When the World Boxing Super Series brackets for the eight-man, single-elimination tournaments in the cruiserweight and super middleweight divisions were unveiled in July, one bout stood out as a potential fight-of-the-year candidate.
It was the cruiserweight quarterfinal bout between world titleholder “The KO Doctor,” Yunier Dorticos, and “The Russian Hammer,” Dmitry Kudryashov, a pair of knockout artists with crowd-pleasing styles.
They meet in the first WBSS bout to take place in the United States on Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
“The fans are going to get an amazing show on [Saturday],” said Dorticos 31, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami. “This is definitely the best fight of the tournament and the best man will win. We’re both going to leave it all in the ring and fight with our hearts until the very end.
“I’m working hard and getting ready to take advantage of this opportunity. I have a strong opponent in front of me, but I know what I’m capable of. I’m going to go out there and study him the first few rounds and then break him down. I have to execute my game plan.”
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No. 4 seed Dorticos (21-0, 20 KOs) will be making his first defense since being elevated from an interim titleholder. With three other titleholders — Oleksandr Usyk, Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis — also taking part in the tournament, the winner will be able to unify the division, which is Dorticos’ goal.
“It’s an honor for me to be part of such a prestigious tournament,” he said. “This is my opportunity to put myself on top of this sport with the other big names and champions. This is what me and my team have worked so hard to accomplish. I want to fight all of the champions. That is my plan because I see myself as the best fighter in this division and now I can go out there and prove it.”
The winner of the tournament will receive the Muhammad Ali Trophy. Dorticos said winning it would mean as much to him as winning the other belts.
“I idolized Muhammad Ali just like everyone else in this sport, and to earn the trophy with his name would be something very special for my life and career,” he said.
The unseeded Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KOs), 31, of Russia, has similar goals heading into this fight.
“My main motivation is to become world champion and show that I’m the best in the division,” said Kudryashov, who will be fighting outside of Russia for the first time. “I’m the most powerful fighter in this division and everyone will see that on [Saturday]. I have a newborn daughter, but I’m still training harder than ever and it has just added to my motivation to go win this tournament.
“Fighting for the Muhammad Ali Trophy is huge for me. It is a big responsibility to make sure that I honor his name. This is possibly the biggest prize that boxers can fight for in a tournament that couldn’t be more important.”
Kudryashov has won three fights in a row since his only defeat, a second-round knockout to Olanrewaju Durodola. Kudryashov avenged the loss in his last fight, a fifth-round knockout win over Durodola on June 3.
No. 1 seed Usyk (13-0, 11 KOs), of Ukraine, scored a 10th-round knockout of former titlist Marco Huck in their Sept. 9 quarterfinal, and will face the winner of the fight between world titleholder Mairis Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs), the No. 3 seed from Latvia, and unseeded Mike Perez (22-2-1, 14 KOs), a Cuban defector now based in Ireland, in the semifinals in early 2018. Briedis and Perez meet Sept. 30 at Riga Arena in Riga, Latvia.
The Dorticos-Kudryashov winner advances to the semifinals to face the winner of the fight between world titleholder and No. 2 seed Murat Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs), of Russia, and unseeded mandatory challenger and former titlist Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs), of Poland, who meet Oct. 21 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The finals are due to take place in May.
Saturday’s card will also feature a 10-round cruiserweight fight between tournament alternates Keith Tapia (17-1, 11 KOs), 27, of Bronx, New York, and former world title challenger Lateef Kayode (21-1, 16 KOs), 34, a Nigeria native fighting out of Los Angeles.
In addition, former four-division world titleholder Nonito Donaire, out of action since losing his junior featherweight world title by controversial decision to Jessie Magdaleno nearly a year ago, will return to face Ruben Garcia Hernandez in his first fight since signing with Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer.
Donaire (37-4, 24 KOs), 34, the “Filipino Flash” who lives in Las Vegas, is returning to featherweight, where he once held a world title, to face Garcia Hernandez (22-2-1, 9 KOs), 24, of Mexico, in a 10-round bout. A Donaire victory likely will propel him into a much bigger fight in the first part of the 2018.