Arslanbek Makhmudov, a Big Man with a Big Upside, Turned Pro Last Weekend

Arslanbek Makhmudov is a giant of a heavyweight.

Listed anywhere between 6’5 and 6’6 and scaling over 260lbs, this Russian national out of Alania has made hardly a ripple in turning professional this weekend in Toronto, Canada, but it may not be too long before this giant of a man is turning heads right across the world.

He has already turned mine.

Makhmudov boxed for Russia as an amateur and was regarded by many as the #1 super-heavyweight in the world, but it was in the World Series of Boxing that he really excelled.

His first combat in the amateur/professional crossover was a loss, his second a win which was then followed by two further losses. This was a surprise. Makhmudov is a brawler and the brawler is the style least forgiven by the amateur code; the WSB which boxes to a system far more forgiving of a professional style was one in which Makhmudov was expected to excel.

He would – but it took him a while to get it right. His aggression seemed unharnessed; he wrestled savagely in the clinch, throwing Trent Rawlins to the canvas in the opener of his 2011 victory over the Australian, who he sent for extensive facial surgery. In his next fight with the much smaller Clemente Russo, he allowed his opponent to repeatedly clinch, mauling him on the inside but allowing Russo to do much of the punching before falling in; Makhmudov thought he won that one, but in his next contest against Uaine “Junior” Fa (currently 13-0 as a pro – watch this space) he was undone by fast feet and a cultured left.

Then things got a little spooky.

There may not have been anything unique about the twelve fight unbeaten run that Makhmudov staged in the WSB between March 2012 and March 2016, but I’d suggest that his April 2014 confrontation with The Rock, Mihai Nistor, remains the most important fight of his career to date. There was a lesson learned that night.

Nistor is a story of his own, and a great one, impossible to do justice to here, but as a rough guide, he remains the only fighter to have stopped the current world’s number one professional heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, a feat he accomplished in the 2011 European Championships. Power, heart and an inexhaustible engine define him and it is probable that the sight of him barreling across the ring after suffering a standing eight count is the most terrifying vision available to any amateur fighter. For Nistor remains an amateur despite the lure of the riches available to a professional fighter; he has perfected his art and executes it accordingly.

He executed it accordingly against Makhmudov. Nistor ruffled him from the off with his best punch, a straight left out of the southpaw stance, but it was a right hook that sent Makhmudov stumbling sideways with the contest only seconds old. An argument will be made that this reveals a limitation in Makhmudov’s chin that can be exploited in the professional ranks, but that he survived the onslaught that followed was a small miracle. Nistor banged in flush uppercuts and hooks. Prodigious strength in the clinch bought Makhmudov time and the type of tide-turning punch resistance that is priceless to a heavyweight saved him.

Makhmudov fought oddly throughout most of the rest of the fight, however. Pawing, grabbing, allowing the smaller Nistor to uppercut him in the clinches and allowing him space for that trailing left on the outside, his jab forgotten. Nistor dominated him.

Or he dominated him until the final ninety seconds of the fight when Makhmudov, straight-backed, long-limbed, showing little in the way of affects of Nistor’s domination, unleashed an eight punch combination on the stunned Romanian forcing the referee to intervene and count. Nistor protested the standing-eight and, in his pride, he did the wrong thing: he came steaming back in. They squabbled untidily for much of what remained of the fight and suddenly Nistor dropped as though someone had opened a trapdoor beneath him, spread, sprung, stumbling to his face as he tried to get to his feet. It remains the most astonishing knock out in the short history of the WSB.

A winging right-hand followed by a casual right uppercut were the punches that had momentarily disconnected Nistor from the world of men. The right hand is dynamite. There is no reason, none at all, to compare Makhmudov to George Foreman at this stage of his career, but there is really no other comparison that will suffice in that the unique technique with which these punches are delivered does not appear to entangle the terrible damage they can render upon impact.

Makhmudov walked over the WSB roster after the Nistor fight, perhaps most impressively against the giant Italian Guido Vianello. By this point in his career, he was a savage, aggressive, direct, and reveling in his physical robustness which allowed him to bully even bigger men up close.  He can already double up the right hand wonderfully well and the second one comes as an express train, fast and hard on the heels of the first, Makhmudov sacrificing balance and poise on the altar of destruction.

If ever a fighter was ready to turn professional, it was he; we had to wait until this past Friday for it to come to pass.

Makhmudov has done so in Canada primarily due to his friendship with the devastating light-heavyweight contender Artur Beterbiev, who he bonded with during their amateur days. Both men have referred to the other as a brother rather than a friend and it seems natural and normal that Makhmudov would follow Beterbiev out to North America when he decided to take the plunge. Beterbiev has had well publicized problems with Canadian kingpin and President of GYM promotions Yvon Michel, but apparently they are not serious enough to discourage  the jewel in the GYM promotions crown from recommending the scene to Makhmudov.

He is being trained by GYM matchmaker Marc Ramsay, probably most famous for work he has done with Jean Pascal. Marc speaks highly of his new charge and has openly discussed “the very top” as a reasonable target for him, but also suggests that he won’t be moved along as fast as Beterbiev.

Is the very top achievable?

Well his debut told us very little, as is very often the case with debuts.

His original opponent unexpectedly, but not unsurprisingly, pulled out of the ritual slaughter and the brave but misguided Jaime Barajas (now 3-2-2) manfully stepped up to take his place. Ring introductions lasted around one-hundred seconds, the fight lasted twenty-four seconds. Jaime couldn’t wait to get out of there, and I don’t blame him.

At this point, I am less confident in Makhmudov than I am in Filip Hrgovic who we looked at last week.  There is something twitchy about his style that has me wondering if he might struggle to sit down on an opponent through the eighth, ninth and tenth to close up the cards for example; and then there’s that vacant performance against Nistor where he seemed to forget where he was for four rounds before waking up and raining down brimstone on his world class opponent.

Amateur boxing is about delivering your style in keeping with the rules and practice of the code and using it to acquire points. But professional boxing – and heavyweight boxing perhaps most of all – is about weaknesses. The guys who “just turn up to do their thing” – Foreman, Mike Tyson – are quickly and usually quite unexpectedly found out. Longevity belongs to cerebral fighters like Evander Holyfield and Muhammad Ali, or those that find a controlling weapon with which to protect themselves, usually the jab, as was the case for Larry Holmes, Joe Louis and Lennox Lewis.

Makhmudov might not know it yet, but he just stepped into the ultimate truth-machine: heavyweight boxing. And he looks disorganized to me. Organizing him will be Marc Ramsay’s first port of call on a long journey to excellence.

All of that said, the plus column is full. We have a fighter here with enormous size, prodigious strength, frightening power, and if I’m not mistaken, one who knows how to use these things. It is early to cast judgement upon his punch resistance and stamina but the early signs are good.

Somewhere down the line, though, this fighter is going to run into a real test; that will be an interesting night for the entire division.

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