The best fighters need to want to face the best, Ismayl Sillakh says, or boxing risks going down the tubes.
And yes, in case you were wondering, the Ukrainian-born light heavyweight who this week headlines "Friday Night Fights" at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, against Denis Grachev, believes he belongs in the category of boxing's best.
Sillakh, 27, thought he would get to prove that against Jean Pascal, the former heavyweight titlist who holds a win over Chad Dawson and who drew and lost in two bouts against the ageless Bernard Hopkins. There was talk that Sillakh (17-0, 14 KOs) would glove up against Pascal last May, but that proved to be just talk. Sillakh, whose best win is a 10-round decision over Yordanis Despaigne in March 2011, suspects that Pascal is dodging him because he is too skilled and presents an immense risk. Sillakh's manager, Ivaylo Gotzev, thinks the same.
"Of course I'm a little biased, but Ismayl's as good as anybody out there at 175," said Gotzev, who also handles Samuel Peter and has worked with Vassiliy Jirov and Sergei Liakhovich. "He's fast and skilled, and people avoid fighting him. Chris Henry, Pascal, Zsolt Erdei, Chad Dawson -- they're all running. In my 20 years in management, Ismayl is the best talent I've had."
Gotzev is confident that his guy, ranked No. 2 by the WBC, will get the winner of Saturday's Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson fight in Atlantic City, N.J. ("The WBC ordered it," he said.) Hopkins, who turned 47 in January, is the underdog against the 29-year-old Dawson in a rematch of their October 2011 bout, which ended in Round 2 when Hopkins was unable to continue because of an injured left shoulder.
No offense intended to the 29-year-old Russian-born Grachev (11-0, 7 KOs), a former kickboxer who has been semi-inactive, finding it hard to secure fights.
For his part, Grachev, whose best win is a TKO of Vladine Biosse in May 2011, wasn't lacking for confidence on a phone call, telling ESPN.com that he is "going to break Sillakh."
And how will the 6-foot-1 righty achieve that? His right hand to the body will help do the trick, he says, though he acknowledges that Sillakh is rightfully seen as the favorite in the scrap.
"Sillakh is a very tough opponent, he's very good," Grachev said. He knows, having sparred a bit with Sillahk about a year ago.
Informed of Grachev's prediction, Sillakh, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, laughed. "It's fine," he said on the phone. "He's a good boxer, but I will bring him to school. He can do whatever he wants, but I think I will stop him in four or five rounds."
I expect Sillakh will do just that, because he has pop in both hands and some sweet feet. He dictates distance quite well, using his agility and foot speed to best effect, and with over 300 amateur fights tucked under his belt, he recognizes when he has his foe hurt and definitely seeks to exploit that.
Then he will turn his eyes to the men ahead of him in line, Dawson and Hopkins, and engage in some scouting.
"I will fight one of them sooner or later," said Sillakh, who now lives in California. "I came to this country in 2008 because it has good fighters and coaches. I don't understand why the best don't take the fights. If you're a fighter, you want to fight. You want to fight the best. If not, then boxing will go down."