After Cuba Domadores became the first team to qualify for the World Series of Boxing (WSB) Finals, all eyes were turned to the second leg between Azerbaijan Baku Fires and the defending WSB Champions Astana Arlans Kazakhstan.
The first leg took place in Kazakhstan, with the home side winning the night 3-2. The second leg was held at the Olympic Complex in Guba, giving Azerbaijan home advantage.
The Baku Fires had an excellent home record this season prior to the visit of Astana Arlans, and Saturday’s 4-1 victory sees the Azeri team through to the final, where they will face the highly-rated Cuba Domadores.
The Flyweights (52kg), Lightweights (60kg), Welterweights (69kg), Light Heavyweights (81kg) and Super Heavyweights (91kg+) contested this match.
Elvin Mamishzada opened the evening for the Baku Fires as he took on Kazakstan’s Iliyas Suleimenov in a rematch of their week six contest – in which Azerbaijan’s Mamishzada had won by unanimous points’ decision.
The result of the rematch was no different this time. Suleimenov started the fight better, and clearly won the first couple of rounds, but Mamishzada grew into the contest, and incorporated better tactics as the fight went on.
Flyweights rely heavily on speed and agility, and often the boxing on show was a blur, as both boxers showcased their quickness. The end result was a very narrow, but deserved win for Mamishzada.
This win in the first fight gave the whole Azeri team confidence for the rest of the evening.
Many WSB fans were expecting a quality Lightweight contest between Albert Selimov representing Azerbaijan, and Samat Bashenov competing for Kazakhstan.
The first round was an intriguing three minutes, which was clearly won by Selimov. Unfortunately for the fans, Bashenov suffered an injury in the second round which caused the fight to be stopped.
As per WSB rules, the winner of the bout was awarded to the boxer who won the first round on the judges’ scorecards. Hence Albert Selimov made it 2-0 to Azerbaijan on the night, and gave them the lead 4-3 on aggregate.
Yauheni Ramashkevich was 1-2 in WSB this season going into his contest against Kazakstan’s Manat Omerzakov, but belied his record with a hugely impressive victory.
Ramashkevich started the fight strongly, with his left hooks a constant threat throughout the fight. Many were questioning his stamina, but his energy levels proved to be excellent, as he maintained control of the fight round after round.
This was the third fight of the night, and with the Baku Fires winning the first two, Ramashkevich continued the momentum with his unanimous decision victory. Omerzakov spent too much of the fight looking for one big punch, and lost his first WSB match of the season.
With the Baku Fires winning the first three fights, they could have wrapped qualification up in the fourth bout of the evening.
The Light Heavyweights were in action, with the Belarusian Mikhail Dauhaliavets representing Azerbaijan against the Croatian Hrvoje Sep, who walked into the fight with a total of 21 WSB fights in his career, 20 more than Dauhaliavets!
Despite the gulf in WSB experience, Dauhaliavets was impressive, and did win the fight on one of the judges’ scorecard.
However, a point deduction in the last round for the Belarusian for his gum shield falling out for the third time, and the constant pressure of Sep saw the Croatian claim the first win of the night for Kazakhstan, and crucially kept them in with a chance of reaching the WSB Finals.
The best match of the night was saved until last, with Azerbaijan’s Super Heavyweight Haji Murtuzaliyev facing off against the WSB number two, Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic representing Astana Arlans Kazakhstan.
Going into the fight, Azerbaijan had already won three bouts in the evening, with Kazakhstan winning one. Astana Arlans’ last hope of reaching the final were therefore on Hrgovic’s shoulders, as a victory would enable the Kazakh side to contest a sudden death fight to determine the ultimate winner of the tie.
It was all to play for then, and the fight itself was spectacular. Murtuzaliyev is ranked lower than his opponent, is shorter, and had already lost to him in WSB, but against all the odds he fought his heart out, and never took a backward step in the contest, impressing the judges with his tenacity and accurate shots.
Murtuzaliyev eventually won the fight on points, and Azerbaijan Baku Fires were through to their first ever WSB Finals, having eliminated the defending champions.