Shafikov inks deal with Top Rank

Russian lightweight contender Denis Shafikov is ready to campaign in the United States after his recent signing with Top Rank.

The 28-year-old southpaw's first fight of the new deal will mark his American debut when he takes on Santos Benavides (23-3-2, 17 KOs) of Nicaragua in a scheduled 10-round bout on Aug. 17 in Laredo, Texas. The bout is on the untelevised undercard of the show headlined by former lightweight titlist Juan Diaz facing Adailton De Jesus.

"He's a solid, top 10 lightweight that can also fight at 140 pounds as well," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. "He can fight in either weight class. He's a world-class guy who would give anyone a heck of a fight, if not beat the top guys."

Shafikov (32-0-1, 17 KOs) had been fighting at junior welterweight but dropped down in weight earlier this year and defeated Alisher Rahimov by 11th-round disqualification. Shafikov was way ahead on the scorecards at the time of the DQ. Rahimov was a solid opponent, too, owning wins against Sergio Thompson and Rustam Nugaev since 2010.

In his previous bout, in December, Shafikov scored a one-sided 12-round decision win against junior welterweight contender Albert Mensah.

Moretti said that Shafikov's handlers contacted Top Rank about making a deal because of their interest in having him fight in the United States and the deal was done quickly with the assistance of Steve Bash, a Southern California promoter who is fluent in Russian.

"His people reached out to us and lightweight is a weight class we really like," Moretti said. "I think the plan with him is to take a look at him first hand with the fight on Aug. 17 and make an assessment. And after that give him one or two more fights this year, if not a bigger opportunity. For us, it was a natural signing, a natural move. He's willing to fight anybody at 135 or 140."

Ural Boxing will continue to co-promote Shafikov in his overseas fights.