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Sergei Kobozev a Boxers Life Remembered

Feb 10, 2004  By Joe Trabucco
Last week, Lennox Lewis finally announced his retirement from boxing. Only time will tell where Lewis is placed on the all-time list of great heavyweights. One thing is certain, Lewis, a former Olympic Gold Medalist, was able to realize his potential, and walk away from the sport with the respect of his peers.

All too often in boxing and every other sport for that matter, athletes never live up to the hype that is, sometimes unfairly, thrust upon them. Tyrell Biggs, Gerry Cooney, and Mark Breland, are a few that come to mind right now. But the list is a long one.

In Sean Newman's 3-Part interview with Tommy Morrison, we are also reminded that some fighters' careers end prematurely. This is when we are left to ask, what if?

One fighter, whose career ended in the most horrifying way imaginable, was Sergei Kobozev. Kobozev was a top cruiserweight contender in the mid-90's, until his car was found abandoned in a Brooklyn diner's parking lot in November 1995. At first, police speculated that Kobozev may have been depressed over his first career loss, which had taken place 2 weeks prior in France.

It wasn't until 4 years later, that the shocking truth was revealed. Kobozev's bones were unearthed in March 1999, in the backyard of the Russian Mafia's number 2 man, Alexander Spitchenko.

Kobozev was a considered a future world champion when he turned pro in March 1990. He was a member of the Soviet National Boxing Team at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, and with the fall of the Soviet Union soon after, Kobozev could imagine a career outside of the amateur ranks. Until then, many Olympic fighters from countries like Russia and Cuba were only permitted to participate in amateur events, where they would represent their countries instead of themselves.

Russia's newfound freedom, also saw the rise of organized crime. However, unlike many fighters of the past, Kobozev was able to steer clear of their influence. This can be credited to Tommy Gallagher, who recruited Kobozev, and other Soviet bloc fighters, to pursue a career in the United States.

As part of Gallagher's "Russian Wave", Kobozev was ready to make his mark on boxing. Before his arrival, Kobozev had won all 6 of his fights by knockout, which included the Russian Cruiserweight Title. Once stateside, though, he began to make the boxing public take notice. He was 15-0, 12 KO's, when he met another undefeated prospect in what you could call a crossroads fight. Not too much was known about John Ruiz, who had won his first 14 fights, nine in the distance, as well. That August night, both gave it everything they had, and when it was over, Kobozev walked away with a split decision win. Little did anyone know at the time, that he had just defeated a future heavyweight champion. As a matter of fact, Norman Stone, Ruiz's manager, said that, "there's no doubt he(Kobozev) could have been a heavyweight contender.

Two fights later, he would take on former WBA Cruiserweight Champion, Robert Daniels. Daniels had lost the title via a close split decision loss to Bobby Czyz. Since then, he had won 6 straight fights, 5 by knockout. Daniels, who had only lost twice and never been knocked out, succumbed to Kobozev's superior skills and power in the 8th round. This fight was followed by another knockout of former US Olympian, Andrew Maynard.

It was a matter of time until Kobozev would be given his shot at the title. That shot came on October 24th, 1995, in Levallois, France, against the WBC Cruiserweight Champion, Marcelo Fabián Domínguez. Both fighters had their moments in the fight. When it went to the scorecards at the end of 12 tough rounds, Dominguez was declared the winner by split decision. There were many ringside who felt that Kobozev won the fight, but he did not hang his head after the announcement of his first defeat. He accepted the decision, believing that there would be another opportunity forthcoming. At 31, Sergei Kobozev felt he had a long career ahead of him.

Kobozev worked part-time as a bouncer at the Paradise Restaurant, a hot spot for the Russian emigre community. Shortly after his fight with Dominguez, Kobozev reported to work as he normally did on the weekend. That night, a brawl broke out. Kobozev jumped into to break up the melee, and, in the process, got into a confrontation with one of the men involved. Unfortunately, one of the men was Alexander Nosov. Nosov was a member of the organized crime group called, "The Brigade".

A few days later, while having his car worked on, Kobozev would cross paths with Nosov, again. Nosov, and two accomplices shot Kobozev and dumped him into a Chevy Blazer, still breathing. When they reached Spitchenko's house, Kobozev's neck was broken, and the young fighters life was over.

The men responsible for Kobozev's death are now in prison, and we are left asking, what if? I've never been one who liked to ponder that question, what if. However, someone with Kobozev's ability, you can't help but wonder.

There are fighters from the former Soviet Union who are thriving as professionals today. Vassily Jirov, Wladmir and Vitali Klitschko are a few. Sergei Kobozev was there when the Soviet Union crumbled and his opportunities as a professional could be pursued. In a way, he blazed a trail for those that came after him. In the end, that will be his legacy.

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