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From Russia With Glove - By Way Of Arapahoe
Evgeny Gradovich
August 19, 2011

H
ammond, Indiana is the place, this Friday night, the time. And in this corner… from Siberia and Arapahoe, NC.. Evgeny Gradovich.

Evgeny Gradovich in Don Turner’s training facility in Arapahoe.

Evgeny, a 24-year-old from Igrim, Russia has been training in Pamlico County for more than a year, building skills in his young professional boxing career. He has fought ten fights – and won them all (6 by knockout). Friday the climb up the ranks of the featherweight division continues.

In a bout that should be shown on ESPN2, Evgeny Gradovich will face off against Robert “Don’t Lose” DaLuz of Providence, RI. DaLuz is far more experienced – he has fought over 50 pro fights. But his alias may be deceptive – “Don’t Lose” has lost 38 of those fights.

Don Turner in his training facility with Evgeny Gradovich.
From Siberia to Arapahoe and now, Hammond, Indiana. Evgeny Gradovich.

The featherweight fighter has become a common sight on the streets of Oriental in recent months. He was here training because of one man, Don Turner, who runs the Knock You Out boxing training camp in Arapahoe.

The sign at the entrance. Boxers from around the globe have trekked to Don Turner’s training camp.

Don’s been training boxers for 42 years, after a career in the ring himself. He was Evander Holyfield’s trainer when he took the heavyweight title. Don Turner was the man in Holyfield’s corner during the famous Holyfield-Tyson fights. Many of his other boxers have gone to the highest levels as well. And now, Evgeny.

Evgeny Gradovich, seen here at Don Turner’s training facility in Arapahoe. He’s taping his hands before putting on his gloves.

Don Turner says he first saw Evgeny Gradovich about two years ago on a scouting mission to Russia. Evgeny at that point had been an amateur boxer and in Russia compiled a record of 126 wins in 150 bouts. One of those few losses, ironically, was the Russian national championship which the American scout came to watch. Still, Evgeny caught the eye of Don Turner and Egis Klimas, a Lithuanian-born boxing manager, and they thought, as Turner put it, “This guy might be better than all of them.” Klimas arranged for Evgeny to come to the States and asked Don to train him for professional boxing.

Which is where Don’s training camp in Arapahoe comes in. It’s a cluster of metal buildings, down a dusty road where woods surround fields of corn and cotton. (That’s one of the advantages: in Arapahoe there are few distractions for a young fighter.) Don’s trained other boxers there over the decades, but this past year and a half, he’s been focused on bringing Evgeny along.

Evgeny training at Don Turner’s Knock You Out camp. Asked what about boxing draws him to the sport, he says, “I like it. It’s my life.”

One big adjustment for the young native of Siberia is that in becoming a professional, he had to fight more rounds in a match than he did as an amateur in Russia. Amateurs only go only three rounds while professionals do up to 10. “Instead of a nine-minute fight,” says Turner, “it’s a half hour.”

It’s like making the transition from sprinting to longer-distance running. Endurance is key. So far, Evgeny seems to have adjusted well under Turner’s tutelage. He’s won all 10 of the professional fights he’s been in in the past year and a half, the last one in April. Turner says he’s beaten three big names in the featherweight division.

After one of Evgeny’s last fights, Don asked John LaGuardia of Village Health and Fitness in Oriental to help Evgeny with strength, conditioning and balance.

John says that in addition to his two hours a day of training in the ring in Arapahoe, Evgency would come to the Village Club and go thru a workout that included stretches, jumps and medicine balls — (just try picking one up with the mistaken thought it’s as light as a basketball.)

On those days when he didn’t train, the regimen still called for Evgeny to do what LaGuardia calls, “active rest.” He couldn’t just watch video, says LaGuardia, but “had to do something” and he did: basketball, swimming, bike riding.

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“It’s a big step for Evgeny to go from amateur to pro,” and to be undefeated, Laguardia says. He took Evgeny up to East Carolina University’s Human Performance Lab for a “battery of tests.” He was looking for bio-mechanical expertise to figure a way to have Evgeny go from 135 pounds to 126 (the limit for featherweights) and “still have strength.”

Strength training for the legs at the Village Club.
Twist and throw. Evgeny Gradovich with John Laguardia and, in foreground, Roland Pare.

One of the more curious-looking workouts took place on the Oriental Bridge, the one real incline in all of Pamlico County. It’s where Team Gradovich — there are t-shirts that say that — went for “resistance training.” For this, one end of a bungee-style cord was attatched to Evgeny and the other to LaGuardia who stood several feet back from him. As the Russian fighter tried to run, LaGuardia held back, providing many pounds of resistance. It came to be known as “the slingshot” (though John never did get catapulted through air.)

LaGuardia and Gradovich prepare for the “the slingshot” at the Oriental bridge.
With John LaGuardia providing resistance, Evgeny pulls him up the incline. In Oriental fashion, TownDock dog Jack gets caught up in the energy.

Many days this spring, Evgeny could be seen walking down Broad Street trailing his entourage — Turner, Laguardia and Tumbler Davis. They would walk to lunch, going from The Village Club to restaurants such as the M&Ms and the Village Food Emporium. Even at lunch, the trainers were in charge, ordering the meals.

Don also says that “eating habits” had to be changed. People, says Turner, “eat too much sugar. That’s no good for anybody.” Athletes especially. Don’s rule for Evgeny is “no white food after 6.” That means, he says, no white sugar, no white rice, no potatoes, no white noodles. Most of the time, Don Turner says, he cooked the meals. “I can cook anything.”

Don Turner and Evgeny Gradovich.

The training and re-adjusting seems to have worked – the undefeated record speaks for itself. According to his stats, 60% of the victories were knockouts.

Continuing that winning record, says John Laguardia, can elevate a boxer to the next level. With it comes more recognition as other fighters will want to a chance to challenge that record.

LaGuardia allows that boxing is a “brutal sport… the most primitive form of communication” but says that training the boxer in and among the other regulars at his gym, “has been exciting for me and the club.”

Evgeny Gradovich and the Team Gradovich at Village Health and Fitness in late June before he took off for a training camp in the cooler climes of Pennsylvania.

Evgeny’s fight is part of an undercard on “Friday Night Fights” on ESPN2 starting tonight at 9pm. There are 9 fights on the schedule. What time or if Evgeny’s fight will be among those televised is not yet clear.

After the fight, Evgeny says he looks forward to taking a month long trip to Russia to see his family and girlfriend. He’s been away for a year and a half, much of that time amid the cotton and corn fields of Arapahoe. What happens after he returns to the US may depends a lot on what happens in tonight’s fight.

Postscript: Evgeny Gradovich won his fight, defeating DaLuz by unanimous decision in the six round bout. Evgeny’s record is now 11 wins and 0 losses.

2013 Postscript: Evgeny Gradovich became the featherweight champion, defeating title holder Billy Dib of Australia.

Posted Friday August 19, 2011 by Melinda Penkava


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