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Promoter Anatoly Sulyanov wants to create intersection where MMA and boxing worlds meet

Photo from Hardcore FC
Fighters Network

For his March 18 promotion, Anatoly Sulyanov hopes to blend a mix of what he calls “hardcore boxing” and what he believes to be the sport’s future.

The show, which takes place at The Agenda in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, will be headlined by a crossroads heavyweight fight between Lucas Browne and Jarrell Miller, with former title challengers Jono Carroll and Miguel Marriaga to face off in the co-main event.

If Sulyanov could draft up another bout for the event, he’d add a mixed martial arts legend or two to the card.

Sulyanov, whose Hardcore FC league has promoted 50 MMA shows in Russia since its inception in 2021, made headlines last week when he offered $3 million to former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou, who left the MMA league to pursue other opportunities on the free market. Sulyanov says he hasn’t received a response yet for the bout, which would be against Soslan Asbarov, a 3-fight pro cruiserweight who is also a bareknuckle champion in Sulyanov’s company.

Sulyanov, who says he made the fight offer through Instagram but has been in contact with Ngannou’s team, believes it’s worth the investment to bring in combat sports’ biggest free agent.

“It will be the biggest promo for our newest promotion in boxing because we’re going to make a revolution over the next five years in the industry of boxing,” said Sulyanov, who made a similar offer to UFC legend Jose Aldo, but says he rejected five opponents for the purse being offered.

Lucas Browne, seen after his KO win over Junior Fa. Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Sulyanov’s vision for combat sports centers around bringing the theatrics and production value of MMA events to boxing, where social media influencers like Jake Paul and KSI have become among the biggest draws in the sport despite being more side show than contenders. Sulyanov points to Hardcore FC’s seven YouTube channels, which he says generates 25 million views per week from a mostly Eastern Europe audience, as proof that his company is ready to branch out.

But while the sport’s purists have mostly scoffed at the crossover bouts and influencer fights, Sulyanov says you can’t ignore the box office success of these attractions. He points to the crossover fight between boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. and MMA champion Conor McGregor, which sold 4.3 million pay-per-views in 2017, and the 1.6 million pay-per-views sold in 2020 for an exhibition between retired boxing champions Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. as proof of their appeal.

“Nobody wants to see the classic Olympic sports, it’s already not interesting. Our minds have already changed. We need something fast, we need something flashy,” said Sulyanov, who also dreams of reprising the Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos UFC rivalry in a boxing ring.

That isn’t to say there isn’t room for traditional boxing on his cards. Browne (31-3, 27 knockouts) and Miller (25-0-1, 21 KOs) had both been top heavyweight contenders, but their reputations had taken hits after failing performance enhancing drugs tests in past years. Browne, 43, of Perth, Australia has won two straight, including a shock first round knockout of Junior Fa last June, while Miller, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. won a pair of fights in 2022 after his failed tests and promotional issues kept him out of the ring in since 2019.

Browne’s promoter Lou DiBella says the fight is an attractive matchup for where the two fighters are in their careers.

“It’s a good fight, both guys have issues and are at the long end of their careers. It figures to be a competitive heavyweight fight and it’s a good matchup for Lucas at this point in his career,” said DiBella.

The show will also feature Antonio Tarver Jr., the son of the former light heavyweight champion who himself is 10-0 (6 KOs) as a middleweight pro, against a fighter who is trained by Tarver’s rival in the pros, Roy Jones Jr. That fight will likely pave the way towards a rematch between Tarver and Jones Jr. as an exhibition, sources say.

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].