This weekend, live on DAZN PPV, boxing’s biggest star and undisputed champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs) returns to the ring to defend his super middleweight titles against John Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs) at the Akron Stadium in Guadalajara, MX. Although all eyes will be on the main event, the undercard has a few interesting bouts, and one, in particular, involves former light heavyweight champion Oleksandr ‘The Nail’ Gvozdyk (18-1, 14 KOs).
Gvozdyk was striking fear in the hearts of light heavyweight contenders on his rise, and in December 2018, he received a shot at then WBC champ Adonis Stevenson (29-2-1, 24 KOs). That night, the Ukrainian challenger defeated Stevenson by an 11th-round knockout ending his long reign as champion and later sending him into retirement due to internal injuries. The victory made Gvozdyk a real threat in the division, and fans were naturally attracted to him. After a title defense four months later to Doudou Ngumbu (38-10, 14 KOs), which ended in a fifth-round TKO, Gvozdyk gave fans what they were clamoring for; a unification fight against Artur Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs).
That fight was a big deal, and Top Rank/ESPN promoted it in that fashion as boxing fans eagerly anticipated the matchup between the two light heavyweight champions. Who would win the fight between these two monster punchers? That night belonged to Beterbiev as he was just too much for Gvozdyk, and it seemed as if he was being systematically broken down, and not even the great Teddy Atlas could save Gvozdyk that night as he worked his corner. Gvozdyk took a lot of punishment that night and, after losing the title to Beterbiev, decided to retire from the sport at the somewhat young age of 31.
Many thought it was a knee-jerk reaction to the loss, but as time passed, the decision to stay retired seemed permanent. The world went through the Pandemic, and Gvozdyk continued to remain retired. There were whispers last year that the now 36-year-old was seen in the gym, but nothing would be said about whether he was coming back. While Gvozdyk was on the sidelines, Beterbiev continued to win but was also getting older, and Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs) was creating his own memorable moments by defeating Canelo Alvarez.
Don’t be fooled, Gvozdyk and his team have been monitoring the light heavyweight division for a while now, and his comeback fight in February is no coincidence. Gvozdyk was waiting Beterbiev out while also seeing what Bivol does, as that matchup for him is better stylistically than a rematch with an older but still dangerous Beterbiev. I would have to believe that the hope is that Bivol gets the best of Beterbiev at some point, and Gvozdyk can get a title shot with him at some point in 2024.
Before that campaign can begin, Gvozdyk has to get by Ricards Bolotniks (19-6-1, 8 KOs), a tough fighter who will come forward and force Gvozdyk to fight. This will give Gvozdyk an idea of where he is and if it’s time to start looking at facing some of those top ten contenders. The light heavyweight division is wide open to move up in the ranks, so after Saturday night, look for the ‘Nail’ to make a serious push in 2023 and set himself up for a shot at Bivol in 2024.