• Boxing

Grozny: Hardly boxing's most exotic location

Steve Bunce July 1, 2014
Ali and Foreman staged one of the greatest bouts of all time in Zaire © Getty Images

When Ruslan Chagaev was a teenager he left Uzbekistan and moved to Chicago to continue his boxing education. It was just the start of a journey that will continue on Sunday when he fights for the WBA's heavyweight title against Fres Oquendo, a Puerto Rican, in Grozny, Chechnya.

After the move to Chicago Chagaev showed up two years later in Budapest, where he beat Felix Savon, the great Cuban, to win the World Amateur title. However, the Cubans complained - they are very good at that - and Chagaev was stripped of his title because it was claimed that his "education" in Chicago had included some fights as a professional - two to be precise.

Chagaev will fight Puerto Rico's Fres Oquendo in Grozny, Chechnya, on Sunday © Getty Images
After a ban, Chagaev arrived in Sydney for the Olympics and was in the other side of the draw to Savon. However, he was beaten before the medal stages and Savon went on and won his third gold medal and then retired. The following year Chagaev and his touring band of Uzbekistan men and women, who by now had become my firm favourite people on the international boxing circuit, arrived in Belfast and won the World Amateur title. Chagaev was 23 and it was time to turn professional properly, which he did making his real debut in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

I was meant to be at Ruslan's debut having received an invite from some of my pals, the Uzbek officials. However, the attack on America on September 11th of that year meant that the Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad fight at Madison Square Garden was pushed back two weeks and that clashed with Chagaev's triumphant homecoming. I was sadly forced to decline the kind offer from my Tashkent connections, which led to a lot of tears and vodka.

After just a few fights on the road Chagaev settled in Germany, which has been home to just about every single heavyweight from the former Soviet republics for the last 20 years. In 2007 he won the WBA title and in 2009 he lost it to Wladimir Klitschko; this Sunday he gets another chance in Grozny, which is surely one of the oddest and most remote city's to ever host a world heavyweight title fight.

Would Ali, Frazier and Foreman's encounters be the same had they taken place in mundane cities? I doubt it, I really do.

During the Seventies Kingston, Jamaica, Kinshasa, Zaire, Manila, Philippines and Caracas, Venezuela, all hosted Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier or George Foreman in a tour of the world's most exotic locations. There was a lot of bold talk about taking the title to the people, but really the mad locations had far more to do with tax (not paying) and divorces (not having to reveal how much you had been paid).

The classic heavyweight fights from the Seventies were also unforgettable for what happened in the ring and the iconic threesome of Ali, Frazier and Foreman will forever be remembered for their monumental struggles. Would their encounters be the same had they taken place in mundane cities? I doubt it, I really do. We remember Manila, we remember the jungle and we remember the violence of Foreman's destruction of Frazier in Jamaica in the Sunshine Showdown because of the location.

This Sunday Chagaev and Oquendo, who will have his friend David Haye with him, enter the ring in Grozny to win a title that puts the winner an inch closer to a fight with Wladimir Klitschko. Well, that's the theory. However, Klitschko is a wanted man by a lot of fighters and there is every chance that if Chagaev wins there could be a fight at some point with Haye. A fight with Haye could take place in Dubai, where he has business interests, and that has a nice exotic feel to it.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Steve Bunce Close
Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.