Sultan Ibragimov Interview: "Briggs Should Be A Man And Fight Me"

16.11.06 - By Izyaslav "Slava" Koza There is a saying in the world of professional boxing, "Fighters who fight not to lose rather then fighting to win," which perfectly illustrates the difference between fighters who are draws and those who are bores. In other words, those guys who don't go out and try to take what they supposedly want, but rather wait for somebody else to serve it up for them on silver platter, won't put people in seats. In part, the heavyweight division today is considered rotten because roughly 90% of the fighters in it don't come out looking to win, but rather to not make a mistake and lose, which is why there is such a longing for the greats of the past.

Point being, I dare anyone to tell me Sultan Ibragimov does any such thing. For those who have seen him fight, you know that win, lose, or draw (even though he beat Austin in my eyes), fans will get their money's worth if Sultan is in the ring. Even if I can appreciate tactical boxing with little action, there is no substitute for the type of in your face game-plan that Sultan Ibragimov always brings to the table.

Now some may think this sounds more like a press release rather then an objective opinion, which is why I have taken the liberty of providing along the following proof. Sultan's last bout was the highest rated Friday Night Fights event in over four years, and I think most fans know full well why that is. Even though Ray Austin is an underrated fighter, based on the numerous times that I have seen him before, it's obvious that Ibragimov was the one who carried the fight and put asses in seats or viewers in front of screens.

Now Sultan is trying to line up his rightfully deserved shot at a title belt and so far, I as a fan, hear Briggs call out all these names but not talk about the man he is supposed to fight. Briggs didn't fight in any eliminators, nor did he beat any real credible opponents to wind up fighting for a title, and by his own admission "got a chance" from Don King. Well, if he wants to give up the belt, he wasn't supposed to have been fighting for, then fine, but if he wants to legitimize his part of the claim then he should throw down and fight his #1 contender. Besides, as I said, Sultan sells, and HBO agrees, which is why they would probably televise it, so Briggs will get a huge reputation boost and legitimate stake if he can successfully defend against his #1 challenger.

Furthermore, when Mike Tyson was decimating opponents left and right, it wasn't so much that fans found the mismatches as exciting, as seeing a fearless man do his job. Tough-man, Butterbean, Tyson, Foreman, Liston, Shavers, all sold because of that, and even if they would lose, they would do it without any regrets or anything to be ashamed of. And that's why they were still tough sells after tough losses. Sultan Ibragimov fights without fear, with nothing to lose, and that is what makes him so special, not only to the heavyweight division but to boxing in general.

ESB: Hey Sultan! First of all, what did you think of the Klitschko fight?

Sultan: Well, I'm sure you saw it yourself, it was a good fight, Wladimir showed himself, and did a good job, and built on and just fought a great fight. The first 3 or 4 rounds, he couldn't get going, but in the fifth, he woke up and in his typical manner and with his usual repertoire finished the fight. He did good.

ESB: According to reports from the press conference afterwards, Briggs once again called Klitschko out. Not long ago his manager called out Valuev, but nobody seems to be talking about you. Do you think Briggs is scared and doesn't want to remind anyone that he has to fight you?

Sultan: After the Lyakhovich win, he started yelling to the whole country that, "It won't be long until I return the belts to you." You know the typical way Americans like to yell and shout. With me, though, he knows me, and they are reluctant to fight us because there is more benefit, even in losing to one of the champs. With me, it's a risk and it's more beneficial to fight Klitschko or Valuev.

ESB: Do you know Briggs?

Sultan: Yeah, about two years ago, we trained at the same gym. He knows me like the back of his hand, but I know him even better.

ESB: So it's more beneficial to fight the other champs?

Sultan: Yeah, because his promoter, King, wants to hold and control all the belts, and he doesn't want to give me the fight, even though he is contractually obligated. So, we are waiting for the 16th, when hopefully everything will be figured out (the "Purse Bid" is supposed to be held on the 16th-Author's note).

ESB: Your manager, Boris Grimberg, tells me that Briggs won't fight you only if his lawyers are better then your own. Do you think it will come to that? In other words, them going through the courts to avoid the fight?

Sultan: Well, all sorts of things happen and Don King is capable of doing anything, so I don't really know but I am always at the ready, and training and waiting for the 16th.

ESB: I read that you want to get revenge on Briggs for Sergei, just like you got revenge on Whitaker for Oleg Maskaev. Are you and Sergei friends?

Sultan: We met twice here, you know, the Russian community, so we do know each other, but I don't think you can say that we are friends. I think they just wrote it like that. Right now, they have this thing, with America versus Russia, and everyone is saying we have to return the belts to America and all of us are like unwelcome guests.

ESB: At the press conference before the Whitaker fight your South Russian-Caucasian temper didn't disappoint when you hit Whitaker in the face. I am 120% certain that Briggs will try to do the same thing as Whitaker. Will the response be similar or will you try to save for fight night?

Sultan: Yeah, even at the Lyakhovich conference, the same thing happened, and he and Sergei got into it, so he knows how to do that. The answer won't be the same because after the incident with Whitaker, many Americans started asking questions, and making this scandalous fighter out of me. Then they didn't allow us to get near each other, and had a lot of security, and made it look as if I would start fighting again, so I don't want to do that anymore. I don't want to mess up my reputation, or get any benefit from it, and act like somebody I'm not.

Let it all come out in the ring. I have no idea what we should argue about with them.

ESB: Do you think he will try to anger you?

Sultan: Yes, because we had a run in at the gym, when I sparred with his friend. I don't remember who it was but he had this friend, who I was sparring with, and I dropped him, and my trainer, Panama Lewis started saying, "That's it, you killed him, and so on," but they were still pushing him to spar, and my trainer said, "Why beat a dead horse? He'll kill him." So they got into an argument with Briggs and I went to defend my trainer and we had a little scrap.

So after that incident, we don't talk, and he avoids me, and if the fight is made, he'll will probably try to anger me.

ESB: Do you think he really doesn't like Russian or ex-Soviet guys or does it have more to do with Ali-like mind games?

Sultan: No, he just plays to the crowd, and as many times as I have seen him he says to all Americans, "just wait, and I'll return it all. I'll tear them all up. I'm American, I'm from Brooklyn" and so on. So he plays this card all the time. Like I read one article where he says, "Rahman was the last line of defense, but I am the first line of offense." He always says he is an American and a patriot and will return the titles. However, he doesn't talk about a fight with me at all. As long as we trained together at the gym, he never sparred with me, not once. He always found an excuse, like his hand hurt, so maybe tomorrow, but tomorrow never came.

ESB: You wanted to though?

Sultan: Well, yeah, I needed to, but he said, "my hand hurts, my shoulder hurts," and so it never happened. Now, he is keeping quiet, even though I am the #1 contender and they must defend the title against me within a three-month period, but nobody talks about it. Everybody talks about the titles, and it's more beneficial for him to lose to another belt-holder instead of fighting me.

ESB: Yeah, you know that is why we want to give you a voice and help you promote yourself a bit. Imagine that Briggs will read this interview. What do you want to tell him?

Sultan: I want to say to him, "be a man and agree to fight me, and prepare for the fight, and don't look at the other champs." Let him defend his title. If he can then let him fight with the other champs, but first he should honor the contract and defend his belt. If he is that strong, let him beat me and start calling out everybody else.

ESB: I agree in a sense. If he would be in your shoes, he would want the same thing. A little while ago it was announced that Jeff Mayweather, Floyd's uncle, is training you. Are you working well together?

Sultan: Yeah, we are working together for about a week now, and he also helped prepare Briggs for the Lyakhovich fight, but left that camp. He trained Austin, too, and he knows Briggs well so that is beneficial.

He is a great trainer, and has a very professional approach to everything. He takes notes, and after each training session, he sits there for half an hour and studies everything we did, so he approaches his job correctly. I really value his work ethic.

ESB: Do you understand each other?

Sultan: Yeah, that's ok. Everything related to boxing I can understand.

ESB: Are you sparring now?

Sultan: Now there is no sparring, because now we are working on the physical aspect of training, and as soon as they make the fight, then everything will go according to a plan. Physical, Sparring, and we'll make a plan. It doesn't make sense to spar now.

ESB: What can you tell us about your relationship with the promotional team of ring legends Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins?

Sultan: I met De La Hoya recently at the WBO convention. It feels good, of course, because he understands everything about boxing, and sees everything, and when a person understands everything like that, it's easier to understand each other. He has a colossal amount of boxing experience and knowledge, and promises that we will win, and will do it all on HBO, and that the fight will be made. It's important that he's in my corner because Don King is very difficult to work with in making a fight. You need a guy like De La Hoya on your side.

ESB: What about Hopkins?

Sultan: Yeah, we met, talked, and I had no idea that he knows so much about me and about all my fights. He knows a great deal, too, and knows what to do, and I like how he approaches it.

ESB: I think he wanted to move to heavyweight. Did you hear about that?

Sultan: Yeah, Hopkins wants to fight Maskaev, but Maskaev doesn't need any of it. Hopkins is a middleweight, and wants to get up there and show himself, but I don't think he can hang in with Maskaev. He should do the right thing and not take this fight. Read an interview where he said, "Pay me and I'll fight," but Hopkins is not a heavyweight, so I don't know where he is going.

ESB: Sultan, when and at what age did you start boxing?

Sultan: In 1991, when I was 16. I went to a trainer in Rostov, and at first, I did it for myself, you know, and then: City Championships, Region, and then got on the national team, and you know, you don't even notice it. Continue further, and get bigger and now I am here in America (laughing). I never thought it would happen. I just wanted to for myself but fate said different.

ESB: Who were your boxing idols at that age?

Sultan: Muhammed Ali was always my idol, and also Tyson, cause I liked his style and fights a lot. Other then that my idol was always Muhammed Ali. The will of his character, and the fights of his that I watched. Not one champion in history has ever had the types of hard battles that Ali did. He met every single elite fighter and beat them all and nobody has ever accomplished that. So that is why he is my idol.

ESB: What about from the Soviet guys?

Sultan: From the Soviets? Well, Victor Petrovich (Victor Ageev-Author's note), because I liked his style and the tactics he used in his fights, but other than that, you know there were many fighters. I mean, you know the Soviet school is the best now, cause we overtook the Cubans.

ESB: Who was the greatest Soviet boxer of all time and why?

Sultan: Well, the greatest, if considering both pro and amateur, was Kostya Tsyzu. It's just that none of our fighters have ever had the types of fights that Tsyzu did, because he fought against very strong opponents.

ESB: What was your amateur record?

Sultan: I didn't really count. Definitely more then 100 fights and some losses, too, but I never counted.

ESB: Who were some of the more famous fighters that you faced in the amateurs?

Sultan: I Fought Savon twice, lost to him both times, in the finals at the Olympics, and at this one tournament I competed in. Savon and also before I turned professional, I lost one fight to Solis. He is the Olympic champ now.

I Met him in the semifinals in 2001, in Belfast, Ireland, in the 91 and under category, and lost. He was so much faster that I just wasn't able to do anything at all. I watch him now and he is completely different. Since then, he has never been in that good a shape. He is much slower now.

ESB: Sultan are you married? Do you have kids? Tell us about your family.

Sultan: No, I'm not married. I have a brother in Rostov, and my father is in Dagestan. Timur is flying to Australia to participate in "SuperFighter." He is leaving on the 19th. At first, they said he would be a substitute in case somebody didn't show up but now they confirmed that he will definitely participate.

ESB: What do you think about his chances?

Sultan: I think he has a chance. It's a four round format and Timur is very fast and can do something. The format is similar to the amateurs so that is more beneficial to him.

ESB: What do you like to do in your free time?

Sultan: Usually, I love fishing. Here, though, every day after training, I love the ocean. I spend hours there. I love the water and I don't get out. The water takes me away and I feel like I am feeding of the ocean somehow.

ESB: What do you like from movies, music, and literature?

Sultan: Any music basically. I watch a lot of movies here, and books, too, and basically I really like historical films, in Russian and English. The English ones help me learn the language, too. The movies I watch there in Russian, I re-watch here in English and that way I can understand the language better.

Yesterday, for instance, I watched Troy again (laughing). It's a good film, and you probably saw it. The first time I watched it, I liked it, and the second time, I already understood what they were saying. You understand better is all.

ESB: What about literature?

Sultan: From literature I basically read the Russian stuff. We have a bookstore here so I get everything there. For instance, I'm reading Julia Latynina, now.

ESB: A while ago, there were rumors that Mike Tyson would be one of your corner-men. What happened there?

Sultan: Yeah, he got sick before my last fight and called and said, "I have an infection and I can't come," but he was at the one before that. Now, he had that exhibition fight, so I called him and wished him luck. His opponent, Corey Sanders, was one of my sparring partners.

ESB: If you face Briggs, do you think he will be in your corner?

Sultan: He will definitely be in the arena but not in the corner because I have a different team now and they aren't friendly with each other. He and Mayweather aren't friends but when Panama was training me they were cool. He will be in the arena, however, because one of the guys in our corner, Mario Kosta, takes care of Tyson's Pidgeon coup in New Jersey. So they are even closer and that is why he will be there.

ESB: Do you think he can help as a corner-man?

Sultan: I don't know, cause we had one fight and he helps and knows his boxing but he wants me to fight the way he did, and I can't always fight that way. Otherwise, he can really help with the walk-in for a fight cause that can influence my opponent.

ESB: Yeah, I was thinking if before a fight when the ref is giving the instructions, he would stand behind you and look your opponent in the eyes, that would definitely help. What do you think about his Exhibition Tour? Do you support it?

Sultan: Well, I mean, he gets good money for it, and that is part of the reason, but also when he isn't fighting, he is always drawn to the ring. After all, he spent 20 years in boxing and he is always being pulled back and I understand that, but I don't think I would do it. I would leave and not come back. You have Holyfield, who fought recently and I just don't get it.

ESB: Recently, I read an interview with young prospect Roman Greenberg. Roman said the following about you, "I consider Sultan Ibragimov, who I have known ever since my amateur days, a close friend and someone I respect a great deal." What do you want to say about Roman?

Sultan: Yeah, he has a fight coming up here on December 12th and I will go watch and support him. He came here before but got sick and the fight was cancelled. He is a good kid, and has all the physical tools, like strength, height, and so on, and I think he will accomplish good things.

ESB: Right now there are a lot problems, and hatred between people of different religions, races, and nationalities. As a Muslim do you think your relationship (with Roman) should serve as an example for those who can't live together in peace with their neighbors?

Sultan: Yeah, you know in reality that is a big problem in the world right now. I never divide people up into religions, or nationalities, because there are good and bad people everywhere and I try to treat everyone well. There are those fighters who I see in the gym who hate each other and I just don't get it. I respect all my opponents and won't ever try to pour dirt on them. Although there were instances where people wrote things about me, as if I said something, but that is either the promoter or somebody else trying to market the fight. They like to write and quote me as saying, "I'll rip him apart," but I always treat all athletes and people with respect.

The only time it happened was with Whitaker, and he lost his nerve and he started throwing me kisses, and saying, "They will take you to the hospital!," and so he was able to get to me, but otherwise, I respect everybody.

ESB: Did you make your peace after the fight?

Sultan: There were just so many people there, getting up, and congratulating me, and I think he left the ring. I wanted to go up to him and shake his hand, but he left and that is his will. The next time I see him, I'll walk over myself and shake his hand. I won't wait.

ESB: There is a saying in America that goes like this, those "Boxers who fight not to lose instead of trying to win." In other words there are those who are afraid to take risks in order to achieve victory and just hope that their opponent will make a mistake. I think that you are one of the few fighters today who fight precisely to win and that is why you draw fans to the sport. Why do you think there aren't more guys like you who fight in the same fearless manner?

Sultan: I don't know. I fight to win, and anything can happen, and you can get hit, but what are you going to do? I do all I can to win and that is why almost all my bouts are street-fights or wars, and people scream and shout and like doing it. I do my job in order to attain victory and apparently people like it so why not?

ESB: Well, like for instance, Tyson, why did people like him? He didn't run from his opponent. He came to win, more often then not, and that attracted people because he seemed fearless.

Sultan: Many fighters are afraid of contact, and run, and come into the ring with this look in their eyes, as if they are being forced in there against their will. Don't sign the contract then and sit at home, right?

ESB: Yep, I think maybe the thought of losing scares them. Does it scare you?

Sultan: All fighters, except for Rocky Marciano, who never lost, have been defeated, which is why I won't be the first or the last to lose. If I would fear losing, then nothing will happen for me, and the fight won't be entertaining, and people will be turned off. So, yeah, that is why I will come to terms with it, because I won't be the last, or the only one. And, also, it's important to know how to lose with dignity.

ESB: It seems as if it helps a person be braver if he winds up saying to himself, "I can deal with it."

Sultan: Nobody has ever died from it.

ESB: (laughing) Sultan what do you want to say to all our readers, and fans of boxing in Russia, America and everywhere else around the world?

Sultan: I want to thank everyone a great deal for cheering, watching, calling, and sending well wishes from Rostov, Dagestan, and Moscow. I get great support, and I want to tell everyone that is cheering, that I am very grateful, and will do whatever I can not to betray you.

I want to thank Sultan for setting aside some time to speak with us. I also want to thank his manager, Boris Grimberg and Lourdes Carrero from Warrior's boxing, for getting me in contact with him.

Article posted on 17.11.2006

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