A while ago, I teased an profile of Oleksandr Teslenko, who I learned goes by Sasha and is an absolute delight. I had the opportunity to speak with Gary Freedman, who has taken over management of Sasha’s career.
Sasha is a heavyweight prospect, fighting out of Toronto by way of Chernivtsi, Ukraine. He is the most recent addition to DiBella Entertainment's stable, and one of the better prospects among the Big Fellows. His amateur background is staggering in both accomplishment and depth, following in the tradition of two other fighters handled by his former manager Aegis Klimas, Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk. His 247 amateur fights are a rarity among heavyweights, who usually turn pro long before they get that far. He won 224 of those bouts, but more importantly developed an advanced offensive arsenal, adding to it some savvy defensive skills.
I initially thought Sasha was a smallish heavyweight but looking at him now, I see a physically immature big man who's got room to put on 10-15 pounds before he would be sacrificing much mobility. He started out around 215, but has been as high as 227, before trimming back down to 220. 230 Would be my ideal weight for Sasha, who looks somewhat soft but nonetheless trim. To hang with the behemoths that mostly populate the top the division, a little extra weight will benefit him in terms of taking the bigger shots.
And he's going to take them. Sasha is a pretty responsible defensive boxer, but he's naturally oriented toward aggression, something Freedman said fans are going to love about him. He has a classic come forward style that flies in the face of the modern heavyweight, who is prone to clinching and holding on the inside. Sasha gets behind his stiff jab, and uses his long arms to control distance. He's not quite Usyk-ian in his movement, but he's a big, rangy guy that doesn't like to have his offense stifled. The fights I've seen him in have been exhibitions of this; he wants to keep his man at the end of his fist while applying intelligent pressure on his way to scoring knockouts.
Those fights have come against largely over-matched opposition. They aren't what you'd call rollovers — most of them have had winning records and some credibility as club fighters or semi-prospects — but they aren't on the same level as Teslenko. A few former and current managers have told me they are impressed with the level of foe he's dealing with right now, given that most heavyweight prospects don't see a winning record in the opposite corner until they're fighting on televised undercards.
Gary Freedman tells me that the plan is to start moving Sasha in 2018 and 2019. The level of competition is going to be stepped up, and he's going to fight 4-5 times in the next 12 months as mandated by the promotional deal. Freedman says he's fighting again in May.
As for his future beyond that, Freedman was a little coyer. The real step up is going to come in 12-18 months, but no opponent has been set yet, nor is one being targeted. I threw out Jarrell Miller's name as a possible opponent, and Freedman said that's a guy they'd definitely fight. A guy of that level would be a nice measuring stick for Teslenko, once (and if) he proves he can handle this next tier of opposition.
I asked Deadspin contributor and former Mitch Green and Freddie Norwood manager Charles Farrell what he thought about Sasha, and he says, “I can see a big push for him sometime in mid to late 2019, assuming all goes well between now and then,” and added, “It looks like there's a lot to work with there.” If Sasha can continue to look good and wipe away the guys they line up for him, the sky is going to be the limit.
The raw tools are there. Big, fast, powerful, and most importantly smart. His understanding of where to punch when he has his man backing up is highly advanced for a fighter at this stage. Like Freedman colourfully pointed out to me, “He’s fucking 25 years old.” Sasha has his best years ahead of him, and given the lack of depth and upper-end talent in the heavyweight division, he could be the next star among the big boys.