Talking Boxing

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January 18, 2017

Leaving it too late?

Ievgen Khytrov

Ievgen Khytrov (left) suffered his first pro defeat on Saturday night. Had he peaked too soon?
Image: Ed Diller/DiBella Entertainment.

by Rian Scalia

Hindsight is 20/20. Every fighter will progress at different rates. Some will go all the way, some will plateau at a certain level and some just won’t live up to expectations.

Especially in cases where the fighter is a highly accomplished amateur that fought at the Olympics, expectations are usually high when turning professional. That doesn’t guarantee success or determine what level they’ll reach.

Case in point, Ievgen Khytrov. The 2012 Olympian from Ukraine had around 500 amateur fights and was highly touted when he turned pro in 2013. He certainly looked the part in his early days as a pro, blowing out his first eight opponents. That he was scheduled in an eight rounder in his pro debut is indicative of what his handlers thought of his potential.

Khytrov looked like a force in those eight fights, steamrolling solid opponents like Louis Rose and Chris Chatman. In his ninth fight, it took him eight rounds to stop Jorge Melendez, who was able to hit the Ukrainian more frequently than anyone else had done before in the pro game.

The competition increased and the stoppages decreased or were more prolonged. After going eight rounds with a tricky Aaron Coley, Khytrov had to come from behind to beat Nick Brinson in the final round while trailing on two scorecards. For most of the fight, Brinson outboxed the former Olympian, who looked slow and sluggish.

Another sluggish performance against Kenneth McNeil came two fights after that, where the Ukrainian went the ten round distance for the first time. Then it took him nine rounds to stop a very durable Paul Mendez last July. We all know what happened next.

The stoppage loss to Immanuwel Aleem last weekend was unexpected. Khytrov was a decent sized favourite heading into the fight, which beforehand seemed to be more competitive than the odds indicated. Now, that’s not to say many were picking Aleem to win.

But once again Khytrov looked slow, his reflexes looked dulled and he didn’t have much head movement, causing him to get hit with right hands time and time again. While his recovery and constant comebacks in the fight were valiant and commendable, they weren’t enough. This was evidently the same fighter that had been sluggish in previous performances.

It’s as if his first eight fights had everyone hoodwinked, or that he regressed later. He looked like a real power puncher in the first half of his pro career to date, and a first round stoppage of Louis Rose is impressive for anyone to pull off. The Melendez fight and ensuing wins seemed to bring everything back to
reality, a natural occurrence after facing better competition more consistently.

One factor that has to be considered is that he’s 28 years old and had those 500 amateur fights under his belt. It’s plausible that he had too many and the accumulation of damage has caught up to him. After all, he’s never been a defensive wizard. He also lost an estimated 50 of those fights. It’s not out of the question to say that he peaked early.

While it remains to be seen what Khytrov accomplishes after he goes back to the drawing board, he took a ton of punishment against Aleem. Add those 500 amateur fights, his recent sluggishness and propensity to get hit, and he has a long road back to climb up the mountain.

He always had an aggressive style - even in the amateurs - but one can only sustain that for so long, especially when their defense is leaky. While some fighters are thought to have stayed in the amateurs too long, thus affecting their ability to adapt to the pro game, Khytrov always had a pro style. In his case, even though he turned pro at 24, that’s quite a young age to have had so many amateur fights by.

Whilst attempting to distinguish whether he regressed or not, his style combined with the amount of amateur fights he had is a real thing to take into consideration after his loss on the undercard of James DeGale vs. Badou Jack in New York City. When fighters start turning pro in their late twenties, they have their work cut out for them to reach the top as they’re in a race against the clock.

Khytrov is only 28 but there are normal years and then there are ring years, years spent fighting and wearing down the body. Some fighters are ageless wonders, some decline rapidly all of a sudden.
Every fighter ages, progresses and declines in a unique manner. While he can’t be written off yet, Khytrov may have left his pro career too late after 500 amateur fights.