MACAU – The best kind of gamble is the one where you stand to lose nothing at all. At the Venetian Resort in Macau, China, where the minimum bets at most tables are $200 Hong Kong dollars, you aren’t likely to find those kind of odds, but Evgeny Gradovich walked into Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut this past March with just that kind of deal and hit the jackpot.
Stepping in on a couple of weeks’ notice to face Billy Dib for the IBF featherweight title, Gradovich was more prospect than contender, having just 15 fights to his credit at the moment. Gradovich would never get the chance to work his way up to contender status, leaping straight to titleholder after pulling off the upset via split-decision.
“You forget about everything you did, all the work you put, all the money you put, you forget about all that,” said Gradovich’s manager Egis Klimas about the excitement of winning a championship. “This is an unbelievable feeling.”
Even after winning a title, the 26-year-old known as “Mexican Russian” for his hard-nosed, aggressive style, says that his life has remained the same. “My life hasn’t changed yet,” said Gradovich (16-0, 8 knockouts), a native of Igrim, Russia who now lives and trains in Oxnard, Calif. “But if I’m going to win next fight, my life will actually change. But now I stay the same, a simple guy like I’ve always been. I hope I’m going to be always the same.”
That next fight takes places Saturday night at the Venetian Resort in Macau, China, when he faces Argentina’s Mauricio Munoz (26-3, 12 KOs) on the undercard of Chinese Olympic hero Zou Shiming’s second pro fight. Gradovich-Munoz will round out the HBO2 televised tripleheader, which will also include WBO/WBA flyweight titleholder Juan Estrada against No. 1 contender Milan Melindo.
Both Gradovich and Munoz weighed in at 125.75 pounds on Friday afternoon.
After the win over Dib, there were no splurge buys, no Ferraris or jewelry to spoil himself in the aftermath of his success. Instead, Gradovich used his new-found notoriety to give himself the best gift he could, his initial motivation for campaigning in the U.S. He was able to sponsor his wife Katerina and daughter Veronica for their green cards to come to America.
“I hope in a couple of months, they’re going to come to the United States and we’re going to live together,” said Gradovich, who is rated No. 6 by THE RING at 126 pounds. “Sometimes I go to Russia for rest for a couple of weeks and I see my family, but it’s not too much. I’m miss them very much, but I do everything for them to come to the United States and we live together.”
Gradovich’s trainer Robert Garcia, who also works with Brandon Rios and Marcos Maidana, says that Gradovich’s dedication in the gym is surpassed by none. “He’s a perfect example for our young guys coming up,” said Garcia. “They can call you for a fight thinking you’re going to lose and you can go out and pull it off and become a world champion.”
Munoz, 27, has won five straight since being knocked out in nine rounds by Toshiaki Nishioka in a vie for the WBC 122-pound title in 2011. The win streak was highlighted by Munoz’s most recent win, when he took a split-decision over former Cuban Olympian Luis Franco in October.
“It’s hard to predict because Munoz is a dirty fighter, punches on the back, punches on the sides,” said Klimas, who also handles Russian light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev. “I think [Munoz] is durable, but I don’t think he’s going to be a close fight. I think Gradovich throws a lot of punches and keeps the pressure of a tiger. I think Munoz is going to have some problems.”
For a blue collar guy like Gradovich, it doesn’t matter whether he’s fighting in the world’s largest casino or a club show in Charlotte, N.C. It’s just business as usual for him. “I hope it’s going to be a good fight because I saw his fight, he’s a good fighter,” said Gradovich.
Photo / Chris Farina-TOP RANK
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.