We last saw Russian cruiserweight Murat Gassiev when he was standing victorious over a completely outclassed Krzysztof Wlodarcyzk. On Saturday night, he’ll be facing a stiffer test, in Yunier Dorticos, a Cuban with murderous power to rival Gassiev.
Gassiev is a classic Abel Sanchez pressure fighter. He comes forward behind a peekaboo guard, probing with a stiff but not altogether visibly impressive jab. He throws it like a boy pushing his younger brother on the forehead – it makes his opponents back up. Close inspection reveals that this is a product of Gassiev’s power, deceptive as it is thunderous. Behind that jab comes a straight right hand, though seldom more. He is not a combination puncher, rather preferring to carefully consider each shot like a man perusing a dinner menu. His punches are short but shocking.
Dorticos is more conventional in plying his trade. His desire is to stand in the middle of the ring where he can use his vast experience and skill to do whatever he feels he should in that moment. His offense is a blend of impressive speed and leg-buckling power that he sometimes initiates with his jab. More often, he leaves openings in his defense that are really just death-traps designed to kill whatever is foolish enough to enter them. His straight right hand is gorgeous and carries the weight of the entire ring behind it. It crushes whatever it hits.
The fight promises to be a celebration of each man’s particular aesthetic. Gassiev will want to apply force and cut the ring off, preventing Dorticos from letting his considerable talent take over. Dorticos will want to keep the fight in the centre of the ring, where Gassiev cannot trap him, and where he can potentially shoot a right hand over Gassiev’s ever probing jab.
It will be more important for Dorticos to prove he can hurt Gassiev, as is often the case in dealing with pressure fighters. If not, Gassiev will feel free to launch his savage left hook to Dorticos' liver. Should Gassiev find himself unable to hurt Dorticos with one shot it will be less consequential. The trouble with pressure fighters is that they get better as the fight progresses, because they are by definition trying to wear the other man out.
A problem both men will face is one that has plagued many fighters for as long as the sport has existed. Guys who can box, all you need to do is hurt them. Guys who can hurt you, you just box them. However, this fight features two men adapt at boxing and hurting, making it a dangerous affair for both of them. A lapse in concentration could end with the doctor waving the paramedics over, and a failure to assert your own plan will end in a one-sided decision.
Expect this fight to get better as it goes on. The first few rounds will be spent studying, each man trying to find the means to gain an advantage. This probably benefits Dorticos, who can use his feet to present angles to Gassiev early on, and build up a lead on the cards. Beyond that, look for Gassiev to take over. I think his power is more considerable than Dorticos' is, and if it comes to it I expect Gassiev will be able to take a little to give a lot in exchanges. Along with that, the optics of the fight will favour Gassiev as well. Dorticos will likely be going backward a lot in this fight, which will be tactical but it will be necessary. Gassiev would like nothing more than a stationary target to wail away upon, but he will be satisfied to stalk forward and trap Dorticos.
Depending on how well Dorticos can create offense as Gassiev comes forward, I am picking Gassiev in this one. Dorticos is no joke, and his amateur background competing in both Cuba and the World Cup speak to that. Still, Gassiev has looked unstoppable of late, and having Abel Sanchez in his corner is surely to his benefit. I don’t know that Gassiev can knock him out, but I do expect him to take control as the fight moves into the middle rounds. Don’t be shocked if Gassiev eventually wears the older Dorticos down and stops him.