NEWARK, N.J. -- If there had been any concern about cruiserweight world titleholder Murat "Iron" Gassiev's chances of retaining his belt against mandatory challenger Krzysztof "Diablo" Wlodarczyk, it was because of the massive experience advantage Wlodarczyk held.
After all, coming into the fight, he had more professional bouts (57) than Gassiev had as a pro and amateur combined (49). Throw in that Wlodarczyk is a former two-time world titleholder, was entering his 12th world title bout and owns a number of quality wins, and there were many other factors in his favor.
As it turned out, none of that mattered.
The young, strong and hungry Gassiev blew away a tentative Wlodarczyk in a third-round knockout victory in the last quarterfinal bout of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament on Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
No. 3 seed Gassiev, 24, of Russia, was making the first defense of the 200-pound title he won by decision over countryman Denis Lebedev, whom he knocked down in December, and he did it with ease.
Gassiev (25-0, 18 KOs) moved forward and fired jabs in the early going, but Wlodarczyk, respectful of Gassiev's power, was very cautious and did little. In the third round, Gassiev, who shares trainer Abel Sanchez with unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin, let his hands go, and Wlodarczyk (53-4-1, 37 KOs), 36, of Poland, who was the crowd favorite, paid the price.
Gassiev, 24, of Russia, backed him toward the ropes and unloaded a left uppercut followed by a brutal left hand to the body that took Wlodarczyk's breath away and floored him. Wlodarczyk was down face-first and was counted out by referee Earl Brown at 1 minute, 57 seconds.
"I had a great opponent tonight. I prepared myself for a tough fight, but it is boxing, and anything can happen," Gassiev said. "We do a lot of work in the gym, and I just listened to my coach round after round, and he told me what I needed to do. That's all I needed."
Sanchez was pleased with Gassiev's performance.
"I thought Gassiev started a little slow. I wanted him to close the distance a little quicker. Once he started doing that, I knew it was just a matter of time before he landed something that would lead to something else," he said. "He threw a short uppercut and then a left hand that Wlodarczyk turned right into, and it hit him flush. It's something we work on a lot. I know that when Gassiev lands a punch correctly, the opponent isn't getting up.
"Unifying the division is what we've been training for. It's the goal that we've set. Now it's time to get back in the ring and go to work."
Wlodarczyk, whose three-fight win streak came to an end, was disappointed but did not sound surprised by how the fight ended.
"We worked hard to try to avoid this kind of shot, but unfortunately, he got a really hard shot through and hurt me," he said. "We knew how good he was, and we prepared hard for it. I wanted to use the jab as much as possible. My strength is the second part of the fight, and we were hoping to bring him to the later part of the fight and take advantage."
Gassiev will move on to face fellow titleholder Yunier Dorticos (22-0, 21 KOs), 31, a Cuban defector based in Miami known as "The KO Doctor," in the semifinals in January or February.
"That is a great fight. He's undefeated, and I can't wait to give all the boxing fans the gift of a great fight against Dorticos," Gassiev said.
Dorticos, who was ringside, advanced Sept. 23 with a sensational, second-round knockout of "The Russian Hammer" Dmitry Kudryashov. He joined Gassiev in the ring after the fight to pose for photos.
"I give credit to Murat and his entire team, but now this is something I wanted," said Dorticos, who said ahead of time that he wanted to face Gassiev. "It is upon us. This fight is for my family. I am going to knock you out.
"I really wanted Gassiev to win because he's going to taste the power of a real man against me. His opponent tonight was past his time. I'm ready to show him what a champion looks like and give him a challenge he's never faced before. I want to take his belt. I want to get in the ring and destroy Gassiev."
The other semifinal will be a title unification bout between Oleksandr Usyk (13-0, 11 KOs), 30, of Ukraine, and Mairis Briedis (23-0, 18 KOs), 32, of Latvia. The finalists will vie for the Muhammad Ali trophy, division supremacy and to unify the division titles. The final is scheduled to take place in May in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Sulecki outslugs Culcay
Polish junior middleweight contender Maciej Sulecki (26-0, 10 KOs) won a hard-fought battle against former secondary world titleholder Jack Culcay (22-3, 11 KOs) in a title eliminator that moved Sulecki a step closer to a shot at world titleholder Jermell Charlo.
Sulecki, 28, got the nod 98-92, 97-93 and 96-94 to win his third fight in a row since he dropped in weight from middleweight.
Culcay, 32, an Ecuador native fighting out of Germany, had a big seventh round in which he repeatedly hurt Sulecki with right hands and backed him up. They spent the late rounds trading back and forth as the crowd came to life. Sulecki rocked Culcay with a right hand in the 10th round, buckling his knees. But Culcay finished strong, nearly dropping Sulecki with a clean left hand with about 10 seconds left in the fight.
"It was a very tough fight, and I had to be at my best. I didn't think he'd be quite as tough, but I wanted to fight him, and I got him," Sulecki said. "The seventh round was the toughest round for me. I got hit with a couple big shots, but I wanted a war. I was never going to let down.
"I want the best in the division, and that means facing Jermell Charlo. I'm ready to challenge for a title."
Culcay dropped his second fight in a row, having also lost a decision and his belt in March by split decision in his first defense against American Demetrius Andrade.
"It was a close fight. Hard to tell, but I felt like I was winning," Culcay said. "It was very close, but I really thought I was winning. I felt like I was strong. I thought that I hurt him. But this is boxing. I would love a rematch, but either way, I will be back even stronger."
Also on the undercard:
In a fight between cruiserweight tournament alternates, Poland's Mateusz Masternak (40-4, 27 KOs) battered Stivens Bujaj (16-2-1, 11 KOs) into a seventh-round knockout.
Masternak, 30, the former European champion, called Bujaj, 27, an Albania native fighting out of New York, a steppingstone opponent leading up to the fight, and he made him look like just that.
Masternak, who won his fourth fight in a row since a decision loss to Tony Bellew, who went on to win a world title, landed right hands nearly at will and dominated the entire fight.
In the seventh round, he landed a clean right hand to the head that dropped the fading Bujaj. After the round, referee Shada Murdaugh waved the fight off in Bujaj's corner. Bujaj has lost two fights in a row.
Middleweight prospect Money Powell IV (5-0, 3 KOs), 19, of Fort Mitchell, Alabama, survived a first-round knockdown on a left hand from southpaw Brandon Adams (4-5-1, 2 KOs), 25, of Oakland, California, to win a unanimous decision. He won 59-55, 59-56 and 58-55.
Nigerian heavyweight Efe Ajaba (2-0, 2 KO), 23, a 2016 Olympian who looks promising, steamrollered Luke Lyons (5-1, 2 KOs), of Ashland, Kentucky, for a first-round knockout. Ajaba dropped him twice, first with a left to the body and then with an onslaught of shots. After the second knockdown, Lyons rose, but referee Harvey Dock waved it off at 2 minutes, 19 seconds.
Junior middleweight Skender Halili (15-2, 13 KOs), 27, a Kosovo native fighting out of Fort Worth, Texas, cruised to an uneventful shutout decision against Samuel Amoako (23-16, 17 KOs), 33, a Ghana native based in Silver Spring, Maryland. All three judges had it 60-54.