Friday, March 24, 2023  |



Best I Faced: Serik Sapiyev


Hugely talented Serik Sapiyev was one of the best fighters in amateur boxing for several years from the late 2000s to early 2010s. He regularly medaled at major tournaments. His crowning moment, however, came as a welterweight (69 kg 152-pounds) when he won Olympic gold in London in 2012.

Sapiyev was born in the small city of Abay, in central Kazakhstan, the third born of four children, on November 16, 1983.

“We didn’t have enough money,” Sapiyev told The Ring. “My father was a miner; he risked his life in the mining factory. He went down 100/150 meters to get coal. He worked for about 35 years in the mining factory.”

His father, Zhumangali, first introduced Sapiyev to boxing when he was 10-years-old along with his elder sibling.

“When I won our city championship, I got about $10 dollars for first place,” he recalled. “When I got this money, I gave it to my mother. She was very happy.”

As he continued his career path, he continued to excel, winning two youth national titles and later three national senior titles in 2004, 2007 and 2009.

“I studied in Abay and boxed for two or three years,” he said. “Then I studied in Karaganda for three years. It was a special sports school.”

It was during this time that he first met compatriot and future professional superstar Gennadiy Golovkin. The two remain friends and meet up when GGG is in Kazakhstan.

Sapiyev’s first international success came when he won gold at junior welterweight at the 2005 World Championships in Mianyang, China. However, it wasn’t without incident.

“Ten days prior to the world championship, I had to spar and during that sparring session I injured my wrist,” he explained. “I ended up having to perform, during the entire championship, with my wrist injured. The good thing was that no one, except for my coach, knew about my injury.

“During the final, we decided to ‘freeze’ my wrist in order to numb the pain. It was mentally challenging at times. Even though it was my first world championship, I still managed to defeat one of the smartest boxers from Uzbekistan, (Dilshod Mahmudov in the final 39-21). Despite my injury, I think that my advantage over him was my efficiency and ability to increase the speed.”

He followed that triumph by repeating the trick two years later in Chicago to become a two-time world championship gold medalist. This time, he beat Russian Gennady Kovalev 20-5 in the final.

Sapiyev hoped to continue his grip on the 141-pound division at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. However, he dropped a disputed decision to 2004 Olympic gold medalist, Manos Boonjumnong, 7-5, in the quarterfinals.

“Our strategy with my coach was tiring out my opponent quickly,” he said. “I think awarding points at the end of the rounds were not counted correctly. Every one of my punches that landed was not counted, but when it came to him it was the opposite. Without even landing a punch, he was automatically given points.”

It meant Sapiyev had to wait another four years until he could attempt to win the much-coveted gold medal.

In the interim, he moved up to welterweight and won bronze in Milan Italy at the 2009 World Championships, losing 16-10 to amateur stalwart Andrey Zamkovoy at the semi-final stage.

At the 2011 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, Sapiyev beat Errol Spence Jr., 20-10, and stopped Egidijus Kavaliauskas en route to losing in the final to Taras Shelestyuk, 16-10.

Finally, his big moment came when he claimed gold at the London 2012 Olympics. Sapiyev beat Gabriel Maestre, 20-9, in the quarterfinals. He then bested old rival Zamkovoy, 18-12, in the semifinals and was too much for Britain’s Fred Evans in the final, comfortably winning, 17-9.

“As a young athlete one of my biggest dreams in life was to be an Olympic champion,” said Sapiyev, who was roughly 310-10 as an amateur. “It was a very proud moment for me and I was truly honored to receive this title in my career. On top of it all, I was also awarded the Val Barker trophy.”

Although there was interest from leading promoters, Sapiyev decided against making the switch to professional boxing.

“My goal has always been to become an Olympic champion,” explained the classy southpaw. “During the 2012 London Olympic, I won a gold medal. However, after that big win, I ended up listening to my coaches and decided to end my boxing career. Even though it was a big decision to make, I still wanted to prioritize my health first.

“Of course, sometimes looking back, I think to myself that I could have turned professional, but as the saying goes, ‘Everything that is done, is done for the best.’”

Since retiring from boxing after the 2012 Olympics, Sapiyev has been very busy working numerous job titles.

He initially took up the post as director in boxing federation of Kazakhstan. He then studied English at Brunel University, London, before becoming the general director at Astana Arlans WSB team for two-and-a-half years. Next, he was a deputy in the Kazakhstan parliament and he is currently the chairman of the Committee on Sports and Physical Culture of the Ministry of Culture and Sports in his homeland.

Sapiyev, now 37, is happily married and has four daughters. He lives in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) the capital of Kazakhstan.

He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.


Andrey Zamkovoy: It was Andrey Zamkovoy and Yordenis Ugas. I fought (Ugas) in the 2005 World Cup in Moscow. They threw the jab very often and their speed was very fast. I think Zamkovoy (had the best jab). He was not an ordinary opponent. His southpaw jab was quick. Not only his jab, but his hands were fast, especially his right jab.


Taras Shelestyuk: The best defense was Taras Shelestyuk and Manos Boonjumnong. When I boxed Taras Shelestyuk, he was super good at defense. He was not only good at keeping a high guard, but he would also slip and roll. It was not easy to break his guard. To land a shot, however, wasn’t as difficult, but as I said it was very difficult to break his guard and land a clean shot to the head. At that time, it was a different scoring system, the punches that were landed on the opponent’s glove were not counted.


Zamkovoy: He was very fast boxer. He concentrated to throw his hands very fast, but not powerful. He tried to throw his hands invisibly. Both his hands were sharp.


Ionut Gheorghe: Kazakh boxer, Zhenis Nurgozhin, and Romanian boxer, Ionut Gheorghe, their legs were very fast, they moved around the ring very well. It is difficult to compare but I would say Ionut Gheorghe.


Dilshod Mahmudov: Zamkovoy, Dilshod Mahmudov and Gennady Kovalev. They were clever in the fight. Dilshod Mahmudov was smart and talented boxer. He saw what I did and tried to counterattack.


Errol Spence Jr.: The strongest was Errol Spence Jr. and Gabriel Maestre. I had to move and box them. When I stopped and didn’t move, they could hit me to the body. I think Spence.


Dmitry Hismetov: No matter how much I would beat him, he was always very patient and went forward, despite the fact that he was getting hit very hard. I highlight Dmitry Hismetov’s chin. Not only his head was hard, but his whole body was very tough. He goes forward like a tank; he doesn’t feel the pain.


Spence Jr.: I felt his power when he hit me to the body.


Alex Vastine: He was very different, his speed was very good, his defense was very good and his timing. He did the right move at the right time.


Zamkovoy: It is between Zamkovoy, Spence and Shelestyuk. Dilshod Mahmudov and Ugas were good fighters. The best was Zamkovoy. He is a very clever boxer, tall and long-armed. Every action he tries to do very fast. Every fight he tries to win. He tried to anticipate my actions and counterattack. He used every opportunity to win.


Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright



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