This past weekend was a relatively quiet one for the sport unless you happen to be a Hungarian fight fan. Then it was rather eventful as long-reigning light heavyweight titleholder Zsolt Erdei, a Germany-based Hungarian, extended his undefeated record to 30-0 while his countryman and promotional stablemate Karoly Balzsay upset undefeated Denis Inkin to claim a super middleweight title and break into THE RING’s 168-pound Top 10.
Both Erdei and Balzsay were amateur standouts, which is not rare for Hungarian fighters. The central European nation, best known in boxing circles for producing Hall of Famer Laszlo Papp, has a decorated amateur tradition that preceded and continued after the great three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Boxers from Hungary have excelled at the European and World amateur championships in recent decades, but the country’s Olympic tradition dates all the way back to the 1928 Games, where Budapest-born Antal Kocsis won the gold medal in the flyweight division.
More than a dozen Olympic boxing medalists, from the ’28 Games to the 2000 Games, are from Hungary. At the ’72 Games, the Hungarian boxing team, led by four-time Olympian Gyorgy Gedo, won four medals. Gedo won gold in the light flyweight division in those Games.
Gedo, Kocsis and the legendary Papp are three of the nine Hungarian boxers who have won Olympic gold medals.
However, the country has not had similar success in the professional ranks, producing only three fighters who have won major titles. Istvan Kovacs, the last Hungarian to win an Olympic gold medal (at the ’96 Games in the bantamweight division), became the first pro titleholder when he beat Antonio Diaz for the WBO featherweight belt in 2001.
Erdei, a two-time Olympian who won a bronze medal in the middleweight division at the 2000 Games, became Hungary’s second major titleholder when he beat Julio Gonzalez for the WBO’s 175-pound belt in 2004. The 34-year-old made his 11th title defense when he out-pointed Yuri Barashian in Magdeburg, Germany this past Saturday.
Balzsay, also a two-time Olympian (2000 and 2004), became the latest Hungarian to win a world title by outpointing well-regarded Inkin on the same card in Magdeburg.
Will there be more? It’s likely. Unlike Papp, who compiled a 27-0-2 (15 KOs) professional record in the middleweight division but never fought for a world title, today’s Hungarian fighters are not discouraged from pursuing professional careers as they were during the nation’s communist era (1949-’89).
Amateur stars like Erdei and Balzsay, both of whom fight under the banner of German powerhouse Universum Box-Promotions, can find experienced European promotional companies that will develop their talent, get them valuable exposure and guide them to world titles.
Find out where Erdei and Balzsay rank in their divisions, plus recent movement in other weight classes, by reading this week’s RING Ratings update:
Former world champion O’Neil Bell, ranked No. 4 last week, has been dropped for inactivity. Bell, who has not fought since he was TKO’d by Tomasz Adamek on April 19 of last year, was scheduled to make his heavyweight debut on Jan. 14, but pulled out of the fight.
Bell’s exit allowed all cruisers rated below No. 4 last week to move up one rung each and also made room for Matt Godfrey (18-1, 10 KOs) to debut at No. 10.
Balzsay (20-0, 14 KOs) enters at No. 9 on the strength of his decision over the previously undefeated Inkin (34-1, 24 KOs), who slipped from No. 9 to No. 10. Balszay’s entrance and Inkin’s demotion pushed out Andre Dirrell (No. 10 last week). Inkin was retained over Dirrell because of the close, competitive nature of his fight with Balzsay and his greater experience on a world-class level. However, providing he continues his winning ways, Dirrell (17-0, 12 KOs) will return as soon as a 168-pound slot becomes available.
Talented Bernabe Concepcion (No. 9 last week) exits because he has moved to the featherweight division. His departure bumps up Rendall Munroe (16-1, seven KOs) from No. 10 to No. 9 and makes room for WBC titleholder Toshiaki Nishioka (33-4-3, 20 KOs) to enter at No. 10.