Soviet Legends: Vladimir Nikolaevich Yengibaryan-The Armenian Legacy Behind The Success Of Arthur Abraham And Vic Darchinyan!
by Izyaslav "Slava" Koza, Andrej "Reyes" Sokolov, and Gennadi "Komar" Komarnitzky - "I know many talented Soviet fighters, but the best among them is Vladimir Yengibaryan. He is the 'standard' for boxing talent. (Three-time Olympic Champion-László Papp)
Article posted on 17.08.2009
INTRODUCTION: Some of you, bored by the endless drivel regarding every little syllable that exits the mouth of a boxing "superstar," may indeed find this quite amusing, and educational, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with Floyd, Manny, or Miguel (Go COTTO!!!).
It's not an article with a brash opinion and stupid insults, so much as an honest attempt to recreate, in the minds of the reader, the driving force that Vladimir Yengibaryan was to the world of 1950's amateur boxing.
Sad to say that in the eyes of modern boxing, while the man is still alive, and further still in the wake of the development of champions from the former Soviet republics,this "innovator" of the Soviet school, just does not exist.
Maybe just maybe, the article will help make it right..
To this day, Vladimir Yengibaryan lives in Los Angeles, and despite the unbelievably obscene amount of boxing fans in that
area, most probably have no idea, who or what this man was, is, and will be remembered as being. Not that
anything we write or discuss will matter anyway, seeing as without video (that I personally can share) none of our opinions matter, but that point, much like most any on any topic is moot.
With the little information available online about the original "Armenian Assassin" (Arthur Abraham, Vic Darchinyan, and Vanes
Martirosyan weren't the first boys and girls), something worthwhile had to be done.
Hence, here we go.
Vladimir Nikolaevich Yengibaryan was born-4/24/32 in Yerevan, than capital of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. An olympic champion, three time european champion, and three time champion of the USSR, he was honored with the prestigious Soviet title "Master of Sport" (equivalent to induction into Hall of Fame) in 1956. Throughought his career he fought 168 times, winning 155 times (unbelievably impressive considering amateur bout losses for most such greats number in the twenty loss or more range).
Yengibaryan started boxing in 1946, at first under the tutelage of Artyom Artjunov, and later, as he progressed, Edourd Aristakesyan. In 1951 he earned bronze at 139 pounds (equivalent) at the USSR Championships. In 1952 he was called up to train with the Soviet national team, but was not chosen to represent his country (or 'nation') at the Olympic games in Finland, possibly due to inexperience rather than a lack of talent (in general experienced fighters get preference over younger perhaps more potentially talented ones). In 1953, at the inaugural European Championships for the Soviet contingent in Warsaw, Poland, he was the first "Commie" ever to attain the title of European champion. In 1955 he won his first Soviet title, and in 1956 at the Aussie games in Melbourne, he became only the second Soviet fighter (Wladimir Safronov also won top honors for the USSR at those games) to bring the Gold back to the Kremlin (or Yerevan). In '57, and '59, he again finished first at the European championships, and while he was the favorite to win gold at the '60 Rome olympics, an injury to his left hand cost him his quarterfinal match against Andrew Golota's Polish countryman, Marian Kasprzyk, who ended up with a Bronze. The result forced Yengibaryan to end his sporting career, and turn to other ( regardless of the limited availability of such in a Socialist nation), endeavours.
Yengibaryan continued in the sport as a trainer, working at the Erevan children's/youth school of boxing (which to this day bears his name) and laying the foundation for the successes of the likes of Abraham, Darchinyan, and others.
I am sure, and despite not asking either man this when I interviewed both on numerous occassions, that when Arthur (Avetik) and Vic (Vakhtang) first came into a boxing gym as young little punks, in their home country, somebody, somewhere in that Yerevan gym told them about this man.
Besides which Yengibaryan also became an international boxing judge. In the 70's he was the Soviet representative to the dreaded AIBA, and worked as a referee at many high-caliber international boxing tournaments.
Since 1993 he lives in Los Angeles, California, and I would be surprised if the Armenian contingent of fighters in that area do not know who we are discussing here.
For a light welter, to welter fighter, the very midget-like Yengibaryan (164 centimeters), seemed a bit too heavy to move well. However, he was always like quicksilver on his feet, and was very spry in both his attacks and defensive reactions. Generally opponents found his punches rained down from all sorts of unthinkable angles and despite the openings such seemingly wild shots created on the aggressor, Yengibaryan was difficult to clip with shots himself. It was simply irrelevant that he had an open stance, low guard, and all such other, seemingly drastic technical deficiencies.
No one could take advantage of them.
In fact, this lack of defense, facilitated the very ability to come up, or down with shots, and spring forward at the opponent.
In many respects, the none-standard, Yengibaryan was an innovator in the ring. From the very beginning, his trainer, Edourd Aristakesyan, worked with his charge in such a way so as to mold a unique battle plan and an original style for Vladimir. A large part of this long term strategy was the accented finisher, and for its time innovative punch, that would eventually become Yengibaryan's calling card. The punch, not so much a straight coming up from a static position, but, for instance, a quite cool, and for its time quite exclusive, quick, and accurate, straight left coming on a hop step, simply stunned most opponents even if it didn't catch them flush, or at all (they were just awed because they had never seen it before).
Yengibaryan boxed as a southpaw, but in a reverse sense, since he was, in point of fact, a closet left-handed fighter. The punch became famous the world over, and was admirably dubbed the "pool cue," beind copied, in a manner of speaking, by not only Eastern European, but also Western fighters. Those who watch boxing closely enough will pick up on which fighters of the recent past use it on occassion when they are fully on their game (At the moment, racking my brain over all fights i analyzed carefully I can remember Valuev using the blow against Paolo Vidoz in some modified fashion. While many of you laugh that I use Valuev as an example, the relevance is that at the time Valuev's trainer was Manuel Gabrielian-look for my interview with him on eastsideboxing's archive page-an established, hall of fame 'ARMENIAN TRAINER.')
To fully understand the concept of this punch, an important trademark to both every remaining generation of gifted Soviet fighter, and of course Yengibaryan himself, it is important to consider an example of such during the following bout from the 1953 European championships in Poland.
The opponent, a Bulgarian fellow named Ivan Markov, was somebody Yengibaryan had seen in the ring on a few previous occassions. Objectively speaking, he was a strong, offensive-minded fighter, who had an advanced command of sound boxing tactics. As such, the Bulgarian decided to break Yengibaryan's defense straight away, by shocking, and knocking the Armenian off his own attacking game discussed above. At first Markov found his gameplan largely successful. Yengibaryan defended, and constantly backpeddled, seemingly unable to begin with his own connects. However, at no point did Yengibaryan, or Markov find the more defensive of the two, with his back to the ropes. Gradually Markov became bothered by the weird stance of his Soviet opponent, who kept his hands at elbow level, despite basically squaring up with both feet planted against his onrushing foe, thereby exposing his chest and head.
If only the Bulgar could somehow land a good power shot...
The target, seemed to displace with hellish speed in response to each of Markov's attempted punches.
As expected, Markov's offensive train, began losing steam. Gradually, and at whatever point one would choose to look carefully, there was a simple, and yet still, sudden, reversal of roles. Yengibaryan's attacks became prolonged, and started appearing yet more often with each passing fraction of each round. The Armenian worked just as well with either hand, but during the final minute of the bout, he switched to using the left exclusively, since Markov was no longer able, due to both confusion and fatigue, deal with Yengibaryan's main stance jabbing hand, and the Armenian could now focus on resting his main stance power hand for later opponents.
Markov was hopelessly outmatched.
Soon after, Yengibaryan found himself going up against the tournament favorite, and hometown fighter, named Antikevic. The Pole's tactical gameplan consisted of the following key elements: staying in the Armenian's chest, as well as wearing Yengibaryan out with power-accented, as opposed to shoe-shine accented combinations, and attacks, focusing primarily on the liver, and lungs.
Yengibaryan read, and handled the first attack in decent fashion, allowing the opponent to subconsciously gain confidence, thinking his strategy would eventually succeed. Unfortunately for the Pole, a half a second before the second wave, Vladimir lunged forward from a distance of no less than three meters, taking two hops forward, sending a straight left, coming "down-up" and right down the pipe, in perfect rhythm with his balanced stance.
IT WAS THE "POOL CUE"!!!!!!
And it just sent the "Eight Ball" in the side pocket...
The pole staggered off balance to the other side of the ring, as an eerie silence crept over the Polish crowd...
The hometown fighter barely withstood the assault but was visibly shaken up. All pre-fight strategy flew out the window. Scared of being caught with something similarly, perhaps simply, "dangerous," or possibly, "monstrously" worse, Antikevic limited himself to attacks from only the mid to far distances. However, the Pole was at a disadvantage because of Yengibaryan's better reaction time. The first two rounds went in the Armenian's favor.
Basically, the fight was over.
At the start of round three, a pin drop could have made both a deaf, and a blind man regain his senses. The crowd was too quiet. Not a single fan could force himself to make even the meekest of noises. The Polish fighter, just like his crowd, could sense the fight had all but slipped away. The only thing that stood between him, and a missed opportunity for a European Championship, was but a single minute.
He went for it.
In a word, the barrage was 'savage.'
It didn't matter.
Antikevic found himself on the canvas anyway.
In my honest opinion, any true boxing fan should have killed to see video of that whole fight.
Such is life...
Instead, let's make due with some things said about Yengibaryan by boxing publications in the 1950's.
(British) "Boxing News:"
"Yengibaryan is the pride of amateur boxing. He is a master technician, with terrific physical conditioning and not the slightest hint of overpreparation. His beautiful
footwork mirrors that of Joe Louis. With exceptional reaction time, and a rich assortment of punches, Yengibaryan is the standard bearer for the characterization of such wonderful boxing traits."
(French) "?Jequip?": "The Armenian boxer commands a style similar to that of black fighters in the United States. He happens to be one of the best fighters today...."
(British) "World SportsGeorge Whitengton) ", "The most versatile, and stylish light-welter, that I have ever come across in my career as a sports journalist." According to Whitengton, Yengibaryan's tactical, and strategic arsenals, were purely "British." The straight left, worked like a "pool cue," though whenever he needed to he would shorten it up into a masterful, powerful, and accurate hook (Wladimir Klitschko ever have any 'Armenian coaches'? Soviet school perhaps? Straight to hook, flowing like water? I don't know guys. Somebody ask him.). Whitengton also made note of Yengibaryan's incredible defensive technique.
(British) "Daily Worker": (Is this one of the UK's communist newspapers or something? Anyway...): "...Soviet amateur boxer Vladimir Yengibaryan recently had the displeasure of fighting off around 20 hooligans on the beaches of the Black Sea..." (TWENTY PEOPLE?)
While all this was well and good for the Western world, in the Soviet Union, Yengibaryan was appreciated in his own right too. It was obvious, that despite his "unpredictabe," and "capitalist," style, he was the originator of what would become the basis for wonderful technical, and beautiful Soviet boxing (which, by the way, in some form would later be exported to Cuba, China, and North Korea .). Until that point Soviet boxing was just as "rough and tumble," as the likes of Ricky Hatton in his prime, and though Nikolai Korolev showed some elements of finesse, most Soviet greats of the time depended on raw power, and offensive pressure.
To some degree that is a bit vague in regards to every single fighter, but for the time, fighters like Lithuanian Algirdas Shotzikas (Korolev's heir to the Soviet Heavyweight championship), Boris Lagutin (The most decorated Soviet fighter of all time), Vladimir Safronov (Gold Medalist along with Yengibaryan in Melbourne), Velikton Barannikov (Silver Medallist-Tokyo Olympics), and Ričardas Tamulis (Silver Medal-Tokyo Olympics), were greatly influenced by Yengibaryan. Perhaps subconscious, or perhaps "imitation, as the sincerest form of flattery to an open degree," the results, medals, and accomplishments these men had speak well of the 'Soviet School,' as a whole.
The fact of the matter is, despite his technical brilliance, it was the "pool cue," that was the most effective shot in Yengibaryan's arsenal. However, it is also obvious, that in order to deliver it, one would need exceptional, and perhaps even very unique "explosive reaction time" and similar coordination. The "pool cue," was something fighters tried to imitate, but because of their limited ability (again think Valuev, a clumsy oaf trying to put this one together, and making it look more loopy than straight.), could not do as well, as its innovator.
Fighters like Yengibaryan, Victor Ageev, Roy Jones, and Sugar Ray Robinson, are either born rarely, or rarely train hard enough to make it seem THAT natural. Besides which, never forget that Yengibaryan was, as mentioned, a "reverse lefty." The "pool cue" was thrown with the lead hand-left, but in fact that was the stronger hand of the two.
Yengibaryan always felt sick over his sparse losses (there were only thirteen), and if in any upcoming tournament he had a chance at revenge, he prepared, and trained to serve that dish as cold as he possibly could. The great Polish fighter, Lecek Drogosh, discovered the brutal truth behind those words at the '56 Melbourne Olympics. Drogosh was ravaged like a stripper at a bachelor party for recently released ex-convicts.
It WAS that bad...
Lecek tasted canvas in the very first, and in the end, stumbled towards a lopsided decision loss.
To him it was a fight against a guy he beat.
To Yengibaryan it was a chance to prove the man he annihilated couldn't ever say he was better.
Despite this though they became friends, as super competitive rivals always do. Of Lecek, Yengibaryan later said, "we became good friends outside the ring. In the ring we were just too similar in nature to not be that violent. For us, boxing is first and foremost, an art form, and our success is our own personal masterpiece." Lecek was equally kind, "Volodya (Vladimir) is like a brother to me. A familial soul in one sense. I often think, that he and I were born under the same symbolic star. Yes, we are friends. We keep close, and each meeting, instills in us a sense of warmth and happiness."
It sounds funny, and perhaps gay to younger children who don't understand normal human interaction as well, yet, but that is the way most fighters, who have shared the ring with each feel.
Ditto, Tyson, and Douglas.
and the list goes on and on.
Like war, boxing is just a game, and Vladimir Yengibaryan was simply proficient enough in it.
He stopped competing in far and long gone 1960, and despite boxing at the '60 Rome olympics with an injured left hand (his cue was broken), and losing in the quarterfinal match, he still beat on his Polish opponent to such a degree, that the doctors didn't allow, Marian Kasprzyk, to even have a go in the semifinals for the Silver or Gold.
Instead Kasprzyk got a Bronze, while Yengibaryan's career came to an end.
Thankfully, after his fighting days came to an end, he could make peace with his vanquished foes, and perhaps, through each of those battles, that forthcoming peace, is what allowed him to not be traumatized by the idea of hurting someone.
Maybe that is what allowed him to continue showing the world the best Soviet boxing had to offer.
Roughly 50 years have passed since that day, and yet in all that time, there has not been one fighter (maybe Wlad Klitschko MAYBE) who has developed the reverse lefty stance to such a virtuouso level as the "Side-Pocket Armenian."
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2, IN WHICH ANDREI, GENNADI, AND I DISSECT STILL SHOTS OF YENGIBARYAN'S TECHNIQUE, AND ILLUSTRATE THE POOL CUE TO MAKE PEOPLE BETTER UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF THE PUNCH ITSELF.
Comments to Novirasputin@hotmail.com
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