Tonight at The Ice Palace in Moscow, unbeaten challenger Murat Gassiev scored a 12-round split decision victory over defending IBF cruiserweight champ Denis Lebedev. The new champion, now 24-0(17) prevailed via scores of 116-112 and 116-111, the third judge had it 114-113 for Lebedev, who is now 29-3(22).
A very tough, hard-fought battle, tonight’s main event saw both men take plenty of punches. Lebedev, the older man by a substantial 14 years at age 37, used his underrated boxing skills when he could, using plenty of movement and pumping out his sharp southpaw jab. Gassiev, so dangerous a puncher, stalked his man and though he was guilty of being one-paced at times, the challenger was both catching Lebedev with shots and making the older man work.
The end almost came in the 5th-round when Gassiev landed an air-sucking left hand to the body that decked Lebedev. The champ only just beat the count but he managed to see out the round as Gassiev tried to land another body shot on the same sweet spot. By this stage of the fight that had now become a gruelling affair, Lebedev’s face was marking up noticeably. It wasn’t to the extent of the gruesome Guillermo Jones fight of 2013, when Lebedev really was transformed into an Elephant Man lookalike, but Lebedev’s features were again the worse for wear tonight.
Gassiev showed an excellent chin as Lebedev fired out fast bursts of punches, many of his shots landing. Lebedev too showed amazing toughness, as well as great stamina for such an older man who has been in a number of wars. The action was truly engrossing throughout and every round was gripping. It may have come as a surprise to many people that tonight’s fight went down to the wire, but both men tried their best to get the stoppage win that ultimately proved elusive.
It’s not clear what Lebedev will do next, as he has had some hard career. New champ Gassiev, who was practically unmarked after the 12 hard rounds of warfare, can be expected to feature in plenty more great fights in a weight class that is as exciting as it has been in some time.