It’s hard not to root for Sergey Derevyanchenko.
Although the sport of boxing is a business—it’s prizefighting, after all—there is an idyllic world observers can slip into from time to time in which fighters are fighting only for causes bigger than themselves, often the nebulous “legacy,” even if it’s at the expense of financial gain. In this world, fighters take only the toughest challenges possible, unconcerned with adding losses to their record because the act of challenging themselves and entertaining the fans is more important.
This isn’t a reality for most fighters, nor should it be an absolute necessity in a vocation as dangerous as boxing. But once in a while, there are fighters who seem to live up to the loftiest demands. Derevyanchenko is one of them.
Case in point: On Saturday night, Derevyanchenko had a bout against Jaime Munguia at the Toyota Center in Ontario, California. In taking the fight, the 37-year old Derevyanchenko moved up in weight to 168 pounds after spending his career as a middleweight. According to Sports Illustrated and DAZN’s Chris Mannix, at some point during fight week, Munguia’s team requested that the 12-round bout be scaled back to a ten round bout. In a business and labor sense, it would be perfectly logical for his response to have been “sure I would happily accept the same amount of money to do less work,” but he didn’t. Reportedly the pot was then sweetened, with what was described as a “six figure offer” to accept a ten round bout. Here again, it would have been perfectly understandable for Derevyanchenko to have said “yes I would love to do less work and greatly increase my income,” but again, he didn’t.
Derevyanchenko had signed for a 12-round bout and that’s what he was going to deliver. He would pass up a large financial sum in order to give the fans a better product, but also to maintain what he felt was a competitive advantage. Munguia’s team must have been looking to shorten the bout for a reason, so Derevyanchenko wanted to retain the advantage he felt he would have in the championship rounds. In other words, a very literal example of choosing “legacy” over money.
The cruel irony is that the decision, the one he’ll be lauded for making, ultimately backfired.
Throughout his career, Derevyanchenko has been a noted slow starter. It’s something he readily acknowledges, and prior to this bout, his trainer Andre Rozier joked that he would have a taser in the corner to make sure his fighter would start fast this time out. The pattern in Derevyanchenko’s career has been one of hard luck. All four of his losses came against top-level opposition, and two of them, against Danny Jacobs and Gennadiy Golovkin, were ones some fans felt he could have—or should have won. In the case of the Jacobs fight, Derevyanchenko went above and beyond once more, choosing to fight a stablemate and longtime training partner. As a result, he entered a fight with his own trainer in the opposite corner, a fight he lost by razor-thin decision.
In each of his losses, even the ones Derevyanchenko felt he ought to have won anyway, he and his team acknowledged that a faster start would have been helpful.
Against Munguia, he couldn’t have started much faster, barreling towards him with piston jabs and sharp hooks on the inside from the opening bell. He brawled and exchanged when he wanted, boxed from the outside when he decided, and scored with heavy jabs on the entry as he oscillated between the two. In the fifth round, one likely to wind up on a shortlist for Round of the Year, Derevyanchenko took a number of Munguia’s best shots, but in turn had Munguia seriously hurt and swaying along the ropes.
It all seemed to finally be coming together. By the ninth and tenth rounds, Munguia’s face was swollen and mouth open, plodding around as Derevyanchenko darted in and out. According to the judge’s scorecards, at this point, had Derevyanchenko taken the money and accepted a shortened fight, he would have won the fight by split decision.
Even heading into the twelfth, Derevyanchenko was still ahead, and winning the final round would have been enough to cement a victory. Merely not being on the wrong end of a 10-8 round would have been enough to ensure a draw. But this time luck bit him in a different manner. Munguia summoned a level of energy he didn’t seem to have even in the fight’s earliest moments, and midway through the final round dropped Derevyanchenko hard with a left hook to the body. A miraculous comeback from a fighter who minutes prior looked like a fighter who had folded in his biggest step up, summoning the best round of his career.
Derevyanchenko finished the fight on his feet, and even after the final round heroics, felt he’d won eight rounds in the fight as he waited for the scorecards to be read. That familiar feeling must have rushed back as the scores were announced: 115-112, 114-113 twice in favor of Munguia. The knockdown had caused another heartbreaking loss.
“I’m not sad. I know I won the fight. I did a good job,” said Derevyanchenko, whose trunks from the bout will be auctioned off in support of troops in Ukraine where much of his extended family still lives. “I lost on the scores, but I know I really won the fight. I know this, the people see this. Everyone’s coming to see good fights. We’re fighting for people, not for judges.”
Every generation has fighters like Derevyanchenko who just never seem to get the breaks they need in their biggest moments, victims of injustice, bad luck or both. Almost every all-time great’s legacy is propped up by a decision or two that could have gone to fighters like Derevyanchenko. He is perhaps this era’s Oba Carr, a tremendous fighter who dared to fight the best opposition available at all times, coming painfully close to beating them.
Once again this past weekend, Derevyanchenko did everything asked of him, including things that shouldn’t have been, yet he still came up short.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Derevyanchenko’s coach Andre Rozier. “He’s had nothing but tough ones. He seems to be the bride’s maid instead of the bride because we don’t ever seem to be on the side of the decision we’d like to be on. Nonetheless, he’s like the people’s champ.”
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman