Shadeed Suluki (right – behind referee Vic Draculich) stands behind Ismayl Sillakh after the light heavyweight scored a KO on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones II in 2010. Suluki’s son, Kamal, is to the left. Photo / Mark Ralston-Getty Images.
Shadeed Suluki didn’t receive much attention or credit when his fighter, Andrey Klimov, outboxed and outhustled lightweight fringe contender John Molina to a 10-round majority decision victory in a Friday Night Fights main event in Shelton, Wash., on June 7.
But that’s nothing new to the Southern California trainer, who has been in or around boxing since the late 1960s. Despite working with James Toney late in the future hall of famer’s career and training Lamon Brewster for the American heavyweight’s monumental upset over Wladimir Klitschko in 2004, Suluki is often overshadowed by other local trainers, such as the region’s two multiple Trainer of the Year recipients Freddie Roach and Robert Garcia, but also Joel Diaz, Clemente Medina, Rudy Hernandez and Henry Ramirez.
However, there’s more than enough foreign-born and homegrown boxing talent in Southern California for every good trainer to eventually garner some of the spotlight. Eric Brown toiled for years under Roach at Wild Card Boxing Club before finally gaining some recognition last year when two of his fighters – Paul Malignaggi and Peter Quillin – won major world titles.
Suluki might be close to getting some recognition with a group of promising American youngsters and former Eastern European amateur standouts.
Along with Kimov (16-0, 8 knockouts), a cagey 30-year-old Russian lightweight who is shedding his “spoiler” label for contender status, Suluki also trains talented once-beaten light heavyweight Ismayl Sillakh, undefeated junior bantamweight prospect Matt Villanueva, unbeaten welterweight puncher Terrell Williams, rugged Russian slugger Alexander “Sasha” Flichkin and 2-0 beginner David Thomas.
Villanueva (9-0-1, 8 KOs) headlines a Telefutura broadcast from Plaza de Toros La Condesa in Mexico City tonight. The 26-year-old Palmdale, Calif. native will face Mexico City’s Julian Rivera (12-7-1, 2 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round bout.
Villanueva, who has fought on Telefutura, ESPN2 and on Showtime’s ShoBox series (a seventh-round TKO of fellow prospect Michael Ruiz Jr. last January), will be in his first bout scheduled past eight rounds. The aggressive volume-puncher’s 23-year-old brother Jessie Villanueva (6-0, 4 KOs), also trained by Suluki, faces Mexico City journeyman Oscar Pena (2-2) in a six rounder on the Telefutura show.
Suluki’s other fighters will be in action on a non-televised June 28 show at the Quiet Cannon, a popular country club fight venue in Montebello, Calif.
Sillakh (19-1, 15 KOs), a 28-year-old amateur standout from Ukraine, will headline that show. The tall and rangy boxer-puncher’s opponent is yet to be announced but fans shouldn’t expect a world-beater. The opponent’s level will probably be about the same as the fighters Sillakh has defeated in his last two bouts, which followed his shocking eighth-round TKO los to Denis Grachev last April.
Sillakh, who was a world-rated light heavyweight prior to the ESPN2-televised loss to Grachev, stopped Ghanaian super middleweight Daniel Allotey (14-3, 7 KOs, at the time) in two rounds at the Quiet Cannon on Feb. 23 and scored an eight-round decision over southpaw spoiler Mitch Williams (7-2-1, 5 KOs at the time) on March 30 in L.A.
Sillakh is clearly still in “comeback” mode, but he won’t be for long. He’s eager to get back into the 175-pound mix, especially after Adonis Stevenson’s electrifying one-punch first-round stoppage of Chad Dawson and Sergei Kovalev’s second consecutive strong showing on NBC Sports Net.
Suluki says Kovalev’s people called him about Sillakh possibly facing the Russian puncher on June 14, but no offer was made. Kovalev stopped Cornelius White in three rounds on that date and now appears headed for a shot at WBO titleholder Nathan Cleverly.
Sillakh was impressed with Kovalev’s power but not much else.
“He’s good, technically good, and he can punch very hard,” he said, “but he’s nothing special. To me, he’s basic.”
Sillakh was more impressed with Stevenson’s showing.
“I hadn’t seen much of Stevenson before the Dawson fight, but he’s a good boxer with very good power,” Sillakh told RingTV.com after a recent workout at New York City gym in Canoga Park, Calif.
Sillakh felt for Dawson, who was trying to rebound from his stoppage loss to Andre Ward going into the HBO-televised Stevenson fight.
“I think it was a mistake to take that fight with no tune-up fights, straight in,” he said in his improving English. “His confidence wasn’t there, but Chad’s a good boxer and he’s not old. He can come back.”
Sillakh is probably giving Dawson the benefit of the doubt because he wants the same consideration from fans, although his loss to Grachev doesn’t seem as bad given the hell the Russian gave Lucien Bute and his upset victory over Zsolt Erdei in his last two fights.
Bute and Erdei are the level of fighters that Sillakh wants to face, but he realizes that he needs the activity he’s getting now to be at his best when he steps into the ring with world-class operators. He didn’t have that activity going into the Grachev bout and he says that, along with financial issues, distracted him.
“A lot happened behind the scenes before that fight,” said Sillakh, who is married with two children. “My management wasn’t good at that time. I was worried about other stuff – money and taking care of my family. But I didn’t take (Grachev) as seriously as I should have. I didn’t get sharp in camp like I should have.”
Suluki says Sillakh wasn’t able to get sharp due to lack of proper sparring.
“I didn’t hear from his old manager for weeks at a time,” he said. “Ismayl wasn’t fighting regularly and the manager wasn’t paying for the necessary sparring. Not to take anything away from Grachev but Ismayl wasn’t even 80 percent for that fight.
“A fighter can’t train properly when he has two babies with the rent due and his money is low.”
Sillakh broke away from his old manager (Ivaylo Gotzev) and is now managed by Suluki under the banner of Old School Management. Suluki and his son Kamal handle the boxing side of Sillakh’s career and computer software designer John White deals with the financial support. The result of the new union has been three bouts in a five-month period, plus a home stability that has Sillakh happy and focused in training.
“You can see the difference in Ismayl’s face,” Suluki said. “His mind is clear. He gets irritable if he doesn’t have a fight scheduled. He doesn’t get out of shape, doesn’t ask for breaks, so he’s someone who needs to fight often.”
Joining Sillakh on the Quiet Cannon card is Williams (11-0, 10 KOs), the 29-year-old brother of former junior middleweight standout Dwain Williams, who retired in 2002.
Williams followed his older brother to the gym and trained from age 8 to 14, compiling around 60 amateur bouts during that time, before he pulled away from training during his teenage years and early 20s. Despite the ups and downs he witnessed his brother go through, Williams says his passion for boxing brought him back to the sport.
“I had as much love for boxing as he did,” Williams said of his brother, who is now a married truck driver living in Redondo Beach, Calif., with his four kids. “I saw his highs and lows but I also learned from seeing that.
“He won state titles and regional titles, which motivates me to take that next step. I always wanted to take off where he left off and go all the way to a world title. His dream is now my dream.”
Williams, who is married and lives in Woodland Hills, Calif. (part of the valley area near Canoga Park), says his brother attends most of his fights and will probably be his loudest supporter at the Quiet Cannon show.
Dwain, who passed his nickname “Tyger” onto his younger brother, will get to see Suluki’s secret Russian prospect Flichkin in action on June 28.
Flichkin (12-0, 5 KOs), a native of Moscow who says he only lost 10 of 101 amateur bouts, is unknown to the U.S. boxing public but has earned respect within the Southern California scene by providing rough-and-tumble sparring for area welterweights and middleweights.
Suluki says American fans will take to Flichkin’s style.
“He’s a tough boxer, very rugged, physically strong with great stamina,” Suluki said. “He’s awkward, which gives his opponents hell, but he’s got good speed, he’s active and he works behind an aggressive peek-a-boo defense that I think fans will like.”
Suluki’s other welterweight, Thomas (2-0, 1 KO), also has an aggressive style.
“I stay in your face and throw punches,” said Thomas, a 24-uear-old Houston resident who said he travel Texas to California “chasin’ a dream.”
Time will tell if Suluki can help him realize those dreams, but the veteran trainer can certainly impart boxing knowledge upon the young man.
Suluki, whose uncles were boxers, cut his teeth at the legendary and now defunct Hoover Street Boxing Club during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when the L.A. gym was home to the likes of Ken Norton, Mando Ramos, Raul Rojas, Hedgemon Lewis, Eddie “Bossman” Jones, George “Scrap Iron” Johnson and many others pros, including future trainers Thell Torrence and Jessie Reid.
“I loved the gym with a passion,” he said. “I had a few pro fights but that was never my thing. I started training in the mid-‘80s just to keep kids away from the gangs and drugs, which was a big problem in that area at the time.
“I remembered how being on an amateur boxing team out of the Hoover Street gym kept us out of trouble during our teenage years, so I started a program that we called New Breed Boxing Team. Larry Mosley, who won a few national titles, came out of that program. There were others, who were more talented than him, but boxing wasn’t their thing
“It didn’t matter to me, I just wanted them to stay out of trouble and keep good grades in school, which they did. They couldn’t travel if their grades dropped.”
Suluki got R&B singing legend Barry White and actor Charles Dutton to sponsor the program and the team trips to national tournaments. Sometimes the kids were invited to White’s house or to the set of Dutton’s TV show “Rock.”
They got a look at the good life, something to aspire to, as well as a taste of the spotlight, which Suluki has never sought after but just might get in the near future.
Fischer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer