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Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: April 29, 10:32 AM ET
Senchenko steps up to Malignaggi

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

Vyacheslav Senchenko
Vyacheslav Senchenko, trained by Freddie Roach, will now fight an American -- with an eye toward a U.S. invasion in the near future.

Welterweight titlist Vyacheslav Senchenko was a 2000 Ukrainian Olympian, has held a world title since 2009 and has made three defenses, but he remains unknown outside of his home country.

Winning a belt against Yuriy Nuzhnenko and defending it against similarly obscure opponents -- Motoki Sasaki, Charlie Jose Navarro and Marco Antonio Avendano, none of whom would find their names listed in any rational top-10 welterweight rankings -- will have that effect.

But Senchenko, who trains under Freddie Roach at Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., would like to raise his profile in the United States and eventually fight in the U.S.

"It's important for me to box an American because the American public is one of the best in the world to showcase my skills for," Senchenko said through translator Sam Katkovski, a representative of Union Boxing, Senchenko's promoter. "It is also every boxer's dream to be able to fight in front of American fans, and that is why I want to do it."

Although Senchenko's next fight won't be in the U.S., he can at least gain some exposure when he makes his fourth title defense. That's because it will come against the most well-known opponent of his career -- mandatory challenger and former junior welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi of Brooklyn, N.Y. -- and be available on television in America. He will face Malignaggi on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Integrated Sports PPV, $29.95) at Donboss Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, Senchenko's hometown.

"Fans will see what Paulie Malignaggi has left and if Senchenko is for real," Malignaggi said.

Said Senchenko: "It's very important to me to have this fight against a well-known American fighter. I want to win this fight and show the American fans that my record is not just a pretty record."

Indeed, Senchenko (32-0, 21 KOs) has a glossy record and a strong pedigree. He has been boxing since age 8 and estimates he had about 400 amateur fights, culminating in his appearance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He turned pro in mid-2002, so his first American television appearance has been a long time coming.

Senchenko, who turned 35 on April 12, has fought all but two of his 32 fights in Ukraine -- most of them in Donetsk. (The exceptions: one fight in Russia and one in Monaco.) He also hasn't been a very active fighter. He won his belt in 2009 and made one defense that year. But he fought only once in 2010 and once in 2011. And not against any recognizable names.

I'm the biggest name he's ever fought. He's never fought anybody on my level. He's in for a rude awakening.

-- Paulie Malignaggi, on welterweight titlist Vyacheslav Senchenko, whom he'll challenge in Ukraine on Sunday

When questioned about the inactivity and lack of name opponents, Senchenko said: "My promoter organizes my fights and picks my opponents. They tell me who they will put in the ring in front of me, and I go in and fight. But it is every boxer's dream to fight good guys, but it doesn't always work out like that. I know a lot of American fans don't know me, but I am a world champion. I would love to have tough fights. I'm up for it.

"I want to show American fans that I am aggressive and have skills and also show them that Europe has some very good talent that they have not seen yet."

Dmitry Yeliseev, vice president of Union Boxing, said that the company has tried to negotiate higher-profile fights for Senchenko but that they didn't work out, which is partly what caused the fighter's long layoffs.

Yeliseev said there were negotiations with Golden Boy for a possible fight with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez when it was looking for him to get a title shot.

"That was for a couple of months, and [talks] went nowhere, so that was a delay," Yeliseev said.

There was also supposed to be a mandatory fight against American Brad Solomon, who is not all that well known but had fought on "Friday Night Fights." Union Boxing won a purse bid for the fight with a seven-figure offer, and the bout was being planned for earlier this year.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't agree with [Solomon]," Yeliseev said, "so the date got pushed back to April, and then that did not happen, so now it is Malignaggi. But we would like [Senchenko] to fight at least twice a year.

"It is our goal to have this fight with Malignaggi and then have a bigger fight abroad, maybe a unification fight, if possible, in the United States."

The 31-year-old Malignaggi (30-4, 6 KOs), of course, has other ideas. He hopes to pull the upset. With his lack of power, he knows it will be hard to get a decision in Senchenko's hometown. But Malignaggi, who has won his three welterweight bouts since moving up in weight following an 11th-round TKO loss to Amir Khan in a May 2010 junior welterweight title bout, is confident.

Paulie Malignaggi
Paulie Malignaggi gave the thumbs up to travel to Ukraine for a challenge of Vyacheslav Senchenko only after Golden Boy addressed his concerns.

"I'm not worried about fighting over there, because the WBA and Golden Boy Promotions have appeased any fears I may have had at first," Malignaggi said. "Golden Boy takes good care of its fighters, so I took the fight.

"I love fighting at 147 pounds and look forward to this opportunity to become a two-division world champion, [which] will legitimize me even more. I'm smarter now about my body, and making 147 isn't a strain. I'm a high-energy fighter and now I'm not draining myself losing weight."

If Malignaggi claims the belt, Golden Boy's plan is for him to return home to Brooklyn for his first defense at the Barclays Center, the new arena that opens in the fall.

"This fight is driving me because I want my first title defense to be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Oct. 20 on opening night," he said. "I'm going to beat this guy to become a two-division world champion. Senchenko's never been in the ring with anybody like Paulie Malignaggi. He's never seen anybody like me. He has fought in the comfort of his home during his entire career against pitiful opponents.

"I'm the biggest name he's ever fought. He's never fought anybody on my level. He's in for a rude awakening. I'm going to force him to adapt and dig down to the point where he's not going to want to get up and fight me every three minutes. I have the answer for everything he brings into the ring. There's nothing he can do that I haven't seen and can't handle. I'm better than him. Senchenko has never fought anybody like Paulie Malignaggi."

Senchenko won't dispute Malignaggi's claim that he is the most well-known opponent of his career. But he certainly doesn't accept Malignaggi's plan for a first title defense.

"Paulie is already talking about defending his title in Brooklyn, but I am still the champion," he said. "He needs to take the title from me. He should start thinking about retiring, not defending the title, after he fights me."