Mike Coppinger

Ismayl Sillakh aims to upset Sergey Kovalev in first title bout

Ismayl Sillakh was a budding star.

The Ukrainian boxer was a decorated amateur (reported record of 302-16) and was slowly climbing the ranks in the light heavyweight division.

But that all changed when he was upset by Denis Grachev via eighth-round stoppage last April.

It was hard for Sillakh (21-1, 17 knockouts) to come to grips with the first loss of his professional career (he even had Grachev down in Round 3), but once he did, he realized something good came from the defeat.

In fact, Sillakh believes the vulnerabilities displayed in the loss are what propelled him to his first world title opportunity and debut appearance on HBO tonight when he challenges Sergey Kovalev in Quebec City, Canada. (10:15 p.m. ET)

“Actually yeah, (the loss) helped me. If I didn’t lose to Grachev, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to fight for the title,” Sillakh, 28, told RingTV.com. “It would be everybody hiding and champions hiding and don’t want to fight me. Now, I’m open for everyone.

“And you know, after the fight when I lost to Grachev, I got so many sparring partners, so many opportunities for fights,” Sillakh went on. “It was like never before. Everything happens for a reason. Now people think, oh yeah, he’s nobody.”

Sillakh is “excited because it’s a perfect fight for me.”

A perfect fight? A matchup against a formidable puncher like Kovalev might be called anything but by most observers. The Russian has run through opponents like a buzz saw, displaying fight-ending power in both hands. But Sillakh feels he has a secret weapon against the WBO titleholder.

“It’s a perfect opponent, a Russian opponent,” Sillakh said. ”In my amateur experience I fight with Russian fighters like 100 times, so I know exactly what he’s going to do. Of course he’s a dangerous opponent, but … it’s nothing different for me. Nothing will surprise me. I just know what to do.”

Sillakh fought four times after the loss to Grachev, confidence-builder type bouts. He won all four with ease, with three of those ending inside the distance. Sillakh said the loss stung him badly for “the first two weeks,” but he quickly got past it. It’s clear the setback against Grachev hasn’t shaken Sillakh’s confidence – it might even be at an all-time high.

“It was easy fight for me, I just had fun, I lost my focus,” said Sillakh, who now resides in Canoga Park, Calif. “Everything was upside down. … 2012 was prediction for end of the world. My small world was ended. Not just boxing but behind the scenes. A lot of things happened. It was tough. I just was unfocused for the fight.”

Sillakh insists the defeat is behind him, and if Kovalev is overlooking him, the “Krusher” could find himself where Sillakh was last year.

“(Kovalev) understands I’m much better technically, much faster than him and I can punch, so, I think he’s coming to the fight serious,” Sillakh said. “I’m a big puncher and I’m fast and I can move. I’m going to use all my skills so we’ll see what he can do.”



Photos /Ed Muholland-HBO Sports

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