Updated: Dec 4, 2016
In an all Russian encounter that saw hardware on the line, it was up and coming Murat Gassiev that claimed the victory via split decision and as a result received the IBF world cruiserweight title.
The fight was billed as a face off of youth vs experience, with Gassiev playing the role of youth at 23 years of age against the more experienced 37 year old Denis Lebedev. Many analysts anticipated that the drastic age difference would be the deciding factor in such a close matchup, with many questions asked of how Lebedev would cope over 12 rounds against a much younger challenger.
Of course with his older age Denis Lebedev would still possess more experience than his competitor, and may even have a better resume with his most notable victories including triumphs over the likes of Roy Jones JR and Enzo Maccarinelli. Gassiev entered the fight with less elite names on his resume but has looked spectacular against the opposition he has faced off in, and has gained some real momentum in his last fight that ended in the first round as he took out Jordan Shimmell.
In the early rounds of this fight Lebedev looked good, boxing well and moving around the ring. Such mobility was efficient in avoiding the big punching power of Murat Gassiev, but his tactic did fail him in round 5 when a body shot from the younger fighter dropped the ring veteran. Lebedev rose and recovered after losing the 10-8 round and did make the fight competitive, frustrating Gassiev’s corner who felt like he should of took out his opponent when he smelt blood.
This knockdown obviously had an effect on Lebedev as he seemed intent to protect his right side that had been hurt by Gassiev, but Lebedev was able to come back into the fight and claim some rounds. With the scorecards in it was revealed that the official outcome of the 12 rounds was a split decision victory for Murat Gassiev, who extended his record to 24-0 whilst simultaneously acquiring the IBF cruiserweight title, and dethroning a true great in the Cruiserweight division.
So, what is next for both these fighters? well, Tony Bellew has stated that he is keeping an eye on this bout as it may contain his next potential opponent, so perhaps a matchup between Gassiev and Bellew may be possible in the future. A good showing or a win in a fight against an elite cruiserweight like Bellew would certainly enhance his reputation, and could be what he needs to elevate himself into a truly elite fighter.
Bellew isn’t the only avenue he could go down, as there are various other good quality fighters in the cruiserweight division such as Oleksander Usyk and Marco Huck. As for Lebedev, the ring veteran (who feels strongly that he won, or at least drew this fight) will most likely chase a rematch with Gassiev, aiming to avenge his loss.
Even though Denis Lebedev lost the fight but his stock hasn’t plummeted. He has proven that even at 37 years of age he can still hold his own against other fighters in the division, even when they are much younger than him. Criticism may be directed towards Gassiev for not knocking out Lebedev once he got him hurt or not winning on unanimous decision, and although this criticism is understandable it is also unjust.
At the end of the day Gassiev has still taken on and defeated perhaps the best fighter in his division, and that is an achievement that nobody can denigrate. Not only may this fight act as a supplement to Gassiev’s resume, but it may also be the bridge towards bigger opportunities for the young power puncher.