Unified cruiserweight titleholder Denis Lebedev and mandatory challenger Murat Gassiev, who both have tremendous punching power, will square off Dec. 3 in Moscow in a potentially explosive fight.
Lebedev is a long-reigning world titleholder, having held a belt since 2012. He unified two titles in his last fight, a second-round destruction of Victor Emilio Ramirez on May 21, also in Moscow.
Lebedev is 37 and has been a pro for 15 years. His Russian countryman, Gassiev, turns 23 on Oct. 12 and has fought professionally since only 2011, but Lebedev is eager to fight the younger man.
"I wish for my opponent to have a good training camp. I will see you in the ring," said Lebedev (29-2, 22 KOs), a southpaw who has made six title defenses.
Said Vadim Kornilov, Lebedev's manager: "This is a very tough opponent and we are taking extra steps in camp to make sure Denis is prepared better than ever."
Gassiev (23-0, 17 KOs) scored a sensational first-round knockout of Jordan Shimmell on May 17 in a title elimination fight that earned him the mandatory shot at Lebedev.
Gassiev is trained by Abel Sanchez, the 2015 Boxing Writers Association Trainer of the Year, and trains alongside good friend and unified middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin.
"I think we have the skills and the power," Sanchez said. "This young man has everything that is needed to become champion. The only issue in my mind, and I have said this to him, is the situation. He has never been in a big fight like this, and Lebedev has been in big fights. I think Gassiev will be able to handle the situation. I think it's time for a new champion. This kid is the next Golovkin out of my gym."
With Gassiev, who is part of adviser Al Haymon's vast stable, fighting on Dec. 3 and Golovkin due back in the ring on Dec. 10, likely against Daniel Jacobs, Sanchez said he will remain in his Big Bear Lake, California, camp with Golovkin while one of his assistants travels with Gassiev to Moscow. Sanchez said he would join them in Moscow the day before the bout, his seventh with Gassiev, and work the corner before returning to the United States to be with Golovkin, whose fight is expected to be in New York.
"I have a hard time getting Gassiev sparring because he's so good," Sanchez said. "He has a long way to go skill-wise, but he is very good and will be a lot better in the future. Lebedev is older and has had a lot of difficult fights. Gassiev has to take it to him. He has done really well since he's been with me. Hopefully that will continue with this fight.
"We're looking forward to it. It's a difficult fight for both guys. It's an older guy with a lot of wars but a lot of experience against a young up-and-coming guy looking to make a name for himself."
The winner of the bout likely will have to make a mandatory defense against secondary titlist Beibut Shumenov (17-2, 11 KOs) in his next fight.