Nearly one year ago, former World Boxing Association (WBA) Light Heavyweight World champion Beibut Shumenov (15-2, 10 KOs) made two critical decisions that are now paying dividends as the 2004 Kazakhstan Olympian prepares for this Saturday night's (July 25) showdown with B.J. Flores (31-1-1, 20 KOs) at The Palms in Shumenov's adopted home of Las Vegas.
First, after struggling to lose weight in order to make the 175-pound light heavyweight limit, which often left Shumenov weakened during his fights, he decided to move up one weight class to fight as a cruiserweight. Then, after self-training himself for three fights, Shumenov started working with highly-regarded Cuban head trainer Ismael Salas, who also trains World Boxing Council (WBC) World Lightweight Champion Jorge Linares. He has also handled present and past world champions such as Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuriokis Gamboa, Danny Green, and Jesse Vargas.
With Salas in his corner for the first time, Shumenov made his cruiserweight debut last December at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, in which Bobby Thomas, Jr. (14-2, 9 KOs) retired after the fifth round when he could no longer take an old-fashioned beating.
These two aforementioned critical decisions have already positioned WBA No. 1-ranked Shumenov to fight WBA No. 3-rated Flores for the interim WBA cruiserweight title, headlining a Premier Boxing Champions event to air live on NBCSN.
Shumenov is a physical specimen, impressively cut with bulging muscles. However, as he aged, the constant wear and tear associated with making weight - it's much more difficult to lose muscle than fat - simply became too much for him to overcome. When he first came to the United States eight years ago, ironically, he thought about fighting as a heavyweight or cruiserweight, but he ultimately decided to fight as a light heavyweight. He went on to set the world light heavyweight record for fewest career fights, 10, needed to become world light heavyweight champion
"Since moving up to cruiserweight," Shumenov said, "I have had no problems making weight. No stress at all! All I think about now is how I can be a better fighter. I really enjoy being a cruiserweight and I have only positive energy at the gym."
Salas agrees that Shumenov is comfortable and effective fighting as a world-class cruiserweight. "Beibut has adapted very well to fighting in the cruiserweight class," Salas noted. "It is due to his healthy way of working hard and eating well. He doesn't struggle anymore to make weight. Plus, he still has good mobility and power punching ability."
The connection between Shumenov and Salas was immediate, largely due to a similar boxing program Shumenov learned in Kazakhstan, Salas in Cuba, which focus on fundamentals.
"Ismael is the coach I dreamed of finding," Shumenov remarked. "We have a lot of similarities in our boxing school background. We had chemistry right away, from the first day of training. I also have two assistant coaches, Jeff Grmoja and Rodney Crisler, and we all discuss and share our boxing knowledge as a team to help me become a better fighter. We now all think as one."
Salas agrees with Shumenov about their instant connection, adding: "It is true that we come from very similar training systems. We've added a professional approach to training, stressing the fundamentals of boxing skills. Add Beibut's mental strength and all his hard work to be prepared in the ring to adjust, in approximately 10 months, and we have a new team that works so well together."
On paper, Flores may have an experience advantage over Shumenov - 33 pro fights to 17 - but Shumenov has faced a much higher quality of opposition having fought in eight (6-2) world title fights. In his 17 pro fights, Shumenov has fought five world champions and five world title challengers. Flores lost to the only world champion he's fought, then-IBO cruiserweight Danny Green.
"We're prepared to face anything BJ Flores will bring, so I believe it'll be an exciting, competitive fight between two experienced fighters," Salas concluded. "The first few rounds may be a like a master chess game."