30.11.03 – By Elliot Worsell: Israel’s Finchley based heavyweight prospect Roman Greenberg had to dust himself up off the canvas last night (November 26) at the Hilton Hotel, London as he overcame a tricky assignment against cagey Latvian, Mendauga Kulikauskas in 5 rounds, to mark his 14th straight professional win.
21-year-old Greenberg, sporting the star of David on his long blue shorts, is being touted as ‘the best heavyweight prospect in the world today’ by promoter Robert Waterman, but on tonight’s evidence, Greenberg, who is only a baby in the heavyweight division, has a lot to work on with his trusty team.
There’s no question Greenberg has talent. At only 21 years of age you’d still be hard pressed to find a heavyweight more fleet of foot and with better handpseed than the former European Amateur Silver Medallist. A fight against the useful Kulikauskas, who is far better than his 3-5-1 (2 KO’s) record suggests, was just the kind of assignment Greenberg needed to show his ability, character and heart. It was a far more beneficiary task than a one round blowout against an overmatched opponent looking for an easy way out, and although Greenberg had to stare adversary dead in the face, in the end he passed with flying colours.
It was a rocky start however for the slick Greenberg as he seemed befuddled and somewhat confused at times by his Latvian opponent’s cagey southpaw stance. It was the second lefty Greenberg had fought on his impressive looking 14-0 (11 KO’s) resume, and it told.
The Phillip Fondu trained Eastern European looked far more experienced than his 8 fight record suggested, and it was clear to see how he had given Welsh heavyweight hope Scott Gammer a good argument three weeks previously, where he earned a deserved draw. He looked tentative early as he back pedalled, but was gaining confidence as Greenberg stalked forward, and Kulikauskas was able to pick off the Finchley man at will with sneaky jabs and crisp long lefts.
Kulikauskas’ sharp, accurate southpaw jab was prodding and probing at Greenberg’s leaky defence, and he was having a field day pot shotting the jab over Greenberg’s low left glove. Greenberg could do nothing but trudge forward, trying to fathom out the awkward style his wily opponent had. At one point the game Kulikauskas dished out an impressive looking right-left combination that backed the showy Greenberg to the ropes and flicked the Finchley man’s head back. Greenberg, unquenchably confident, simply shook his head and smiled. A series of straight right hands down the pipe soon perked Greenberg up, and Kulikauskas looked more circumspect towards the rounds end.
The events that occurred in the opener suggested that Greenberg was embarking on possibly his hardest pro assignment thus far. This assumption was provided with further evidence in the second round as Greenberg tasted the canvas for the first time in his short career. The combination of accurate jabs, straight lefts and more importantly a short right hook served up on a plate by Kulikauskas sent Greenberg towards the floor, looking more embarrassed than seriously hurt. If he was shaken, the swaggering Greenberg is a good actor. What was explicitly clear however was that Greenberg was far more cautious of Kulikauskas than he was before the Latvian sent him on a return trip to the ring mattress.
Kulikauskas, as you can imagine, was breathing fire and had confidence pouring out his ear holes. He knew if he kept to the fundamentals of jab, followed by straight left, he had the artillery to make a dent in Greenberg’s armoury. Greenberg, who seemed as effective as Gareth Gates at a game of ‘Snap’ at times was trying to figure out how to neutralise the right jab of Kulikauskas and get his own shots off. The confusion and concentration on the face of Greenberg was there for all to see.
Credit therefore must be given to Greenberg, who turned the fight on its head after a shaky first couple of rounds. He showed heart, and a change of tactics in the heat of battle. A piercing straight right hand from Greenberg early in the 3rd had Kulikauskas backing off, and Greenberg’s eye’s lit up. Predatory instincts took over and Greenberg hunted Kulikauskas down, wielding shots to head and body, sometime messy, but even when shots were landing on the Latvian’s gloves and arms, he was feeling them.
For as open and naïve Greenberg seemed on the back foot, every time he started up his engine and drilled Kulikauskas with a number of shots on the offensive, the sturdy Latvian didn’t like it. The straight right was the honey punch for Greenberg, and was delivered at such a speed Kulikauskas didn’t know what had hit him. Another right towards the end of the round shook up Kulikasukas, who had notably become more conservative during this round. Greenberg it seemed, was getting to Kulikauskas, and finding his rhythm at last.
The 4th was a nothing round in terms of action and the referee Ken Curtis, rallied by the calls of ‘hit him’ from all those in suit and tie in the hall, had to tell the two participants to do some work. Thankfully both obliged, and Greenberg, rather than standing off trying to counter the counterpuncher, began to take some much-needed risks and take the fight to Kulikauskas. This certainly spiced things up, but it also led to Greenberg taking too many shots on the way in. He would use good footwork and angles to shoot off nice jabs and zooming right hands, but would then be caught needlessly by counterpunches when he retreated from the heat of combat.
One home run shot that Greenberg did pick out the bag and visibly shake Kulikauskas with was a straight right in the centre of the ring, that bent the knees of the Latvian, and had it not been so close to the bell, he may have been stopped. The finishing instincts of Greenberg were again on autopilot, but effectively, the worried looking Latvian was saved by the bell.
The 5th round marked the end of the fight, albeit under disappointing circumstances. Kulikauskas started the round the better of the two, again playing to type, backing off and flicking out well picked counter shots as Greenberg strutted forward with guard down. Greenberg began winding his right arm in the air, possibly a sign of showmanship? Or maybe a sign of frustration? Either way his cheeky antics weren’t scoring points, they were all being gobbled up by Kulikauskas.
The beginning of the end for Kulikauskas came about after a tasty left hook to the ribs from Greenberg. Kulikauskas, who had become noticeably tired in the previous couple of rounds, inhaled a huge gulp of breath, and looked the worse for wear as Greenberg began wailing away.
Greenberg showed a good work rate and tempo in this round, and shifted through the gears as Kulikauskas was backed up to the ropes and kept there under a volley of heavy looking right and left hooks. Kulikauskas did his best to survive, and just when it seemed Greenberg had dealt out enough feed for the Latvian, Kulikauskas turned to his corner sporting a terrible cut on his right eyelid. The referee instantly took a look at the gash and wiped away the claret, but after a series of sustained assaults at the fists of Greenberg, it was inevitable that Kulikauskas would call it a day. And so, Kulikauskas upon turning to Phillip Fondu in his corner was pulled out by referee Ken Curtis due to the severity of his cut right eye.
Roman Greenberg raised his arms in triumph and no doubt, like his loyal promoter Robert Waterman, breathed a huge sigh of relief. Mendaug Kulikauskas, who would be welcome back to these shores anytime, was game, tough, spirited and put Greenberg on his backside for the first time in his flourishing professional career. One thing’s for sure though, tonight Roman Greenberg, one of the most coveted prospects in British boxing, had as much trouble figuring out the southpaw style of a gutsy Eastern European ‘trier’ as this writer had trying to phonetically note down the Latvian’s name. It was a hard night’s work for Greenberg, a night when lesser men slip up. Greenberg didn’t.
After the fight I caught up with Roman Greenberg to get his thoughts on tonight’s tricky assignment. Interestingly Roman was holding an ice pack over his right hand.
‘I carried the injury into the fight. I hurt my hand, perhaps a month ago, and it’s been getting better. But in the first round, pretty much the first time I hit him, I felt it go again, and it was hurting. I went through with the fight because it was getting better and there was a lot of long planning going into the fight. I thought it would be OK. I’ll rest it now for a couple of months.’
I asked Roman whether the knockdown bothered him, and if it was a foreign experience to him.
‘No I was fine. I knew where I was. I was sleeping at the start of the fight and paid for my mistakes. I’m glad something like this happened early in my career, rather than later. It’s all about learning, and I’m still learning. I’ve been put down before in the amateurs but that’s the first time in the pro’s. I was knocked down when I was 15 or 16, and also in the European championships, but I’ve come back to win’
From where I was seated, it seemed the southpaw style of Kulikauskas was something Roman would like to see the back of. The likeable Roman realised he had problems with it.
‘It was the second southpaw I’ve fought in my pro career, and yes it was awkward. I had no southpaw sparring before the fight, simply because it is very hard to find southpaw heavyweights around the gym. That’s something I definitely need to find in the future, and to work on strategies and ways to fight them. That’s all part of the learning though, the more I learn the better I’ll become.’
And finally, I asked Roman, who says ‘I don’t like talking about myself’ to … talk about his own performance.
‘The negatives from the fight, things I can learn from would be; I need to keep focussed all the time in there and not get caught by silly shots. I need to work on my defence a bit more, especially against southpaws, so I get hit less. You can never learn to much, and I’ll be doing these things in the gym.’
And the positives?
‘Well I went down and was losing the fight, but still won, so I guess that’s a positive. I got back into the fight after being put down, and asked the ref when it was stopped what the score was. He said I was a point ahead, so I was turning the fight round, and thought I would have stopped him very soon. I learned a lot from this fight, and it was a good fight to take.’
Other Results from The Hilton Hotel –
Lance Hall pts Nathan Ward
James Zikic rsf 3 Stewart West
Tommy Eastwood KO 2 Brian Gascoigne