WASHINGTON - The man standing between Bernard Hopkins, a unification of light-heavyweight titles and a bout against Adonis Stevenson isn't your run-of-the-mill boxer. Beibut Shumenov lacks professional experience, sure, but the story of his path to Saturday's clash with a legend features no shortage of intrigue.
Shumenov, 30, from Kazakhstan, speaks five languages and owns a law degree. He is his own trainer and was, for a time, his own promoter. It took him only 10 professional fights to claim a World Boxing Association belt, just 16 to get his shot at glory. But way back when in a town called Shymkent, his story nearly ended before it ever really began.
As an infant in Kazakhstan, with his parents working and his aunts in charge of watching him, Shumenov ingested contaminated milk that poisoned his bloodstream. He wasn't expected to survive, and if he did, he would do so with a weakened body. Or so his parents were told.
"I think that could be the reason that I became a fighter," Shumenov said yesterday at the Bald Eagle Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, where boxers gathered for workouts ahead of Saturday's bouts at the D.C. Armory. "Since I was a child, I was all the time sick, spending a lot of time in the hospital. I just wanted to grow as a strong man."
These days he stands 6-2 and 175 pounds and has 14 professional victories to just one defeat. He has knocked out nine opponents.
So much for the doctors' orders to steer clear of physical activity.
"They told me so many times that I couldn't lift more than 6 pounds, that I should avoid any kind of activity," he said in his thick accent. He also speaks Kazakh, Russian, Uzbek and Turkish. "If you listen to [these] doctors, then you'd have to use a wheelchair."
Shumenov trains out of Las Vegas, where he has lived since 2007. Bruce Lee movies piqued his interested in martial arts and he started with tae kwon do when he was 6. Between then and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, when he decided to start boxing, Shumenov also studied karate, wrestling and muay thai. Watching Mike Tyson also inspired him to give boxing a try.
Shumenov's pro debut in November 2007 came on the heels of an extensive amateur career and a chance to represent his country in the 2004 Olympics. Until last year, when he signed with Golden Boy Promotions and adviser Al Haymon, he acted as promoter, trainer and boxer. He remains his own head coach, but signing with Golden Boy has helped him book better opponents, his best yet coming this Saturday, the biggest fight of Shumenov's life.
"I'm feeling ready," he said. "All the hard work, all the preparation has been done. Now I am looking forward to show the world what I'm capable of."
Shumenov certainly has his work cut out for him. At 49, Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 knockouts) continues to defy logic. Already twice setting the record for oldest boxer to win a fight, the future Hall of Famer is favored to win Saturday in what would make him the oldest in boxing history to unify world championships.
Throughout the weeks leading to this fight, Shumenov has kept everything close to the vest. Whenever asked anything regarding strategy or video study of Hopkins, he answers by saying he can't disclose information regarding his game plan. Eleven boxers fighting Saturday were slated to work out in front of the media yesterday. Shumenov's was brief. After conducting his media interviews, he stepped into the ring, shadowboxed for the cameras for a few minutes and then left with the members of his camp.
Although mum on strategy talk, Shumenov did say he has watched all of Hopkins' fights. He's been effusive in his praise of the North Philadelphia-raised boxing icon and current International Boxing Federation titleholder, repeatedly referring to him as a "boxing genius" and a "legend."
"Of course, you cannot surprise Bernard Hopkins," Shumenov said. "Bernard Hopkins has seen all the styles and he has beaten a lot of legendary other fighters. But it's not about who's younger or it's not about who's faster or stronger. It's about who uses the right strategy, who uses the right style. That's most important."
Shumenov's lone defeat came Aug. 15, 2009 against Gabriel Campillo, whom he beat in a rematch 5 months later to win his WBA title. He's defended his title five times, most recently Dec. 14 against Tamas Kovacs. With Hopkins sitting ringside at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Shumenov won by technical knockout in the waning seconds of the third round.
"What struck me about him ringside in San Antonio? He had a belt," Hopkins said yesterday before stepping into the ring for a workout. "And I need a belt to hold my other pants up. He has something I want. And he has something that I'm gonna get."