The middleweight division has long been one of boxing’s most resplendent.
From the foray of double-hard blacksmith Bob Fitzsimmons in 1891 to the Africanized honey bee-like barrage of punches that Harry Greb was able to dispatch a hat-trick of decades later. From the irrepressible reign of consensus don Sugar Ray Robinson to the teak tough Tony Zale, the deadly dandy Carlos Monzon and the efficient aggression of Marvin Hagler – the 160-pound weight class has oft been reserved for the most animalistic of men.
Before Gennady Golovkin can even attempt to claim the lineal middleweight title from ring absentee Miguel Cotto, Eastern Europe may have already unleashed another pugilistic beast. This time, it’s fan friendly Ievgen Khytrov (8-0-0, 8ko), a fighter dubbed the ‘Ukrainian Lion’ who recently joined the ever-expanding stable that the enigmatic Al Haymon continues to sign.
Khytrov, 26, has been busy in the last six months. In this spell he has twice stopped an opponent in the first round (Willie Fortune in Pittsburgh, then Louis Rose in Tulsa), his promotional contract has been bought out by Lou DiBella, he was snapped up renowned manager Haymon and he also stopped Maurice Louishome in three rounds in California, just two months ago.
Khytrov, who competes against Jorge Melendez in Las Vegas on Friday, is one of the boxing’s most exciting prospects according to his advocates.
Khytrov fights like a man who thinks he stinks. It’s like all he wants to do is wrap up his job as quickly as possible in order to get back to the showers even though he barely breaks a sweat.
A highly-decorated amateur with approximately 500 fights (and 450 alleged victories), Khytrov was a national champion of Ukraine in 2011, World Amateur Champion in the same year and European Junior Champion four years prior.
The world number one heading into the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Khytrov lost a disputed decision to current Golden Boy fighter Anthony Ogogo – a result that embitters him to this day: “It was a scandal,” he said to The Ring.
It is perhaps this loss of faith in the judging of rounds that has vindicated his balls-out, blood and guts style as he is yet to be taken past the five round mark in any bout in the professional ranks. What Khytrov lacks in wingspan (165cm, compared to 180cm in height), he makes up for in short, crisp, spiteful, well-timed and hurtful punches. He’s not just forcing stoppages, but putting guys on their ass.
If Khytrov reaches stardom in North America, it will be because he is benefiting from the trailblazing efforts made by other Eastern Europeans like Sergey Kovalev, Golovkin, to a lesser extent Artur Berterbiev and even the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali.
When the Klitschkos first trod on American soil as fresh-faced amateurs, one of the things they most wanted to do was taste Coca-Cola. It is this admission that underlines what little they perhaps had at home in Ukraine in the early 1990s.
But Khytrov isn’t just in the States to sample American culture as he has fully embraced it. When boxing at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, he walked to the ring wearing the iconic black and gold jersey of the Steelers. He’s worn a Stetson for a post-fight interview. And he has even adopted Brooklyn as his home-town (training alongside Danny Jacobs).
Already, comparisons have been made to Golovkin and, while the Kazakh may be avoided by the majority of the supposed elite at 160, it is a match-up that DiBella welcomes – just not yet.
“I think in two years down the road a fight between [them] is warfare,” said the promoter, as per ESPN. “He’s not ready yet, but that’s a fight that I think will happen someday… [Khytrov] is an animal.”
His opponent on Friday, Melendez, is no mug (26 knockouts from 28 triumphs), but the Puerto Rican may be the next in line to become this predator’s prey.