KHURTSIDZE vs LANGFORD — Avtandil Khurtsidze, a 36-year-old middleweight from the Republic of Georgia, had a coming out party in March of last year. It was supposed to be the other way around. Khurtsidze was the opponent in a match designed as a showcase for his opponent, undefeated Antoine Douglas. Now Khurtsidze finds himself in a bigger fight. On April 22 he opposes 18-0 Tommy Langford in Leicester, England. Scheduled for 12 rounds, Khurtsidze-Langford is the main event of a 13-fight card promoted by Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions. The bout will air in the U.K. on RT Sport and BoxNation.
Although he had compiled an excellent record (currently 32-2-2) during his 13-year pro career and had won several minor titles while competing in the Ukraine, Khurtsidze was flying far under the radar when he migrated to the U.S. in 2014, settling in Brooklyn. He had four 8-round bouts in U.S. rings prior to meeting Douglas, three of which were in small rooms before crowds that numbered a few hundred.
History would show that Khurtsidze was the human equivalent of a fine racehorse being held under wraps until the time was ripe to make a killing. He didn’t merely defeat Antoine Douglas who was 12 years younger, eight inches taller, and 19-0-1 going in; he annihilated him. Slow on the trigger, the ref finally stopped the slaughter in the 10th frame. Douglas spent the night in the hospital as a precaution.
The racehorse analogy is imperfect because Khurtsidze, who stands five-foot-four, was hardly a sleek thoroughbred. In his award-winning ringside report, Bernard Fernandez described Khurtsidze’s appearance as squatty and his fighting style as inelegant. He was a broad-shouldered little battering ram, relentless in his attack in a manner that invited comparisons to the young Mike Tyson.
Khurtsidze was too good that night in his U.S. TV debut in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. With no title to use as a bargaining chip, finding new opponents proved next-to-impossible. There was talk that he would fight Willie Monroe Jr., but then Monroe’s handlers got cold feet. Tommy Langford finally stepped to the plate. He was drawn to take on the challenge by the promise that a win would lead to a match with countryman Billy Joe Saunders, the WBO 160-pound champion.
The 27-year-old Langford resides in Birmingham, England, where he earned a degree in Sports Science and Exercise at the University of Birmingham. Undefeated as a pro (18-0, 8 KOs), his signature win came in the amateur ranks when he outpointed Callum Smith, the same Callum Smith who will soon fight for the vacant WBC super middleweight title. He was punching up at Smith who stands six-foot-three. He will be punching down at Khurtsidze. Akin to Antoine Douglas, Langford will have an eight-inch height “advantage.”
Khurtsidze is promoted by Lou DiBella. In a letter to promoter Frank Warren which he shared with ESPN boxing scribe Dan Rafael, Di Bella said, “Avtandil Khurtsidze is one of the most exciting fighters in the world and has gone overlooked by the boxing establishment for too long….Khurtsidze is fresh, he is hungry, and his story has just begun to be written.”
DiBella may have added that Khurtsidze has the potential to develop a cult following. The squatty bruiser is highly photogenic….in the same fashion that the recently deceased wrestler George “The Animal” Steele was photogenic. Who can’t love a face like that?
Unfortunately, Father Time isn’t on his side. Khurtsidze had a birthday since his bout with Antoine Douglas and turns 38 next month. He likely spent too much time fighting in the shadows of Eastern Europe to ever maximize his potential as a box-office attraction.
Regarding his fight with Khurtsidze, Tommy Langford says, “This is what I was looking for, a fight where I won’t be looking for the guy…he can be out-boxed.” Perhaps so. This is Leicester, after all, where the local soccer team won the Premier League last year in the biggest upset in the history of sports. But I wouldn’t want to be in Langford’s shoes on April 22.
Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / Showtime
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