear, will the journey continue for the student of boxing?