Will Kabayel vs Sanchez Prove to be the Best Heavyweight Fight This Weekend?


By Arne K. Lang

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk meet on Saturday at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Barring a draw, the match will produce the first undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era.

The bout is supported by an outstanding undercard that includes a heavyweight fight that may prove to be more entertaining than the headline attraction.

On paper, there’s little to separate Agit Kabayel and Frank Sanchez. Both are listed at 31 years old, arguably the optimal age for a heavyweight. Both are 24-0. Sanchez has 17 knockouts to his credit; one more than Kabayel. Both appeared in this ring on Dec. 23, so neither in theory has any rust.

Kabayel, born in Germany of Kurdish descent, upset the odds in a career-best performance, stopping Arslanbek Makhmudov in the fourth round. Heading in, the “Russian Lion,” who carried 262 pounds on his six-foot-six frame, was 18-0 with 17 knockouts, of which 12 came in the opening round.

This was no fluke knockout. Kabayal chopped him down, scoring three knockdowns with body punches until the fight was waived off.

On the same bill, Frank Sanchez scored a seventh-round stoppage of New Zealand’s Junior Fa. This fight took a long time to heat up, but when it did, the kiwi was outclassed.

Of the two, Sanchez is the smoother boxer. His signature win was a comprehensive 10-round decision over otherwise undefeated Efe Ajagba. He’s also taller than Kabayel who is generously listed at six-foot-three.

As an amateur, Sanchez was purportedly 214-6. And although that record was manufactured from thin air, there’s no doubt that the Cuban Flash, whatever his true amateur record (boxrec has it 43-12), was top-shelf in a pod replete with some of the world’s top amateurs.

By contrast, Agit Kabayel reportedly had only five amateur fights before turning pro.

Sanchez has been training at Eddy Reynoso’s compound in San Diego. That’s another “plus” for him on the handicapping checklist. However, Kabayel is the harder puncher and we suspect that Sanchez is actually older than his listed age, a common deception among Cuban athletes after they leave the island.

Kabayel will have more rooters, which may or may not affect the betting marketplace. His style is more fan-friendly and he’s had a harder road to get to this point in his career. After upsetting Derek Chisora in 2017, he fought only once in each of the next five years, a slowdown related to Covid, managerial issues, and fights falling out.


The WBC has sanctioned Kabayel vs Sanchez as an eliminator with the winner next in line to fight the winner of Usyk vs. Fury. But don’t hold your breath. The Fury-Usyk fight has a rematch clause and if the Gypsy King wins, Anthony Joshua will almost certainly leapfrog to the head of the queue.

History informs us that whoever wins the Usyk-Fury fight likely won’t stay undisputed for very long. One or more of the organizations will strip the title-holder for failing to fulfill his mandatory.

That’s what happened to Lennox Lewis after he won his rematch with Evander Holyfield. Nine months later, after Lewis demolished Michael Grant and Frans Botha, Holyfield won the vacant WBA world heavyweight title with a narrow decision over John Ruiz in the first of their three meetings.

In boxing, the more things change, the more they remain the same.