UCLA English Major Grad Vlad Panin Goes To 8-1 on ESPN



UCLA English Major Grad Vlad Panin Goes To 8-1 on ESPN

UPDATE: Vlad Panin stayed focused and elevated his record to 8-1 with a majority decision victory in Las Vegas over Benjamin Whitaker in “the Bubble,” on ESPN.

Max DeLuca saw it 57-57, while Lisa Giampa and Patricia Morse Jarman each saw a 58-56 fight, for Panin.

Panin gets his hand raised by the most enthused ref in the world, Thursday evening in Las Vegas. (Mikey Williams photos, for Top Rank.)


He came to America from Belarus with his mother when he was six years old. Vlad Panin tagged along with his mom, like any six year old, and understood the basis: they were going to the United States to have a better life.

In Las Vegas, a version of the American Dream didn't materialize right away.

Panin on the scale Wednesday at “the Bubble.” He started boxing at 13, but really found firm ground underneath his feet when he attended UCLA.

“I remember just my mom and I staying at a budget suites motel for months,” said the 7-1 welterweight boxer who campaigns in Vegas, tonight, on a Top Rank/ESPN card. “On one of my birthdays, my mom could only get me some snacks and groceries as a present. I remember having to catch crickets outside at night on a tennis court to feed my pet lizard. It wasn’t until I met my stepdad when he made life easier for us. But my early memories of being a foreign kid in a new country weren’t the greatest ones, especially being different and misunderstood.”

The 24 year old boxer, who faces off with 13-3 Benjamin Whitaker in “The Bubble” at MGM Life, shared more about what brought him to the fighting life.

“At home, it wasn’t always easy but it taught me discipline and instilled a strong work ethic in me,” he said. “Then I moved to LA for school, where I attended UCLA, found my coach Ramon Espada. And after graduating I turned pro.”

The pro debut came in November 2017. Vlad last gloved up in February, eating his first loss, a decision dropped to Moises Fuentes.

No, he's not one of these guys who started boxing as a youth, and knew early on that this would be where he'd be.

“I went into UCLA not really knowing what I wanted to do,” said Panin, now residing in Los Angeles. “I was a pre-med major and I jumped around until I graduated in English/creative writing. I started boxing when I was 13 and I always wanted to compete but I never had a steady coach in Vegas. When I moved to LA I immediately joined the UCLA boxing team and I was introduced to my coach, Ramon Espada, who founded both the USC and UCLA boxing clubs. He really took me to new heights and after a few years with him it was time for us to turn pro.”

Panin is a do-er, clearly. He enrolled in 2013 and piled up the credits, graduating in 2016, one year early.

We chatted some Monday, and he was headed to Vegas. “I’m not actually in the bubble yet, I’m driving down today and then once I’m in I can’t leave,” Panin informed me.

And extra point got awarded to Panin when I responded, “It's like ‘the Hotel California.”' I hesitated, would the 24 year old get that reference? “Of course,” he told me.

The bubble time went smoothly enough, he passed the coronavirus tests…and now the big one, in the ring.

END NOTE: I don't get tired of hearing the stories of people down on their luck, and coming from less than humble circumstances battling, and persevering, as Panin did, with his mom. Yes, those guys, shhh, don't tell, I root for them a little bit more.

Founder/editor Michael Woods got addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the then-impregnable Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist has covered the sport since for ESPN The Magazine,, Bad Left Hook and RING. His journalism career started with NY Newsday in 1999. Michael Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and for Facebook Fightnight Live, since 2017.