On Tuesday it was annoucned that veteran middleweight contender Avtandil Khurtsidze will replace former champion Sam Soliman as an opponent for undefeated Antoine Douglas as the March 5 co-feature for Julian Williams’ clash with Marcello Matano. The card will be broadcast on Showtime from the Sands Casino in Bethleham, Pennsylvania.
Douglas is one of the sport’s shining young talents and he seems intent on making 2016 his breakout year. After a stellar amateur career that included international competition, Douglas turned professional a month after his 20th birthday. In just over three years, he’s put together a record of 19-0-1 with 12 KOs. The draw came in July 2014 against fellow contender Michel Soro.
In 2015, Douglas knocked out a pair of undefeated prospects in Thomas Lamanna and Istvan Szili and capped off the year by stopping fringe contender Les Sherringtan in November, as the featured fight on a Shobox: Next Generation Card.
Douglas definitely has the look of a blue chipper and he’s very much on the radar with hardcore fans and boxing observers. The WBA has him ranked No. 6 and the WBO has him at three. That’s alphabet-soup nonsense, of course. There’s no credible reason to put Douglas in the middleweight top 10 at this point. He is very much on the bubble, though, and is certainly top 20. It’s realistic to expect him to become a legitimate top-10 contender this year.
Soliman was supposed to be a step up in competition, though not an overly steep one. The 42 year old was coming off from back-to-back losses to Jermain Taylor and Dominic Wade, but he also defeated Felix Sturm as recently as 2014. It would have been a very winnable fight for Douglas, but one that would have given him a significant boost.
Khurtsidze is not necessarily an easier fight, but it will carry much less prestige. The Brooklyn resident and Republic of Georgia native is a rugged, experienced pressure fighter. He’s just 5’4″, so the six-foot Douglas will enjoy a significant advantage in length. But a compact and aggressive fighter who knows how to get inside can be a very awkward opponent for a well-schooled technician like Douglas.
Khurstidze lacks the kind of high-profile victories Soliman had, but he’s lost just once in the past decade, by a close decision to former champion Hassan N’Dam in 2010. N’Dam isn’t exactly an elite fighter at middleweight, but he’s a physical beast, so any fighter who managed to battle him on close terms for 12 rounds deserves a lot of respect.
This fight with Douglas is likely the last major opportunity the 36-year-old Khurtsidze is going to get. I expect Douglas to win here, but this is an interesting fight.