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Million Dollar Beibut
Shumenov aims for the big names – Santiago on deck for Friday

Story and photos by Chris Cozzone

If you’ve had it with boxing’s overgroomed babies, meet undersold Beibut.

Beibut Shumenov, that is.

With just a dozen fights and a quarter of the light-heavyweight championship tucked into his belt, Shumenov is on a mission to show the sport that years of coddling and a diet of fresh ducks will get you nowhere but stale.

Defending his WBA strap in his 13th bout, Shumenov, 11-1, 7 KOs, will be taking on former title challenger Danny “Bronx Bomber” Santiago, 31-4-1, 19 KOs, Friday night at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas. The six-bout card is televised on Telefutura’s “Solo Boxeo” and co-promoted by Shumenov’s KZ Event Productions, Golden Boy and Don Chargin.

“I don’t want to fight weak fighters,” Shumenov said Tuesday after an evening workout at the Elite Training & Fitness Center in Henderson, Nev. “I just want the top ones.”

That’s just what Shumenov told Top Rank, back in 2007 when he came to the U.S. from Kazakhstan, where he represented his country in the 2004 Olympics.

“I asked them, ‘Can I fight guys with, like, 20 wins and few losses?’ They said, ‘Yes – but in 10 to 14 fights.’ I said, ‘Why not now?’ They said the commissions would never approve it.”

Shumenov passed on Top Rank’s offer, choosing instead to rely on his cousin, a "swindler" whom he says had no idea what he was doing. Shumenov fought two more times in the U.S., against easy opponents - not his choice - before returning to Kazakhstan where tougher opposition could be arranged without arguing with American commissions.

Shumenov formed his own promotions company – KZ – and, by the end of the year, had not only blazed through experienced opponents for regional belts, but had defeated former champion Montell Griffin and ex-title challenger Epifanio Mendoza.

“I knew what I was capable of,” says Shumenov. “Well, I thought I did – but both those fights, Griffin and Mendoza, were very tough fights. I was so nervous and didn’t know how to conserve my energy.”

Instead of slowing down, Shumenov brought in another former title challenger – Byron Mitchell, who was stopped in four. Now 9-0, Shumenov aimed for no less than a world title in his tenth pro fight.

“I had too many ambitions,” recalls Shumenov. “I was thinking I was god-gifted and I was going to handle everyone very easily. To be honest, I didn’t have a clue.”

And that’s when things got bad.

Two months after beating Hugo Garay for the WBA 175-pound title, Spaniard Gabriel Campillo defended his belt on Shumenov’s home turf, defeating the Kazakh by majority decision.

“I really think I won that fight, but I knew I was moving very fast,” says Shumenov. “But it was fight him again, or I was going to quit.”

The rematch landed in Las Vegas, where Shumenov had now relocated. Replacing family and people “who did not understand boxing” with trainer Kevin Barry, Shumenov excelled to new levels.

Ironically, the rematch that evened the score, sank Shumenov to a new low.

If Campillo’s win over Shumenov was something akin go De La Hoya vs. Trinidad, then the rematch that had the Khazakh winning by split verdict, was closer to Lara vs. Williams. Named the year’s biggest robbery by most of the boxing press, Shumenov won on two scorecards, 117-111 and 115-113, while the third had it for Campillo, 117-111.

Shumenov rebounded off the negative press six months later when he defended his belts with an uncontroversial, unanimous decision over formerly unbeaten Viacheslav Uzelkov, then returned to Kazakhstan where he battered down former middleweight champion William Joppy in six. Now, half a year later, Shumenov is on a new mission hoping to line up the other champions while convincing HBO or Showtime that he’s fan-friendly stuff.

“He’s definitely on the fast track and doesn’t want to slow down,” says trainer Barry, who’s been with him for four camps now. “I’ve never seen anyone so driven.

“With a style like his, he should be fighting on HBO or Showtime.”

Up first, will be Telefutura – and Santiago, who is on a two-bout win streak over mediocre foes, following TKO losses to former champ Antonio Tarver and undefeated former champ Zsolt Erdei.

“Santiago has proven he can win against a fighter he’s supposed to lose against,” says Barry. “So, we know we’re fighting the best Santiago there is.”

“He’s got a lot more fights,” says Shumenov. “I am not underestimating him but I hope to impress people.”

Should Shumenov cruise through Santiago, he says a deal with Erdei is a close to completion.

“I just want the best out there,” he says. “That means fighting the other champions – like Bernard Hopkins, Tavoris Cloud and Nathan Cleverly.

“My parents would like to see it end – but for me, it’s my passion. My mother would like to see me as a lawyer or businessman – but right now, I haven’t finished reaching my highest level yet.”

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2011 by Fightnews.com.