Earlier this year when Billy Dib’s IBF featherweight mandatory, Luis Franco, pulled out of their Friday Night Fights bout at a month‘s notice, unbeaten Russian Evgeny Gradovich was called up from the bullpen.
The 27-year-old who now lives in Oxnard, Calif., where he works under the feted leadership of Robert Garcia, took full advantage of his chance. He won a narrow split decision to dethrone Dib, 114-112 in the eyes of Glenn Feldman and Don Trella while Don Ackerman voted by the same score for Dib.
He made a successful first defense over the summer, upping his record to 17-0 (8 knockouts) when he widely outpointed Mauricio Munoz. Now he once again takes on Dib in what will be a mandatory rematch. The bout will take place underneath the highly anticipated return of Manny Pacquiao, who squares off against Brandon Rios tonight in Macau.
The card will be shown live on HBO PPV at 9pm ET/6pm PT.
AW – You beat him for your IBF featherweight title back in March. What do you see as his strengths and weaknesses?
EG – He is a former world champion so it means he is a good fighter, nothing more. We’ll see in the ring. Dib tries to throw a lot of body punches; sometimes he’s a dirty fighter, he throws illegal punches to the back and back of the head, low blows – but it’s boxing, we have to be ready for everything.
AW – What do you think about returning to Macau to fight (his last fight, against Mauricio Munoz, took place in Macau along with Juan Francisco Estrada-Milan Melindo and Chinese star Zou Shiming’s second pro bout) and being on such a prestigious card as Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios?
EG – Actually I’m happy going back to Macau; I like that city and the people who live there. If I speak about being on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao-Rios, I wanna say that it’s like dream come true. They’re great fighters and I appreciate that I’m gonna fight on that card. It means I’m growing as a fighter and it’s actually great!
AW – In your most recent fight you widely outpointed Mauricio Munoz. Looking back on that contest what can you tell us about it?
EG – It was a good fight for me; every fight gives me new experience. The fight against Munoz was my first time outside the U.S. so it was very interesting for me. Actually it was a big show, 15,000 seats in the arena, a lot of people who like boxing. I’ve never been in such a big arena but I very liked it. For the fight I had a good training camp and in the fight I felt … like a champion.
AW – If we go back, how did you first become interested in boxing?
EG – Actually I liked soccer but in the village where I lived I couldn’t play soccer because there’s never been a soccer field there. I started boxing as a warmup for soccer … then I began liking boxing and now it’s my passion.
AW – You had a solid amateur background – can you tell us how the move to the pros came about and then relocating to America in 2010?
EG – Yes, I had a big amateur career – at least 150 fights … My friend Sergey Kovalev (WBO light heavyweight titleholder) introduced my to my manager, Egis Klimas. I sent him my fights and he brought me to the U.S. First, we lived in North Carolina, but for the past of couple years I have lived in Oxnard. I train in the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy and I like it.
AW – As you just mentioned you train in Oxnard with Robert Garcia – how has working with Robert improved you as a fighter?
EG – Yes, working with Robert gave me a new, good experience, because he has a good team and everybody who works with Robert is very dedicated and loves boxing!
AW – Lets look at the featherweight division. What are your thoughts on your weight class?
EG – I have a good weight division, a lot of great fighters and I think any fight can be interesting. (Orlando) Salido, (Daniel Ponce) De Leon, (Jhonny) Gonzales, (Abner) Mares, Chris John and a lot of other fighters in the featherweight division, fights against any of them would be great, because they are all warriors. We have to be ready for any fight!
AW – Two of the most well known fighters at 126 are Mikey Garcia, though he’s going up to junior lightweight, and Nonito Donaire. Both are trained by Robert Garcia like yourself. Does that make fights with either unlikely at this point?
EG – Everything can happen. Right now we spar with Mikey and I think it’s good for us.
AW – As a current world champion, what goals do you have in the sport?
EG – Actually it’s a question for my promoter and manager. I’m a fighter and I have to be ready for any fight.
AW – Lastly, do you have a message for Billy Dib ahead of your fight?
EG – Be ready!
Photos by Chris Farina-Top Rank