Big Cats At The Casino, Part One

Not one, but two, major fight cards went down at the Montreal Casino in recent days as Eye Of The Tiger Management showcased some of the big cats in their burgeoning stable and of course your preferred independent boxing site had correspondents on hand for all the action. On Thursday, Batyr Jukembayev, Steven Butler and Kim Clavel were the headliners, and on Saturday afternoon fellow tigers Mathieu Germain and Arslanbek Makhmudov topped the bill. First up, Zachary Alapi’s recap of Thursday’s event, with exclusive photos from Kieron Yates.

Batyr Butler Clavel Casino
The casino crowd cheers for “Bang Bang” after his one-shot win.

Fight of the Night
Light flyweight contender Kim Clavel (10-0) again served notice that she’s ready for the elite at 108 pounds with an emphatic unanimous decision over game Romanian Xenia Jorneac (10-5). Clavel, an elite Canadian amateur, is undefeated as a pro and closing in on top ten rankings in a strong and compelling division. Against a crafty southpaw in Jorneac, Clavel had to overcome two cuts to break open a relatively even fight down the back stretch thanks to dizzying combination punching and superb timing.

Clavel had to work for this one.

We’ve seen Clavel box her way to victory many times since she turned pro in 2017, but this was the first occasion where she was forced to deal with both a bloodied face and the need to make critical in-fight adjustments. The bout’s second half, which was contested at a frenetic pace, saw Clavel march forward behind sharp fusillades as she shifted into higher gears that Journeac simply couldn’t match. It was a riveting show of technical precision and raw action, not to mention a most satisfying victory for Clavel. With her fan-base and promotional backing, expect this fast-rising talent to deliver more memorable nights on home soil after those cuts heal up.

Performance of the Night
Raphael Courchesne (8-0) has been compared to David Lemieux for reasons that have always been baffling. Sure, the kid has always fought with relentless aggression and appealing ruggedness, but he possesses none of Lemieux’s otherworldly power and generally appeared adrift when trying to apply suffocating pressure. Every time he’d step in the ring, talk of a potential devastating knockout would ensue and then fail to materialize. Courchesne, up until now, had always seemed like a fighter searching for his true identity.

Courchesne gave an outstanding performance.

Well, he may have found it in his eighth pro match. In dominating the experienced Javier Mercado (26-15-2), Courchesne delivered a career-best win in by far his most complete performance to date. Instead of bull-rushing, Courchesne boxed with surgical precision at range, planting his feet and slipping shots before returning fire with impressive volleys of accurate, spearing blows that displayed the full range of his natural talent.

Courchesne worked his jab effectively, threw natural combinations to both head and body, and, most importantly, applied intelligent pressure that didn’t smother his own work. And just when it seemed like he was starting to fade in the middle of the fight, he closed strong and gunned for the stoppage without overextending himself. Courchesne will never be David Lemieux, and it’s great that he’s figured that out at the tender age of 20. This performance should earn him a spot on Eye Of The Tiger’s scheduled December mega show at the Bell Centre, and it sets him up nicely for a 2020 campaign where he should inch towards full-fledged contender status.

Knockout of the Night
It’s rare to describe as technically impressive a one-punch knockout that literally short-circuits the opponent and leaves him flailing like a fish on the canvas, but that’s exactly what the uniquely explosive Steven Butler (28-1-1) achieved. Butler crumpled Paul Velenzuela Jr. (24-9) with a jab that traveled mere inches, the Mexican taking the ten count after he pitched forward as if propelled by an electric shock.

The way Butler turned his jab over and landed it with such pin-point accuracy on the inside was a stark reminder of his finishing instincts and deadly power. The blow landed so quickly it was impossible to tell what had happened in real time. From ringside half the proverbial puzzle was missing: Valenzuela had clearly been knocked out, but it looked as if Butler had verbally commanded the Mexican to fall instead of actually hitting him. Only a slow-motion replay could do the technical brilliance of this knockout justice.

Butler: back on track.

This was a welcomed return to form for the talented “Bang Bang,” who last time out won a debatable split decision over Vitalii Kopylenko. In that fight, Kopylenko nearly knocked the Canadian out while Butler struggled to even land clean, and it seemed like a clear step backwards. With this emphatic win, Butler is back on track, though his lofty rankings outpace his in-ring accomplishments. He can produce an impressive highlight reel against the Valenzuela’s of the world, but the pressing question is whether Butler’s obvious talent and firepower can overcome defensive lapses and suspect performances against stronger competition.

Surprise of the Night
Brash lightweight Avery Martin-Duval (3-0) ran roughshod over his first two opponents, scoring devastating knockouts that made ringside observers wonder if he’s one of those rare fighters at the lighter weights who possesses genuinely explosive power. But Duval had some issues with a rugged and game Alexis Ahmed Ocampo (2-2), who nicked a round on all three scorecards and tagged Duval with several flush shots in a fight that devolved from one-sided to competitive.

Duval learned a lesson.

Duval scored an impressive knockdown in the opening round, and things appeared well on their way to following the script of his first two fights. Much like Lexson Mathieu, Duval is heralded as the kind of naturally gifted, athletic talent that doesn’t often emerge from Canada’s amateur ranks, so the fans in attendance were anticipating another showcase of Duval’s undeniable skills. It was not to be.

Duval got taught an important lesson when Ocampo came roaring back after getting dropped. It was also clear that the brash Duval is very much an 18-year-old; after knocking Ocampo down, Duval preened over and taunted his fallen foe, which was off-putting and ultimately ironic. While Duval clearly won the fight, he loaded up far too much and was nailed with punches someone with his reflexes and athleticism should never take. That said, he still has the makings of a bluechip prospect, and he works with Jessy Ross Thompson, one of the best young trainers around. The kid will be fine.

Kazankapov: undeniable talent.

Prospect to Watch
Aman Kazankapov (1-0-1), who was held to a disastrous draw in his pro debut, righted the ship by scoring a clear unanimous decision win in his second outing against tricky southpaw Jesus Arriaga (2-2, 1 KO). At the end of the first round, Kazankapov brashly flaunted some matador moves, which was actually encouraging in that it proved his confidence wasn’t completely shot after the setback in Thetford Mines. That said, the verdict is still out on whether Kazankapov’s amateur pedigree, honed in the vaunted Kazakh system, will translate to the pro game the way it has for some of his countryman.

Kazankapov’s talent is undeniable, but he has plenty of bad amateur habits and wasn’t quite as dominant as one would have hoped against Arriaga. However, with the memories of that draw surely lingering, a win above all was crucial. Kazankapov, who is only 21, remains a prospect to watch in the sense that it’ll be fascinating to see whether he can truly build on this win in his ensuing fights and start scoring knockouts while legitimately dominating the type of opposition one typically faces in 4 and 6 round fights. The talent is there, but the in-ring results are still, hopefully, to come.

Batyr and Vazquez mix it up.

Meaningful Win of the Night
The most meaningful fight of the night pitted Batyr Jukembayev (17-0), now firmly back in the Eye of the Tiger fold, against former world champion and Ghislain Maduma conqueror Miguel Vazquez (41-9). In scoring a lopsided ten round decision to claim new titles, Jukembayev positioned himself for a major step-up fight in December or the chance to hit the road for the right opportunity. At 28-years-old, it’s time to find out if Jukembayev has the goods at world level, and he’s on a solid streak after a few hiccups that followed his early run of scintillating knockouts.

Batyr and his team look ahead to even more belts.

It’s nearly impossible to look sensational against Vazquez, a noted spoiler and expert boxer from distance. Jukembayev was impressive in that he sustained a disciplined commitment to a game plan that saw him apply intelligent pressure and beat Vazquez to the punch, turning the Mexican’s perpetual circling to his advantage. Nothing of note happened in what amounted to ten rounds of chess, but Jukembayev’s near sweep on the scorecards means he’s ready to join the likes of stablemates Yves Ulysse Jr., Steven Butler, and Erik Bazinyan as big cats seeking only the biggest and best opportunities and, very soon, the brightest lights.         — Zachary Alapi 

Photos by Kieron Yates 

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