By Sean Crose
Isaiah Thomas (15-0) had a lot of Detroit heritage behind him when he stepped into to the ring Friday night to face Murat Gassiev (22-0) at the Palms in Vegas. Gassiev, on the other hand, had Gennady Golovkin trainer Abel Sanchez in his corner. It was an interesting, 12 round cruiserweight matchup that had the potential to be explosive should the Russian Gassiev have his way.
Gassiev was the aggressor throughout the first, though Thomas was able to hold his man off with a sharp southpaw jab. Gassiev caught and landed on Thomas in the second. Thomas, however, strategically held and was able to escape the moment. By round’s end, the bout had already been reduced to a simple question:
Would Thomas be able to keep Gassiev at bay?
Two thunderous shots at the end of round three put Thomas on the ropes. And that was the end of the fight. One of the punches landed after the bell, after all, and the fight doctor claimed the bout couldn’t go on. In the end, the affair was ruled a No Contest.
This was unfortunate, but understandable. The shot after the bell indeed appeared to be accidental. Boxers get wrapped up in the moment like everyone else, after all. Still, the health of a fighter is priority one at all times in the ring. And Thomas was clearly impacted by the shots he took. The doctor and referee clearly made the right call, disappointing as that call may have been.
A few minutes later, Rances Barthelemy (23-0) entered the ring to face interesting Russian fighter Denis Shafikov (36-1) for the IBF world lightweight title. The match was the main event of an interesting night of boxing and had the potential to be of note.
Barthelemy, after all, had a great height advantage. Meanwhile, Shafikov had an effective way of being an aggressor. Shafikov indeed pressed the action in the first, but Barthelemy was able to pot shot effectively. Shafikov, however, was able to become effectively aggressive in the second. What’s more, a hard right rocked Barthelemy at the end of the third.
Indeed, as the fight progressed, Shafikov continued coming forward successfully. By the middle of the fight, it even appeared that Shafikov was in the lead. For the fluidity shown by Barthelemy previously in the ring appeared to have vanished. Like Ray Leonard in his first fight with Duran, Barthelemy appeared content to slug.
Shafikov was cut by the end of the seventh, though it was uncertain at first whether the cut came about from a head-butt or a clean shot from Barthelemy. Referee Vic Drakulich, though, made it clear the cut was indeed from a blow. Indeed, Barthelemy landed hard and clean in the eighth, but Shafikov was not to be denied.
Barthelemy, however was literally seeing red and was aiming to make the most of recent developments. With seconds left in the round, the fight doctor was called in. Fortunately for Shafikov, however, he was allowed to fight on. Barthelemy decided to showboat at the end of the ninth, but Shafikov had still been more active throughout the very close chapter.
The fight remained incredibly tight to the very end, with Shafikov having great, aggressive moments and Barthelemy having moments of keeping the distance, punctuated by showboating (he was clearly looking to impress the judges Hollywood-style…an effective psychological tool). Barthelemy cleanly took the twelfth, however, and it went to the cards.
In the end, it was Barthelemy who took a unanimous decision win – and the title. Naturally, one of the judges had to do his or her job incompetently, giving the Cuban way more points than the man deserved. Yet that, unfortunately, is par for the course in boxing these days.