By Jake Donovan
Artur Akavov is well aware of his place in today’s middleweight climate—well off the radar.
To date, the 33-year old southpaw from Russia—who now lives and trains in California—remains best-known for his narrow points loss to then-unbeaten middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders in Dec. ’16.
It came with a bit of surprise that he was tabbed to fight for that very same title, as he represents the first title defense for newly crowned Demetrius Andrade (26-0, 16KOs). The two collide this Friday at Hulu Theatre in New York City, streaming live on DAZN-USA.
Akavov (19-2, 8KOs) hadn’t done much to get the first opportunity versus Saunders, nor does anything jump out among his current three-fight win streak. So it came as a surprise to most that he was tabbed to face Andrade in his maiden defense—Friday’s challenger chief among those initially caught off-guard.
“He’s not an easy fight, but neither am I,” Akavov told BoxingScene.com. “There are bigger options, sure; but when I was given this opportunity, I jumped on it without a second thought. No fighter should ever turn down a chance like this.”
Andrade won his version of the middleweight crown with a 12-round virtual shutout of Namibia’s Walter Kautondokwa, a previously unbeaten contender who too the fight on two weeks notice last October. The date was originally reserved for Andrade to challenge Saunders, who was stripped of his title after testing positive for oxilofrine and, thus, being denied a boxing license by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission.
Akavov had hoped to avenge his earlier career loss to the unbeaten Brit, but will gladly settle for the current title claimant.
“After fighting Saunders I watched it over and over again,” Akavov admits of a performance some argue was good enough to win the fight or at least leave with a draw. “I saw what we did that resulted in us not getting that win.
“We’ve made some adjustments to my style. Andrade, of course, is a completely different fighter, but the adjustments we made were not specific to (Saunders), just to be a better fighter in general.”
Friday’s bout comes with extra incentive given recent headlines surrounding the middleweight division. Any middleweight would aspire to one day face the sport’s biggest draw, reigning World middleweight king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who late last year signed with DAZN in the most lucrative contract in sports history.
On that basis alone. Friday’s winner would have been teased as a potential future opponent for the 28-year old fighting pride of Guadalajara, Mexico. There’s already one less place in line for hitting the jackpot. Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotions announced on Thursday finalized plans to face Daniel Jacobs in a May 4 middleweight title unification clash.
The winner will undoubtedly leave the ring with a target on his back; perhaps even the loser as well.
“The division is full of talents and money,” notes Akavov, of his additional motivation to fight for any title—leverage. “Once I’m the champion everything will fall in into place.”