Airdrie based Congolese heavyweight Martin Bakole attempts to continue his steady rise up the heavyweight rankings when he meets fellow contender Sergey Kuzmin of St Petersburg, Russia on the Anthony Joshua vs Kubrat Pulev bill at The O2, London on December 12th. The fight will be shown as part of Sky Sports pay-per-view show in the UK and on DAZN in other territories.
On paper, Bakole vs Kuzmin is a 50/50 fight. Both have 15-1-0 records going into the fight, Bakole with 12 stoppages and Kuzmin with 11 early endings. Also, both single defeats were to the same opponent in American Michael Hunter.
The winner will put themselves into more high profile matches against top 10 contenders before hoping to challenge for a world title while the loser will need to work his way back into contention, so the stakes are high.
So, who is best equipped to come out victorious? For me, Bakole looks the better all-round boxer and puncher. Take nothing away from the tough and strong Kuzmin, but Bakole has such solid defensive skills aligned to good hand speed and variety in his punching abilities. Of the two, Kuzmin may well be the physically stronger man and he has a strong amateur resume that includes some very illustrious names. Anthony Joshua, Zhilei Zhang, Joe Joyce, Mahammadrasul Majidov, and Frazer Clarke all faced the now 33-year-old whilst wearing the amateur singlet. Add two matches in the World Series of Boxing (a win against Gadzhi Murtazaliev, and a loss on points to Filip Hrgovic) and you see a very well-seasoned fighter indeed.
But as professionals, Bakole has shone while Kuzmin has looked very ordinary at times. The Russian’s 2018 win over David Price at Wembley Stadium showed some of Kuzmin’s shortfalls. While Price is a much better heavyweight than his record shows, he is undoubtedly weak in the chin department and Kuzmin not only failed to exploit this weakness in the manner that others have but looked short on ideas as to how to deal with the Liverpool fighters height and reach advantages.
Kuzmin also struggled to get the nod over Joey Dawejko who also is much better than his then 19-6-0 record suggests. But, all the contender level opponents on Joey’s record came away with clear wins apart from Kuzmin. One judge had it 95-95 and the other two scored 96-94 for Kuzmin.
As both have lost to Michael Hunter, perhaps the biggest hint on who the potential winner will be is in the manner of the losses.
It was in the Bakole vs Hunter fight that doubts about the African’s desire came to the fore. Coach Billy Nelson has always insisted that Bakole wanted to fight on after sustaining a right shoulder injury but the Sky Sports footage of the conversation in the corner appeared to tell a different story. However, it was the tactics that Bakole brought into the ring that gave Hunter the opportunity for victory. The fact that Bakole tried to back Hunter up throughout was the right idea but he did so throwing hooks to Hunter’s head from both hands for the first 5 rounds and Hunter exploited that tactic. Bobbing and weaving under Bakole’s hooks left the 6ft 5-inch African open to counter hooks and uppercuts. By round six Bakole started to wilt. True he landed some good shots occasionally but not enough to win the rounds.
Hunter kept up the constant movement throughout the fight and Bakole succumbed to the American’s onslaught in the 10th round.
Kuzmin fought with his normal style when he met Hunter in New York in September 2019. Hands held high, he walked the American down throughout but at such a slow pace that Hunter didn’t ever feel truly pressured. If Sergey could fight at the high octane pace that Hunter did against Bakole, he would be a world-beater. The fight went the full 12 rounds and the only real highlight was when Hunter floored Kuzmin in the 5th round.
Styles make fights as they say, and Kuzmin came out of his tussle with Hunter far better than Bakole did. That said, Bakole has gone on to some good wins over Mariusz Wach, Ytalo Perea, Kevin Johnson, and Rodney Hernandez since, while Kuzmin hasn’t fought since the defeat to Hunter, so Bakole should have the edge in terms of staying busy since suffering a defeat.
Bakole seems to have worked with Nelson on his defence and looked so much more polished by the time he travelled to Poland six months after the Hunter loss to inflict an 8th round stoppage of Mariusz Wach who was attempting to get back into the world top ten himself. After a 1st round blow-out of Ytalo Perea, the Airdrie based heavyweight put on a masterclass against Wiley former world heavyweight title challenger Kevin Johnson, stopping the American in 5 one-sided rounds. A subsequent 2nd round stoppage of Rodney Hernandez in Manchester rounds off Bakole’s comeback.
This is a fight that will show Martin Bakole’s standing in the heavyweight division. Kuzmin will most likely be there at the end of the 10 rounds and we haven’t seen Bakole complete 10 rounds yet. If he boxes to orders, the transplanted Congolese can put on a display of the silky skills we know he can produce, but, he must beware the Russian’s toughness and ability to take big shots on his arms and gloves and counter quickly.
Prediction: Bakole to win clearly over 10 rounds.