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Arslanbek Makhmudov: The Lion Returns to the Jungle

Recovering from a knockout loss requires balancing stoic self-belief with an awareness of past mistakes. Makhmudov is eager to discover his true self.


Montreal, QC, Canada (June 14, 2024) - As Arslanbek Makhmudov walked through the curtains at the Centre Gervais Auto, there was no visible change in the way he was carrying himself. The familiar wail of an air raid siren replaced traditional entrance music, announcing his arrival. His furrowed brow and menacing neck cracks evoked the image of a cartoon bully ready to pummel his latest victim. When he stepped over the top rope, there was no indication of any difference—at least not immediately.

Arslanbek Makhmudov has started his comeback and is ready take on the world's top heavyweights.

A Ferocious Comeback

Makhmudov rebounded from his shocking knockout loss to Agit Kayabel last December with a second-round KO victory over Miljan Rovcanin in the co-feature of Eye of the Tiger’s Punching Grace/ESPN+ event on May 25. "The Lion" decimated his opponent early, nearly sending Rovcanin into the ringside commentary table with a powerful right hand in the first round. In the second round, Makhmudov adopted a more strategic approach, ultimately delivering a right hand that left Rovcanin flat out for the count.

There was no hesitation from a fighter who had been stopped in his previous bout. Instead, there was a palpable sense of anger, a need to make someone pay for his earlier humiliation. On this night, that someone was Rovcanin, who took the place of Junior Fa, Makhmudov's original opponent, who recently withdrew from boxing. Makhmudov looked like a fighter hungry for retribution and eager to reclaim his position near the top of the heavyweight rankings.

Reflections on Defeat

Makhmudov’s loss to Kayabel, one of the biggest betting upsets of the year, came with an added blow: a broken right hand suffered during in the fight. The boxing community largely dismissed the injury as an excuse, but Makhmudov believes it was a significant factor.

“In the third round, he did his job with a body punch and finished the fight in Round 4, but for me, it was a good experience. I fought with a broken hand for three or four rounds,” Makhmudov told The Ring’s Anson Wainwright. “Honestly, I know myself. This guy isn’t at my level. Look at his record—he had 23 fights, half against nobodies. Do you think I’m worse than this guy? Of course not!”

Fighters often rationalize losses in various ways, some grounded in reality, others not. The validity of these explanations doesn’t always matter. Many fighters have crude explanations for their defeats and manage to bounce back regardless. Whether the hand injury was the primary reason for his stoppage loss, Makhmudov firmly believes it was a fluke—or at least that’s the narrative he's putting forward.

Confidence and Self-Awareness

Makhmudov's response to his loss prompts a dual reaction. On one hand, it raises questions about whether the underlying causes of the loss are being addressed. Does he believe he can continue as before and return to success? On the other hand, his unwavering confidence is crucial for overcoming the trauma of a knockout loss. Makhmudov’s camp acknowledged that he relied too much on his power.

His brief change of tactics in the second round against Rovcanin suggests there might be a more nuanced approach he could adopt in future fights, drawing from his extensive amateur career in Russia. Knockout losses are more common in heavyweight boxing than in any other weight class. For some, like Lennox Lewis and George Foreman, such losses were mere bumps on the road to greatness. For others, like Michael Grant or Gerry Cooney, it was the end of their peak.

Arslanbek Makhmudov always brings a vicious assault to his opponents.

The Path to Redemption

Coming back from a knockout loss involves balancing stoic self-belief with self-awareness of past mistakes. Makhmudov is eager to discover who he truly is. Promoter Camille Estephan has expressed a desire to return to Saudi Arabia for Makhmudov to face another top heavyweight. Makhmudov remains ranked in the Top 15 by the IBF. While Oleksandr Usyk holds the undisputed heavyweight championship, the landscape could shift, making figures like Daniel Dubois a potential target.

Realistic Targets

More realistically, Makhmudov could aim for other heavyweights looking to regain their footing. Jermaine Franklin, who has won two straight bouts since losses to Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, and Frank Sanchez, who also claimed an injury in his loss to Kayabel, are viable opponents. Names like Otto Wallin, Joe Joyce, Guido Vianello, Sergey Kuzmin, and Michael Hunter also fit this description, all eager to climb back up the rankings.

Regaining the Aura

Makhmudov is not only fighting to reclaim his status but also the aura that once surrounded him. Few heavyweights have garnered the cult following Makhmudov did during his early professional years. For many fans, he was a cause—a heavyweight who could surpass the likes of Tony Yoka, Joe Joyce, and Filip Hrgovic despite not winning an Olympic medal. Although his undefeated record is broken, the possibility of him reaching the top of the division is within reach.

As the saying goes, the breath of a wounded lion is more terrifying than its roar.

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2024-06-14 8:55
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