Underrated boxer and puncher Orzubek Nazarov was a highly decorated amateur who later enjoyed success as the WBA lightweight champion in the early 1990s.
Nazarov was born in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, near the border with Kazakhstan, on August 30, 1966.
“I was born and raised in a big working-class family,” Nazarov told The Ring. “My father was a bus driver and my mother worked in a bakery and then as a driver on the bus with my father.
“We lived as a big family, five children, two older brothers and two younger sisters, father, mother, grandmother and grandfather. We all lived in a big friendly family house.
“My childhood, like all Soviet children, was not rich, but most of the time we spent joyfully with friends on the streets. We did housework, prepare firewood, perhaps the fact that I cut firewood many times helped me, cutting firewood is a boxing exercise. In principle I am a rural boy, I have always worked in the villages on the land, planting potatoes, picking fruit, picking vegetables and preparing firewood for the winter.”
Nazarov was not interested in wrestling or athletics and started boxing when he was 10 years old. He became a junior champion of the USSR in 1982 and received the assignment of Master of Sports of the USSR.
“This is a very honorable title to this day,” he said. “And then I perceived all the wins and losses as work. The first great victory, the most brilliant”.
That was just the springboard he needed and he excelled as an amateur, winning gold at the 1984 European Junior Championships. He enjoyed further success in his final year, becoming the Soviet Union national champion in 1985, 1987 and 1988. He won Kostya Tszyu in the final of the 1988 games, but lost to him the following year.
Nazarov lost in the semi-final of the 1986 World Championships to the talented Cuban Adolfo Horta, but won gold at the Goodwill games in Moscow. He went on to win gold at the 1987 European championships and bronze at the World Cup.
Nazarov had aspirations to represent the Soviet Union at the 1988 Olympics, but was cruelly denied when he was hospitalized with appendicitis just before the tournament. He left the amateur scene with an impressive 153-12 record.
With limited options at home, Nazarov opted to work with Masayuki Kanehira of the famed Kyoei boxing gym in Tokyo, Japan, who saw a gap in the market.
“We flew to Japan with a team of 6 people, Vyacheslav Yakovlev, Vyacheslav Yanovsky, Ramzan Sibirev, Ruslan Taramov, Yuri Arbachakov and myself,” he said. “It was difficult for us, the language, the difference in culture. The most important thing is that the Japanese are people of their word, many fights were discussed verbally, and the conditions were generally met by the Japanese company.
“The desire to be champions and the friendly team of boxers helped us achieve our goal. [Trainer] Alexander Zimin played an important role in my development as a professional boxer.”
Nazarov turned pro on the same card as his fellow expats and knocked out Makoto Nishizawa in the first round in Japan in February 1990.
“Gussie” quickly adapted to the professional code and claimed the 135-pound Japanese national title in his sixth start. The hard-hitting southpaw made two defenses before winning the OPBF title in his 12th bout. Nazarov made five defenses of the OPBF title while moving up the rankings.
After waiting a year and a half for his title shot, he was rewarded with a shot at newly named WBA lightweight champion Dingaan Thobela in Johannesburg, South Africa in October 1993.
“No one in Japan believed that they could win on the opponent’s home turf,” he recalled. “When I flew to South Africa, I was greeted like a person arriving to be beaten.
“I thought they knew everything about me, but they didn’t even know I was from the former Soviet Union. The country of Kyrgyzstan meant nothing to them. They thought I was from some prefecture in Japan, and our delegation was greeted by a translator from Japanese, not Russian. All preparations for the battle were made for Thobela to win, no one imagined that I could win.
“The fight for me was difficult psychologically, but physically I had no doubts. Only two people believed in my victory: Zimin, myself and another correspondent in Japan.
“The fight was tough and lasted all 12 rounds. I was knocked down in the fourth round, but after the sixth I was in total control of the situation and in the tenth round I knocked Dingaan down. Dingaan’s task was to endure 12 rounds, he coped with this task, but I didn’t give him a single chance to win and I became the world champion.”
Five months later, Nazarov returned to South Africa to face Thobela for a second time.
“There was a rematch, also in his homeland,” he said. “In the rematch everything was easier, although the fight also lasted 12 rounds and I defended the world championship belt.”
Nazarov next retained his title by defeating two-weight world champion Joey Gamache (KO 2), stopping the local hero in shock in Portland, Maine, in December 1994.
After making three routine defenses in his adopted homeland, he returned to America and stopped future lightweight champion Leavander Johnson (TKO 7).
However, as he approached a more important fight, he was attacked by a gunman in Kyrgyzstan.
“I lost two of my friends in the car,” he said of the incident in which he was also shot in the arm. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, it happens.”
Fortunately, he recovered and was back in fighting shape with two non-title fights in France. Nazarov faced Jean-Baptiste Mendy again in Paris in May 1998.
“During the fight, I went blind in one eye in the fourth round,” said Nazarov, who lost a 12-round unanimous decision. “But I refused to withdraw from the fight and boxed for 12 rounds. Many newspapers wrote that this was a heroic act, but I think it was a very stupid act, since then I cannot see with the left, but such is life.
“There were many operations, now my left eye can’t see, but that doesn’t stop me from working, exercising, moving around, studying with the children. I’m a little uncomfortable, but I’m used to it now.”
The loss, but also the injury, brought his career to a shocking conclusion.
“I challenged Oscar De La Hoya, but the promoters of the Oscars didn’t want this fight to take place,” said Nazarov, who left boxing with a record of (26-1, 19 knockouts). “I really wanted to become the undisputed world champion, but the Mendy fight ended those hopes.
“Everything that is done in life is destiny and today it is not worth talking about what did not happen. I am happy with my sports career and with what I am doing now”.
Nazarov, now 55, is married and lives in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He has two children from his first marriage and one from his second marriage and a total of four grandchildren. He owns a distribution company.
He was elected to the Kyrgyz parliament in 2007, although he no longer participates in politics. He is the vice president of the Kyrgyzstan boxing federation. There is a boxing school named after him in Bishkek. He is a highly respected public figure, whom many consult and seek advice from.
He took the time to talk to The Ring about the best he’s fought in 10 key categories.
Dingaan Thobela: Thobela’s jab was very good in the first fight, long and he hid it well. In the second fight he didn’t use it as much.
Thobela: He was skillful and it was hard to hit clean shots on him.
BEST HAND SPEED
Joey Gamache: He threw fast combinations but I was too strong for him.
Gamache: He moved well on his feet but I jumped on him quickly when he was hurt, I didn’t let him into the fight.
Leavander Johnson: Johnson was a very good fighter, he was a thinker.
Johnson: I was strong because I thought.
Thobela: We fought twice, we boxed 24 rounds and I knocked him down but he survived. He held and grabbed, that’s the reason I didn’t knock him out.
Jean-Baptiste Mendy: The hardest hitter was Mendy because I still can’t see with my left eye.
BEST BOXING SKILLS
Thobela: Thobela was very skillful, he linked his blows well.
Thobela: The Thobela boxing school was at a high level. Thobela was the best, maybe because it was my first world title fight. I am the best because I beat all my opponents. [laughs].
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