Denis Grachev has made a career out of being an underdog who performs better than expected.
In 2011, he knocked out then-undefeated Vladine Biosse of Providence, R.I., on Biosse’s New England turf. Two fights later, in 2012, Grachev was the relatively unknown opponent when he met red-hot, rising light heavyweight contender Ismayl Sillakh and guess what? Grachev took him out in the eighth round in a major upset.
Then came a fight in Montreal against former super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute, who was looking to rebound from his first defeat, a knockout loss to Carl Froch.
Although Bute outpointed Grachev, it was a life-and-death fight for Bute, who looked very shaky. It was not a loss that hurt Grachev at all. In fact, he parlayed it into a fight with former light heavyweight titlist Zsolt Erdei in the semifinals of the Million Dollar Super Four tournament in Monte Carlo in March.
The result? Grachev won a split decision, pulling another upset and handing Erdei his first professional defeat.
The victory propelled Grachev (13-1, 8 KOs), a native of Russia who lives in San Diego, into the final against Edwin Rodriguez (23-0, 15 KOs) of Worcester, Mass.
Although Grachev is a light heavyweight and Rodriguez a super middleweight, the tournament contracts call for the July 13 final, also in Monte Carlo, to take place at a catchweight of 171½ pounds (which is between super middleweight and light heavyweight). The winner gets $600,000 of the $1 million purse with the loser getting $400,000.
Grachev has been preparing for the fight with trainer Abel Sanchez in the high altitude of Big Bear Lake, Calif. The camp is loaded with talent, including middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin, Sanchez’s prized pupil, and junior middleweight titlist Zaurbek Baysangurov. They are both preparing for title defenses.
“Prior to the Erdei fight, I was only here for 10 days,” Grachev said. “However, this time I’m up here for six weeks, which will put me in the best form ever. We are high in the mountains, eight of us fighters, just boxing and training. It is hard work, very intensive, with jogging in the morning and much training the rest of the day. I wasn’t in my best shape last time, but this will be different.”
When Grachev faces Rodriguez, he will once again be the underdog, as if that even matters anymore.
“With (Erdei’s) boxing style and experience, it was my most difficult fight. It was hard to find the key to beating him,” Grachev said. “I think it will be easier with Rodriguez. He is the favorite according to many boxing fans, but they are going to be disappointed. It will probably be his first loss.”
In camp, Grachev has been sparring with Golovkin, who is getting ready for his June 29 defense against Matthew Macklin.
“I’ve had very good sparring, especially Gennady,” Grachev said. “We are studying Rodriguez’s style and sparring accordingly. It’s been very inspiring to be up in Big Bear with world champions like Golovkin and Baysangurov and watch how they train and prepare for their world title defenses.”