Timur Ibragimov: “You Got to Take Risks Sometimes, or You Never Achieve Anything”
by Pavel Yakovlev (April 27, 2010) – Timur Ibragimov had a big year in 2010. He fought five times, winning four, including an impressive victory over Oliver McCall for the NABA heavyweight championship. Positioned on the fringe of the world rankings at the start of the year, Ibragimov rose as high as seventh worldwide in the WBA ratings, and is currently rated 12th by the same organization. Ibragimov’s lone defeat – a close split decision against world rated Jean-Marc Mormeck in the latter’s hometown of Paris – only marginally undercut the value of his accomplishments in 2010. Still in the mix because of his high WBA rating, Ibragimov is hoping to meet a top contender in an elimination bout later this year.
Article posted on 28.04.2011
Recently, this correspondent held an interview with Ibragimov. Among the subjects discussed was the Mormeck fight. Unbeknownst to the public, Ibragimov entered the bout nursing a strained achilles heel, a recurring injury that dated back to the summer of 2010. This correspondent had access to Ibragimov’s camp prior to his Gurcharan Singh and Luis Andres Pineda fights (in August and October respectively), and can attest to the reality of the injury. Ibragimov’s trainer Lou Lagerman, in fact, nearly cancelled the Pineda bout due to concern about whether the injury had healed. Ibragimov’s attitude, however, was that he could fight as long as the achilles problem was not too severe. Hence, he accepted a chance to fight Mormeck on short notice when Hasid Raman withdrew from a scheduled match against the Frenchman. Unfortunately for Ibragimov, bad luck intervened: his heel popped in the fifth round, and he was compelled to abandon his fight plan of using his legs.
In the fight film, Ibragimov can be seen leaning back on his right foot excessively starting in the fifth round. The injury afflicted Ibragimov’s left ankle, and undermined his ability to move laterally and box at long range. Unable to stick and move, Ibragimov was compelled to maul with Mormeck, with disappointing results. The Uzbekistani fought far below the form he showed last summer against McCall, whom he beat by using fleet-footed lateral movement and long range boxing skill. Nonetheless, the Mormeck fight was very closely contested. In spite of his handicap, Ibragimov connected consistently enough with rights to the body that most of the rounds could legitimately have gone to either boxer.
Ibragimov’s record currently stands at 30-3-1 (16 KO’s). At age 36, he is still within his peak fighting years as a heavyweight (note that the average age of BOXREC’s top 25 heavyweights is 34). Ibragimov possesses the tricky boxing style, durability (he has never been off of his feet as a pro), and experience to rate a serious chance of upsetting many of the leading names in his division.
2010 was a big year for you. At the beginning of the year, you were unranked, basically regarded as a top 25 fighter on the fringe of the ratings. Now you are ranked WBA #12 and are eligible for a title shot. What are your thoughts about your progress?
IBRAGIMOV: I am very happy with my accomplishments last year. I had some of the toughest fights of my career, and I fought five times. I don’t think heavyweight contenders have that many fights in one year anymore.
Promotionally, you have undergone several changes this past year, and are now a free agent. Any comments?
IBRAGIMOV: I had a contract with Yuri Fedorov at the beginning of 2010 and fought for the International Boxing Association title. Later on I had a contract with Heavyweight Factory, they gave me an opportunity to fight Oliver McCall, and I won the NABA title. I requested to be released from the contract after the Mormeck fight.
So Heavyweight Factory did not drop you. They wanted to keep you, but you asked them to give you a release?
IBRAGIMOV: Yes, that is correct. We had good work together with Heavyweight Factory, but I decided that it’s time for a bigger promoter or be a free agent.
Your big win in 2010 was over Oliver McCall for the NABA title. McCall was definitely in shape for that fight. What are your thoughts about the McCall win?
IBRAGIMOV: He was really strong…he has tremendous power. He was very well prepared for the fight and really came to destroy me; he weighed 244 lbs, his best weight in a long time. It was a good performance; I showed I had everything…the chin, boxing ability, and the punch. I think that was my best fight. I showed that I could take punches and throw punches at the same time…that I could slug and exchange punches. McCall was a very tough contender and an important fight for me.
Against McCall, you won the first five rounds, and the final four rounds. However, McCall came on strong in the middle rounds, and appeared to have taken control of the fight. Were you concerned at all during the middle rounds?
IBRAGIMOV: Not really, I knew I was winning most of the rounds and I was not worried, even when I started “fighting” with him in the middle rounds. But as soon as I went back to my corner after the eighth, Lou told me to stop fighting, and to start moving again. So I stayed disciplined and boxed McCall after that. That was the strategy for that fight…to know when to defend, know when to punch and attack, and not go crazy.
In the ninth, you got back on your feet and regained control of the fight. In the final rounds, you landed many right hands on McCall. Were you tempted to go after him to try to get a knockout?
IBRAGIMOV: Yes, but we know what happens when you start landing punches…you lose your discipline. With guys like Oliver, you have to be careful knowing that one big punch can get you destroyed. Look what he did to Lennox Lewis. Oliver destroyed him with one punch. Our plan was to beat Oliver by decision. If his legs were weak, then I would go for the knockout. But Oliver had an incredible chin, and his legs never wobbled. This is why I stayed disciplined with him. Sometimes when you are landing punches you don’t think about punches coming back at you, and you get in trouble. I punched a couple times with hard punches, but he took it well, so it was not a good idea to try to knock him out. With Oliver, it’s very dangerous to get close…he can knock you out with one punch.
After beating McCall, you fought Gurcharan Singh, who turned out to be a very tough and much underrated opponent. How tough was the Singh fight, and what are your impressions of Gurcharan?
IBRAGIMOV: He was really tough; I could see that he really wanted to win. But before the fight they told me that he was an easy opponent, and that I would knock him out easily because he was not active. But that did not sound right…I knew Gurcharan was better than that. He almost won the Olympics, and had a 20-0 record. He ended up being a tough contender.
In December, you accepted a bout against Jean-Marc Mormeck with only three weeks to prepare. The fight took place in Mormeck’s hometown, Paris, and was promoted by Mormeck’s promotional company. You lost a very close, very hard fought split decision. Any comments?
IBRAGIMOV: The fight was a big opportunity for me; I was told that it would be for WBA #3 ranking. At the time, I was in Sweden sparring with Attila Levin, to help him get ready for Helenius. Attila is a different kind of fighter than Mormeck; Attila is bigger, has a different style, and is different physically. If I was home in Florida, I would have prepared for Mormeck by sparring with Darnell Wilson, who is like Mormeck physically and stylistically. That would have been great preparation. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to spar with Darnell when I was training for Mormeck. Too bad.
You also had recurring problems with your achilles heel in the months before the Mormeck fight. Despite this, you took the fight anyway. Any comments?
IBRAGIMOV: I made a bad decision in taking the fight with my hurt achilles, but I had this opportunity, so I took it. We Russians say: “You have to take risks sometimes, if you don’t, you never achieve anything.” But the fight was at the wrong time for me, with the achilles problem.
Many observers believe the fight was so close that the decision could legitimately have been given to either fighter (note: in rounds, this correspondent scored the match 6-5-1 for Ibragimov, and 5-5-1 after the point deduction). Yet you have never claimed you were robbed, even though the fight took place in Mormeck’s hometown. Why have you been so modest?
IBRAGIMOV: Because I learned this attitude from my amateur career. As soon as the fight’s over and they raise the hand of the opponent, that’s it. What can you do? What is done is done. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Also, the way I see it, I go to Mormeck’s city, so I know I have to drop him to win. In a fight like this, you have to drop the other guy. I knew that before I went to Paris. I went there and I did not drop him, so that’s it. No complaints. If I lost the fight, I lost the fight.
After getting off to a strong start against Mormeck, you lost most of the middle rounds. I thought Mormeck won the fifth through the ninth. But you turned the tide in the tenth, connecting with hurtful rights to the ribs, which appeared to slow Mormeck down. I gave the final three rounds to you. Any comments?
IBRAGIMOV: Yeah, when I started hitting him to the body with my right, I could see the changes; he stopped moving and started grabbing. But I could not really move because of my achilles. I had to lean back all the time because of that.
You went to Paris reasonably confident that the achilles injury was under control, that it would not be an issue. Then the injury flared up during the middle rounds. The symptoms were clear: I watched the fight with a boxing trainer, and he was able to notice the injury because of your foot movement. Any comments?
IBRAGIMOV: If you watch the fight, you can see that I could not move after six rounds. I could not bounce on my feet anymore because of my heel. My plan to win was to move and keep him at the distance, if I did that then the win would be easy. But after five rounds, I stopped moving. I started dragging my foot. The achilles injury was on the left leg, so I had to lean back on my right ankle all the time. That meant I could not use my right foot either, because I had to drag that foot all the time. It was not smart for me to take this fight with that problem. But that is one hundred percent my mistake.
In the final rounds, Mormeck looked broken down, and he clinched repeatedly, especially after taking body punches. That Mormeck initiated the majority of the clinches in the later rounds can be seen in the films: he constantly hooks his arm around yours. Even before that, Mormeck consistently used his elbows and forearms on the inside. Not once was Mormeck cautioned for these tactics by the French referee. By contrast, the referee harassed you in every round for anything you did that resembled clinching or pushing. What are your thoughts here?
IBRAGIMOV: (laughs as he answers) I think the referee was one of Mormeck’s cornermen. He would not let me fight. It was funny. From the beginning of the fight, he would not let me clinch, or allow me push Mormeck away. That was part of my strategy…to tie him up and push him away when he would get close. If that’s illegal, then we would not have Vladimir Klitschko as champion, or lots of other guys as champions. But always the referee was jumping in, pushing me backwards. Then later, as soon as I hurt Mormeck, the referee stopped the fight and took a point away from me. And when Mormeck got hurt again, the referee decided that it’s okay for him to clinch…that him hugging me is okay.
I understand that you took the Mormeck fight on short notice because of financial pressures. Any comments?
IBRAGIMOV: 2009 was a tough year, I was promised at least three fights that never materialized. I could not work because I had to prepare for a virtual fights that never happened, accumulated some debt and that is the main reason why I was agreeing to any available fights in 2010.
Can you tell us about your new training and conditioning work? I understand that you are using MMA style training now. What exactly are you doing, and can you feel the results?
IBRAGIMOV: I tried something new during the last rounds with Mormeck and I found it successful, I am definitely moving in new direction and I am very happy about that. I think it’s better done than said.
What are you doing to insure that the achilles heel isn’t a problem for you in the future?
IBRAGIMOV: I am following doctor’s and Lou’s recommendations and I am sure that my achilles problem will be minimized.
I understand that you sparred with David Haye many years ago. What are your impressions of Haye based on that sparring?
IBRAGIMOV: He is a very good fighter, not very predictable, and works really hard in the ring.
Haye is supposed to fight Vladimir Klitschko this summer. Do you have a prediction about who will win the upcoming match?
IBRAGIMOV: They are both very good boxers; I wish them both luck. I am sure it’s going to be a very good show.
What is your schedule now, in terms of how much longer you intend to box professionally?
IBRAGIMOV: With my new training strategy I am learning a lot about how far the human body can advance. I am getting to the best shape of my career and have no time to think about anything else.
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