Cruiserweight

Beibut Shumenov Earns Title of Boxing’s Worst Champion

On July 7, Beibut Shumenov (18-2, 12 KO) came out of retirement to earn his latest world title.

Miraculously recovered from an eye injury that forced him out of an overdue fight with mandatory challenger Yunior Dorticos last summer, Shumenov crushed Hizni Altunkaya (an 8-1 underdog who quit before Round 10) just in time to rub elbows with Kazakhstan politicos in Astana, the city capital celebrating its 20th anniversary. WBA president Gilberto Mendoza was there to show his support, giving Shumenov the WBA “regular” Cruiserweight championship, the organization’s fourth belt in the division.

The WBA didn’t bother ordering Shumenov to face interim titleholder Arsen Goulamirian, an intimidating slugger under the tutelage of Abel Sanchez. Instead, having sanctioned all but one of Shumenov’s bouts since 2010, Mendoza’s camp endorsed a fight between Shumenov and yet another handpicked opponent.

A lawyer from Kazakhstan, and heir to one of the country’s wealthiest families, Shumenov is a savvy boxer out of the ring, not in it. The slick, slimy moves of the sport’s top promoters come easy for him because he is one, founding his own promotional company, KZ Event Productions, in 2007, upon transplanting to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Shumenov, 34, has built a career on a suspiciously close relationship with the WBA and more than one stroke of luck from incompetent judges.

In 2014, a 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins undressed Shumenov over the championship distance, even flooring the younger man, but settled for a split-decision to lift the WBA Light Heavyweight title. Judge Gustavo Padilla somehow scored the bout in favor of Shumenov, dissenting from two scores of 116-111 for B-Hop. The WBA finally suspended Padilla in 2017 for his scorecard in the first Middleweight contest between Hassan N’Dam and Ryota Murata.

Even worse was Shumenov’s split-decision victory in 2010 over Light Heavyweight gatekeeper Gabriel Campillo for the WBA strap. BoxingScene.com called the verdict a “horrible robbery.” The bout was a rematch of their encounter five months earlier which Shumenov was actually unlucky to be called the loser. His climb up the WBA’s rankings, though, made it hard to feel bad for him.

Turning professional in 2007, Shumenov was determined to fight opponents with famous names and subpar games—low risk, high reward—eventually breaking the Light Heavyweight divisional record for fewest fights before winning a championship. The road to the title was paved with the likes of Montell Griffin, who won an alphabet belt by disqualification in 1997; Epifanio Mendoza, a failed title challenger the previous year (a late-replacement at that); and Byron Mitchell, who after a four-year layoff from his days as a super Middleweight, missed the 175-pound mark by 12 pounds.

Following the disaster of a series with Campillo, the new champion’s first defense was promising. Shumenov pumped the brakes on a rising prospect out of Ukraine by the name of Vyacheslav Uzelkov. At the time, The Ring Magazine rated the undefeated challenger higher than Shumenov after Uzelkov smashed Campillo in six rounds. Shumenov had to get off the canvas in the opening stanza, but relied on supreme conditioning to pick up a unanimous decision.

In early 2011, Shumenov was in line to unify the WBA and WBO titles with Juergen Braehmer. That is, until the German inexplicably pulled out with an illness a week from the fight. William Joppy, a Middleweight champion in 1996, took Braehmer’s place. Shumenov would overpower Joppy, ending the match with a sixth-round TKO.

Three more successful Light Heavyweight title defenses followed. They were anything but a murderer’s row, defeating Enrique Ornelas, a former Super Middleweight contender; Danny Santiago, who was inactive and knocked out in his only other title opportunity four years earlier; and Tamas Kovacs, who fought just a handful of men with a winning record, let alone even a single recognizable name.

Picking on Middleweights from the 90s finally caught up to Shumenov when he met Hopkins. Yet outpunched and outmaneuvered, after the scores were read, he nauseatingly insisted on complaining to Hopkins about the old veteran’s trash-talking during the fight.

Sulking over the loss, Shumenov announced a jump to Cruiserweight, claiming trouble cutting to 175 pounds. This despite gloating about installing a hyperbaric chamber in his $5.3 million home.

One tuneup later, in 2015, the WBA rushed Shumenov into another title fight. This one, at Cruiserweight, and more unanticipated than any before. In conjunction with Al Haymon’s PBC, Shumenov faced a 36-year-old B.J. Flores, who made a name for himself as a broadcaster for NBC, not by beating decent opponents.

The fight was as bad as expected. Flores walked Shumenov down but proved incapable of cutting off the ring. Shumenov potshotted his way to a dull decision, making him a two-divisional WBA beltholder.

Shumenov competed one more time, knocking out Junior Wright in 2016, before hanging up his gloves. He made sure to personally thank Mendoza and the rest of the “WBA family” before leaving Murat Gassiev to battle Dorticos for the sanctioning body’s “super” championship.

As the 200-pound weight class evolved into the hottest show in boxing, culminating in the World Boxing Super Series finale, Shumenov sat back, mapping out his next move. He never did embody the rough-and tumble spirit of the division—never the struggling fighter, never did he dare to be great.

After stopping Altunkaya, Shumenov only merited a post-script recap of two paragraphs from ESPN. If anybody cared about his career, it might deserve some close analysis. It might look like a heartwarming tale: one about an immigrant who taught himself english by watching American television, who became the first foreign-born promoter in Nevada’s long fight history, and (for better or worse) was a self-made champion. He was never taken advantage of like so many before him, amassing serious wealth along the way.

Shumenov carried on his family’s tradition of financial success. He’s no less of a man for it. He is, though, less of a fighter.

No one can take away the championship belts he was awarded, but the legitimacy of the hardware is up to boxing fandom to decide based solely on what plays out inside that ring, within those three-minute intervals, between one boxer and the other.

So Shumenov deserves every dollar he’s made for wisely maneuvering the corporate boundaries that define the sport. But for the undersized and unheralded opponents he did it against, the title of boxing’s worst champion is his too.

 

All photos by Tom Casino

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