Cruiserweight Shock in Russia

By Matt McGrain on September 28, 2014
Cruiserweight Shock in Russia
Drozd showed the champ what he had not seen before, an incontrovertible self-discipline.

The cerebral “Diablo” is one of boxing’s more intelligent talents and one who is able to find opportunities to punch where others are static…

Grigory Drozd clearly defeated strapholder Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in Russia last night in what I would tentatively label a major upset. On paper the number seven ranked cruiserweight Drozd should have been regarded as a very dangerous challenge for number three Wlodarczyk and indeed a competitive fight was expected. But sometimes a small separation in the rankings can mean a wide separation in perceived class and for some time now, Wlodarczyk has belonged among the big three at cruiserweight, Marco Huck and Yoan Pablo Hernandez fulfilling what has become a holy triage able to exist only because the respective strapholders have failed to meet one another. This unhealthy three-headed domination of a division was expected to come to an end by some when Wlodarczyk met the surging Rakhim Chakhkiev last summer but Wloarczyk put him back with no lack of certitude, climbing off the canvas to stop the precocious southpaw in eight.

And then it was back to business as usual for the cerebral “Diablo,” one of boxing’s more intelligent talents and one who is able to find opportunities to punch where others are static. Tactically astute, strategically deep his enormous well of experience (he dropped to 59-3-1 last night) means there isn’t much he hasn’t seen in the ring and the resultant eight-year unbeaten streak owed as much to this as his unwillingness to meet Huck and Hernandez and their unwillingness to meet him.

What Drozd showed him that he had not seen before was an incontrovertible self-discipline in the ring rarely seen outside the more concentrated stylings of Bernard Hopkins. Wlodarczyk stoops over his lead foot, bringing his upper body square with a very high, tight guard, a seemingly juicy target for hard punches, in fact a well ramparted defensive fortress protected by some of the best feints north of middleweight. 

Drozd dealt with this mobile stronghold with iron-will and perfect technical judgement. Firstly, he resisted the urge to wing in hard shots, judging each opportunity to punch based upon the overall availability of the target. It was a rare performance in that he almost never overextended or compromised his own positioning, or allowed himself to be outmaneuvered by Wlodarczyk’s deep, confident footwork. Second, he boxed conservatively, utilizing head movement, guard, and a reticence on aggression to make himself less vulnerable to those feints that found him often in a defensive position anyway, but always alive to the possibility of punching, punching that was sharp if never thunderous. Finally, he worked to split that earmuff guard as succinctly and tenderly as any fighter I’ve ever seen, mixing up his attack, a sparkling double left hook behind the ear and the elbow his most glittering assertion but a measured, careful jab and a willingness to slap and cuff with that left were equally important.

It was a brilliant strategic quilt and it was one that left Wlodarczyk bereft of offense. Of the first six rounds I scored him only the first and this was highly debatable as Drozd outlanded the strapholder in this as in every other round. A cut caused by an accidental clash of heads in the seventh looked momentarily like it might change the flow of the fight, but Drozd’s corner did a superb job with what originally looked like a dangerous laceration.

Indeed it was Wlodarczyk who bled freely in the next round, his nose apparently broken by a straight and precise guard-splitter forcing the Pole momentarily to one knee in the eighth. Drozd remained disciplined to the end; at no time did he pursue the knockout that might have been available, and this was the right choice. Again and again Wlodarczyk has determinedly come from behind to score stoppages over opponents who seemed in control. Drozd (now an inflated 39-1) boxed his way to the final bell with admirable self-control to a thoroughly deserved unanimous decision. He’s quick-fisted, technically gifted and cognitive – he’s gate-crashed the top three on the back of a laser-guided round rather than a Mack Titan but he belongs just the same. The hope is that he will pursue a showdown with one of the other men he shares the podium with a little more aggressively than Wlodarczyk who was happy to dominate in the east just as Huck was in the west, and as Hernandez has in America.

For Wlodarczyk, this loss is perhaps more damaging than it at first might appear. True, it is his first in many years and many fights, but it places him firmly on the outside looking in at the age of thirty-three and after the worst beating of his career. His next move will be interesting in a division with multiple belt-holders but no easy options.

Perhaps he will look in the direction of the big punching Denis Lebedev (26-2) who added to his highlights reel for knockouts with his second round stoppage of Pawel Kolodziej (now 33-1) in chief support of a fight that lacked fireworks, if not intrigue; cruiserweight is short of neither.

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Григорий Дрозд против Кшиштоф Влодарчик Krzysztof Wlodarczyk vs. Grigory Drozd

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  1. raxman 07:35pm, 09/28/2014

    matt that was a brilliant write up/analysis of a fight that prior to reading this article I wasn’t planning on watching.
    I do like the cruisers though. but I do wish they were called heavyweights and that the limit was say 220pounds with all above being dubbed super heavy.

  2. KenM 06:11pm, 09/28/2014

    Excellent writeup -
    Drozd was not only superbly prepared - he executed his gameplan perfectly against one of the most dangerous veterans in the sport.
    Adding on the complete dismantling of Masternak, Drozd is now looking like something genuinely special in the cruiserweight division.

    By comparison both Huck & Hernandez look to have plenty of holes to exploit, & I expect Drozd’s people would be quite confident in pursueing a unification - even with both opponents naturally bigger

  3. nicolas 10:43am, 09/28/2014

    I was not surprised by the Drozd victor, but by the extent of it. I watched it on Youtube, without knowing who won, and to be honest, after 9 rounds I could not give the fighter from Poland a round. I then raced to the end to see what the final decision would be. I think going to Russia for this fight should have brought bells and whistles. Both fighters had of course not lost in a long time. But Krzysztof had not fought in 9 months, and it had been an easy victory over the not deserving number one Cruiser weight at that time Fragomenti. I think also flags many years ago should have been raised, when Wlodarczyk went to Australia, and had to knock out Danny Green in order to win, and it was just four months after Green had been badly beaten by Antonio Tarver.

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