Indications are that Mike Wilson is in the best shape of his life, and that’s important as the Central Point boxer embarks on the biggest challenge of his career.
Wilson, the undefeated North American Boxing Association cruiserweight champion, takes on longtime World Boxing Association champion Denis Lebedev, of Russia, in a 12-round fight Saturday in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Wilson, 35, is 19-0 with eight knockouts.
In his most recent fight in March, he defeated Mario Aguilar, of Mexico, by unanimous decision at the Jackson County Fairgrounds, earning the vacant NABA title and a top-15 ranking in boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies.
That led to the opportunity to challenge Lebedev (31-2, 23 KOs), who is 39 and has held a piece of the WBA title for six years.
The fight headlines the Monte Carlo Boxing Bonanza at Casino de Monte Carlo. The card is promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.
The fights will be streamed on dazn.com, which requires a fee, and there will be a watch party at Chadwick’s Pub in Medford.
Wilson’s extended training camp began two months ago, and he trimmed down from 235 pounds to about 207 a week before the fight. He needs to weigh 200 at Friday’s weigh-in.
Wilson gauges his fitness, in part, by how well he does against trainer Jimmy Pedrojetti, an avid runner.
“Right at the beginning of camp,” said Wilson, before leaving last Saturday for Monte Carlo, “Jimmy always runs with us, so he’s always the pace-setter. He’s usually the rabbit, and I’m the dog. As camp goes on, I start closing the distance, and then towards the end of camp, it’s the opposite. Jimmy can run with the best of them.”
Pedrojetti notices, too.
“You always know he’s in good shape when he’s just flying on the runs,” he said. “He’s just amazing. He doesn’t get tired in sparring sessions. He can go 20 rounds, he’s in that good of shape.”
Being in shape is essential to the game plan against the hard-hitting, left-handed Lebedev.
The fighters’ styles are vastly different. The rangy, right-handed Wilson, who fought as a heavyweight early in his career, is 6-foot-3 and relies on movement and finesse more than power.
He’ll attempt to stay active and apply pressure through the first half of the fight, then will try to step it up in the latter stages, expecting Lebedev not to want to go the distance.
“I think it will go the distance,” said Pedrojetti. “It’s important for us to push the pace, and that’s what we’ve been working on. We’ve got to make our opponent work hard in all 12 rounds. I know Mike is in better shape. I would bet the house that he’s in better shape than the Russian.”
Lebedev, 5-11, is fundamentally sound and isn’t flashy, said Pedrojetti. He comes straight at his opponents and tries to cut off the ring. He brings his hands back quickly and employs good defense.
“We need to win exchanges and at some point in the fight, back him up,” said Pedrojetti.
Bringing his hands back quickly, keeping them up and avoiding Lebedev’s left-handed power are critical for Wilson.
“One punch can turn the fight around,” said Pedrojetti.
“It’s a different level,” he added, “but Mike has fought guys that are world class in the amateurs.”
Lebedev has had trouble with fighters of Wilson’s stature.
His two losses were to 6-3 1/2 Murat Gassiev in December 2016 and 6-2 Marco Huck in December 2010.
He was viciously battered by 6-4 Guillermo Jones in a May 2013 bout that was ruled no contest.
“He has over 30 fights,” said Pedrojetti, “but they’ve all been wars.”
As a professional, Wilson has little experience against southpaws.
The team brought in several accomplished lefties for him to spar with over the past few weeks, including Lenroy Thomas, a Florida heavyweight with a record of 22-5-1, and Cedric Agnew, of Chicago, who is inactive but had a 27-3 professional record and fought Sergey Kovalev for the World Boxing Organization light-heavyweight title in 2014, losing by knockout.
“Cedric was great,” said Jimmy Pedrojetti. “We had great sparring sessions.”
Wilson finished his sparring a week ago Thursday, bringing in Bend pro Alberto Rivas for a last look at a lefty.
“That’s important for us,” said Jimmy Pedrojetti. “Mike has really, really good boxing skills, but we haven’t fought a lot of left-handers in the pros. We needed to get some high quality sparring in just for timing. You’re just seeing punches from different angles.”
Joe Pedrojetti, Jimmy’s father and a member of the team from the get-go, said there’s nothing left to do but fight.
“We have a great fight plan for the situation,” he said. “Mike looks great. I’ve never seen him in better shape. He looks muscled up, he’s got a great mental attitude.We’ve done everything we can do to go and win this fight.”
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org