Antoine Douglas fought on the international level as a teenager and turned professional just a month after his 20th birthday. He was regarded as a blue-chip prospect. I saw three of his first nine fights from press row and spoke to him briefly a couple of times at the post-card press conferences. He’s a smart young athlete who has overcome a tough childhood through hard work and determination and the support of a close-knit group of siblings. His story is the kind of story that shows the Sweet Science at its transformative best. Douglas is a very easy fighter to get behind.
It a different sort of way, Avtandil Khurtsidze is also an easy fighter to support. Born in the Republic of Georgia about a decade before the collapse of the old Soviet Union, Khurtsidze is a classic case of a fighter who came up in the sport the hard way. At 5’4″, he’s the shortest top-30 middleweight in the world by three solid inches. He fights with a punishing, physical style, and as a difficult opponent without good promotional connections, he’s suffered for opportunities throughout his career.
His one big break was an October 2010 shot at Hassan N’Dam for the interim WBA title. Khurtsidze lost a contested decision. His performance should have kept him high up on the list for another opportunity. Instead, it marked him as a guy to avoid, and he’s languished since, against obscure journeymen.
So at 35, he had to know that his fight last Saturday night against the undefeated Douglas was likely to be his last good chance to force his name into the conversation at 160 pounds. He certainly fought like a man who knew his entire career was on the line.
Khurtsidze was able to force Douglas into exactly the kind of fight he needed to fight, rough-and-tumble on the inside. Wearing black trunks, like his hero Mike Tyson, Khurtsidze indeed fought a bit like a middleweight version of Iron Mike. He dropped Douglas just 30 seconds into Round 3 and looked to have the youngster finished.
At this point in the bout, Douglas showed tremendous courage and conditioning. Even with his legs wobbling beneath him, he managed to survive the round and even trade some good exchanges. In the middle rounds, Douglas even rallied to a degree, and appeared as if he might be able to take control.
But ultimately, he was still unable, or unwilling, to keep Khurtsidze at the end of his punches. With the action going back and forth, Douglas was dropped for a second time in Round 7, again early in the round. And again, he bravely survived the frame.
But by Round 10, a bloodied and battered Douglas had taken too much punishment. Referee Benny Esteves Jr. waved off the action, 33 seconds into the round.
Douglas was taken to the hospital afterward for an examination, but was released, with no serious damage done to him. Still, it will be a tough and discouraging loss for Douglas to recover from, despite the heart he displayed. For Khurtsidze, this should be the springboard to a high-profile fight against one of the division’s top stars.