The welterweight division has long been and continues to hold firm as a premier weight class with strength and depth. The likes of Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr illuminate the very top of the rankings, but in the far reaches of eastern Europe, recently crowned WBA Regular Welterweight World champion Eimantas Stanionis (14-0) is looking to male his mark at 147 pounds.
Stanionis took the decision over the undefeated Russian, Radzhab Butaev to become Lithuania’s first ever world champion in April. The 28-year-old talks exclusively to ProBox TV from his home town in Kaunas on a career based solely in the USA, fights for the future and bringing boxing back to Lithuania.
“I knew it was going to be a tough fight (against Radzhab Butaev), he’s a very good fighter. I fought him in the amateurs twice and lost. We both have fan-friendly styles so I knew it would be tough.
“I wanted to win so badly, it has been my dream since I was a kid to bring a belt home to Lithuania. It was a dream come true, there were a lot of emotions. It didn’t feel real for a few days after, it was cool. It’s hard to describe, too difficult.”
It’s 5,890 miles from Kaunas to Los Angeles. How did a kid from Lithuania find himself performing on the big stage so far from the tiny Baltic nation with of population of less than 2.8 million.
“I signed a contract in 2017 after the Olympic Games (2016). Then I went to America for the first time, I went to Freddie Roach’s gym. I spent five or six months training over there. I had a few fights, then I went to Houston to train with Ronnie Shields. There was less sparring partners in Texas so I moved back to California, Marvin Somodio is now my trainer.”
Lithuania last staged a professional boxing event in 2018, an array of 4-round fights featuring journeyman from across the Baltic states. With the country also only having 12 active professional boxers according to Boxrec, it appears the current love for boxing in Stanionis’ homeland looks near non-existent.
“Basketball is the first sport of Lithuania. Boxing is pretty popular, but nowhere near basketball. I’m trying to make it popular again! In the old days boxing used to be very big, very huge. But then there were no good boxers and no promoters, so it went down. People like to watch the big fights here on TV, but there are no events here. We do have some kickboxing events and amateur boxing, but no professional.
The recent title success of Eimantas Stanionis has surely gone some way towards changing the problems for boxing in Lithuania, something he hoped to take advantage of.
“After my fight with Butaev people were stopping me in street and asking for pictures which was nice. I don’t like people to call me champ though, I try to stay humble because every fight it can change. I don’t want to let it get to my head, you know? I would like to inspire the younger generation in Lithuania, show that they can achieve something coming from here. Hopefully the younger generation can take it more seriously and we can produce a second world champion.
“My second dream is to fight in my home city at Zalgiris Arena (17,500 capacity) in Kaunas. I can guarantee I could sell out the entire arena! I have spoken to my promoter and manager, who do want to make it happen. But at the moment I’m fighting in the USA, very different market with most of the fighters based over there. But in the future, I will come back and fight here.”
In a division of opportunity, who is next for the new welterweight belt holder?
“It’s no issue. I will fight anybody! All these young guys coming through it’s not a problem for me. I’m in a good spot, it doesn’t matter who to be honest with me.”