The nation of Georgia is located in the rugged Caucus mountains, on the borderline area between Asia and Eastern Europe. A part of the former Soviet Union, it is a tough place that produces tough people.
Perhaps no better example could be found than middleweight contender Avtandil Khurtsidze. His career has been a slow, steady grind. At 37, he has been a professional for 15 years, splitting time between Brooklyn and Ukraine, never really getting the sort of opportunities his talent would warrant. In 2005, in his 10th professional fight, he got caught late by Tony Marshall, a veteran with over 50 pro fights, and was stopped in Round 7 of an eight round fight that he was winning with ease.
His first really fight came in 2010, when he lost a close decision to Hassan N’Dam. N’Dam would go on to be a world-title challenger. Khurtsidze would go back to fighting stay-busy fights while waiting for another chance at a fellow contender.
It’s no mystery why other contenders have been hesitant to fight Khurtsidze. At a dimunitive 5’4″, he is an awkward, incredibly strong middleweight. He’s built more like a wrestler than a boxer, but like his idol, Mike Tyson, he turns his compact frame into a tactical advantage, relentlessly exploding insides and bullying taller, lankier opponents.
Khurtsidze finally got a big break last year when he was offered a chance at blue-chip contender Antoine Douglas, on two weeks notice. Douglas was one of the middleweight division’s future stars. Khurtsidze derailed him, roughing him up all night, knocking him out in Rounds 3 and 7 and stopping him in the 10th.
That win forced Khurtsidze into the division’s top 10. It made him the WBO’s No. 1 contender. It was no longer possible to avoid him.
Last Saturday in Leicestershire, England, Khurtsidze turned back another undefeated contender in Tommy Langford. Langford fought the tactical fight he needed to fight, trying to use movement and straight punches to keep Khurtsidze on the outside. But the Georgian was a force of nature that could not be denied. He ducked under punches and absorbed them off from the top of his head when necessary, all the while keeping up steady pressure.
Seconds into Round 5, Khurtsidze unloaded a brutal left hook that sent Langford to the campus. He gamely beat the count, but the referee waved off the count.
The win means Khurtsidze gets a crack at WBO belt holder Billy Joe Saunders. But Saunders has avoided tougher fighters than “Mini Tyson” in the past, so we will have to see how this develops.