Sultan Ibragimov: “Gee, He Looks Like Such a Regular Guy”

shannon briggs31.05.07 – Interview by Wray Edwards: HOLEY COW!!! BRIGGS WEIGHS IN AT 273…WITH SULTAN AT A MERE 221. Almost every time I show a picture of Sultan to someone who has not seen him before, they almost always say something like, “He doesn’t look like a boxer.” All that proves is that many people have a preconception of how a boxer should look. Most would point to Ken Norton or some other v-shaped six-packer and say, “Now that’s what a boxer should look like.” We’ve all seen really ripped-looking hunks get stretched by skill rather classic musculature. Ibragimov is a very unusual person as boxers go.

Recently, Sultan and his team generously agreed to travel to the Seminole Hard Rock in Miami to give East Side Boxing an exclusive interview. Naturally, the main reason for this meeting was to discuss his championship fight with Shannon Briggs on June 2nd in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. For me, however, the interview presented an opportunity to speak with him in a more relaxed setting than our previous chance encounters allowed, because they were at weigh-ins or ringside. Even at those times, I got the impression that here was a very interesting person, aside from his Boxing activities. It was a great opportunity to try to connect the man with his sport, and here is what he had to say:

ESB: Good evening Sultan. Thank you for coming. (He is dressed casually and has been speaking with friends and admirers who have come to the Johnson-Griffin weigh-in)

Sultan: Of course…my pleasure.

ESB: How was your training camp? Has Jeff Mayweather made any changes to your style?

Sultan: Very good. He is helping me with many things.

ESB: I remember that some commentators have observed that your footwork needed improvement, like when you were moving to your left, you had a habit of crossing your legs rather than dancing around.

Sultan: Yes. Roger is very good at helping me to improve my movement in the ring.

ESB: What happened during the Austin fight which led to the draw.

Sultan: I had trouble with my knees. I was unable to do my sprinting because of the pain, and during the fight it was still a problem.

Then Sultan’s manager Boris Grinberg joined in to say that: “He did not tell us about the problem.”

Sultan: Two weeks before the fight I cannot run properly.

ESB: Do you think it was from over-training or training too quickly?

Sultan: Yeah. I decided to honor my agreement to fight even so.

ESB: You were 230 for that fight…

Boris: 235

ESB: During the Mora fight you were down to about 220. Did you feel faster at that weight?

Sultan: Yes. There was a big difference. I was able to move in the ring better.

ESB: Will you be the same for the Briggs fight?

Sultan: Yes.

ESB: In three of your last four fights you fought men who were much taller and heavier than yourself. You don’t seem to be concerned about those differences. One would think that this was good training for your fight with Briggs.

Sultan: Yes, I am not concerned about size because any advantage they get from that is made less by other things. You know, quickness, footwork.

ESB: What was Mora’s mistake in the fight at MSG?

Sultan: He started too fast and stayed in front of me.

Boris: A lot of boxers see Sultan and make a mistake about his size. Then they are in big trouble.

ESB: Do you live in Deerfield Beach.

Sultan: No, I live in Hollandale Beach.

ESB: Are you going to stay in America? (Of his 21 professional fights, sixteen have been in the U.S. with another four in Russia and one in Ukraine.)

Sultan: I don’t know. I don’t think about that right now.

ESB: I have noticed that you are not interested in trash talk and you also show your opinion of things in an appropriate manner. When Friday got cut at the Gwinnett Center you looked disappointed even though you won. It was obvious that you wanted to win in a better way. The same expression was there during the draw announcement versus Austin. He looked relieved and triumphant while you looked unhappy.

Sultan: Yes, I only want to win in a proper way. And I don’t want to be crazy like some boxers who try to make it look like a personal fight. These crazy acts are not good for boxing. I don’t want to be like that.

ESB: My impression of you is that you are a gentleman. I notice when people want to meet you it seems like such a natural thing for you to do. (The incident at the restaurant was very atypical for Sultan, and by all accounts, he did not start it)

Boris: You must understand that he is a very positive person. In life outside the ring he lives in a healthy way, does not drink or smoke and tries to treat other men in the sport with respect and honor.

ESB: What do you think about Briggs limitations and your abilities?

Sultan: I think he has lost weight for this fight, but I don’t bother to think about him…I think about me and what I have to do to be a good boxer. You will see what I do in the ring. I don’t want to think about him…I don’t want to talk about him behind his back.

ESB: How will you fight him…off the record if you wish?

Sultan then laughs as if he does have a plan that pleases him and that he thinks will be successful.

Sultan: I will fight every way I have to for the win.

ESB: (I ask the usual question) Who do you want to fight when you are champion?

Sultan: I don’t think about that. I want to win this title first, and then make plans.

Boris: Everybody sees Sultan’s speed and many boxers from lighter weights have remarked that he is even faster than them.

ESB: How are your knees now?

Sultan: Fine. Before, I was off for more than seven months and tried to come back too fast. This time we have worked our way up in a more careful way.

ESB: Would you like to stay more active like three or four times a year and not get rusty? (He fought six times in just over a year 2004-2005)

Sultan: Of course. I have fought four or five times in one year and that’s what I like. I am a boxer…not a person who likes to wait.

ESB: Who have you been sparring with?

Sultan: Two undefeated guys…I don’t want to tell his name. Two strong guys…I like that…I like the ring.

ESB: Where did you train?

Sultan: In my gym (Boris: Sultan’s Palace)

Boris: You will have to come and see it.

ESB: I would love to. Thank you Sultan.

Sultan: Yes, I will see you there.

Then Boris and I had a brief conversation about Ibragimov’s history for the last few years.

ESB: I heard somewhere that Sultan had sparred with Briggs.

Boris: No, we tried to get him to work with us before other fights, but he said that he did not want to fight that guy…no lefties.

ESB: Briggs said that…about the sparring even huh?

Boris: Yes…because he knows Sultan is too tough.

ESB: Thank you.

Boris: See you there.

Win or lose, Ibragimov is a very natural person who (IMO) indulges in no pretense whatsoever. He is a good example of a professional sportsman who is spontaneous and candid. I have witnessed all of his recent fights in person and at the apron. He is not capable of the phony antics often used to gin up interest in a fight. That is a good thing and best left to UFC and MMA dudes.

Personally, I think that there are always so many variables in a Boxing contest, that rock solid predictions are usually foolhardy at best. Unless there is an obvious mismatch of styles or abilities as there was with Oscar and Floyd, one should not firmly predict an outcome unless they are disingenuously courting controversy in order to stir the post pot.

I was a bit timid during the interview about opening up the subject of game plan, as one would think that publishing such info for all to see (including your opponent) might give the other guy warning, thereby enabling him to counter-plan. To even a casual observer it seems obvious that (providing Biggs has not lost significant weight, greatly improved his mobility and vastly improved his respiratory capacity) he will be vulnerable to being surrounded and clocked from angles.

If Sultan attempts a frontal assault too soon (or at all) he will unnecessarily put himself in Shannon’s wheelhouse, counterpunch zone. As The Wolf discovered, that is not a good place. This might take some restraint on Sultan’s part, as he is prone to explode into frontal action if the other guy is so presumptuous as to actually punch him. Though Briggs is quite fast-handed, Ibragimov might just be enough faster to beat him to the punch…and in combinations. It is worth noting that Sultan often throws as many punches in one round as Briggs has been able to throw in six.

All that being said, Boxing is such a glorious crap-shoot most of the time, that it is perilous at best to take sides. Sure, have favorites, but, as they say in scuba-diving, try to stay neutral when it comes to being tempted to predict. That way you won’t taint your view of the contest.

ESB would like to thank Sultan Ibragimov, Sampson Lewkowicz, Boris Grinberg and Cima Georgevich for their kind assistance in arranging for this interview. See you at the fights.