A change of scenery can do a fighter good. Ask Sergei Dzinziruk.
The longtime junior middleweight titleholder wondered a little over a year ago whether his career might be over. On the outs with his German promoter and inactive, he considered retiring undefeated and moving back to his native Ukraine.
Now, after splitting with his former handlers, he lives in Los Angeles and is training for the biggest fight of his life.
Dzinziruk, 34, faces RING middleweight champion and 2010 Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year Sergio Martinez on March 12 in Mashantucket, Conn.
“Boxing is a strange business,” Dzinziruk said through a translator after a workout Thursday afternoon in the San Fernando Valley area of L.A. “I could’ve just quit and gone back to my country and retire as a champion.
“I still wanted bigger and better fights, though. And it happened.”
One needs only a few minutes of watching Dzinziruk punch bags to see that he’s a master technician.
The lean 6-footer (183cm), working his way around a heavy bag in his adopted gym, moves with the grace and punches with the precision of a boxer who has done this almost all of his life.
That’s the case with Dzinziruk, who had close to 300 amateur fights in major competitions worldwide and will be fighting for the 38th time since he turned professional in 1999.
And Dzinziruk (37-0, 23 knockouts) has never lost as a pro. He won the European 154-pound title in 2004 and outpointed Daniel Santos the following year to win the WBO belt, successfully defending it six times.
The problem was that he wasn’t getting the high-profile fights against big-name opponents someone in his position might’ve expected, which he blames on his former promoter, Universum.
The result was frustrating inactivity. He fought only three times over a 3½-year period.
“There were a lot of promises about big fights but they never delivered,” Dzinziruk said. “I wasted a lot of years, a lot of time. I didn’t want to continue to make the same mistakes so I came to America for big fights.
“Every fighter dreams of fighting in America because it’s the center of the boxing world. It was my dream too. I want five or six big fights in America.”
Dzinziruk’s contract with Universum expired early last year, after which he made his big move. He hired Harry Kazandjian, an Aremian-born former fighter, as his manager and Gary Shaw as his promoter.
He also recently hired Buddy McGirt, who is now based in Los Angeles, to work with him for the Martinez fight.
“My first impression is that he is underrated,” McGirt said. “He’s better than people might imagine. He’s definitely been under the radar.
“I was surprised myself when I saw what he could do.”
Dzinziruk showed what he could do when he fought then once-beaten Daniel Dawson last May in Santa Ynez, Calif., on Showtime, his first fight in the U.S. and his first fight since he outpointed Joel Julio in November 2008.
The titleholder baffled Dawson with boxing ability and then took him out in the 10th round, which impressed many American fans who had never seen him before.
And, remember, that was after a year-and-a-half layoff. Dzinziruk is confident he’ll be sharper against Martinez.
“I needed that fight as a trampoline to the next level,” he said. “I won the fight, I looked pretty good. I went home and kept busy in the gym, kept training, doing sparring.
“I’m 100 percent sure that in this fight I will be much better than the last fight.”
He had better be. Martinez is recognized as one of the best fighters in the world pound for pound, particularly after his sensational one-punch KO of Paul Williams.
Dzinziruk has been through too much to be fazed, though. And, as Kazandjian said, “Martinez is a terrific athlete but he doesn’t have the boxing pedigree Sergei has.”
Of course, a victory would be enormous for Dzinziruk. He would go from a relative unknown in the U.S. to an instant star. “Or maybe bigger,” he said, a giant smile on his face.
And to think: Only a year ago, he thought his career might be over.
“The (birth) date on my passport is just a number,” he said. “I feel like I’m 20 years old again. This is my second chance. I’m going to make a name for myself.”