Beibut Shumenov is smiling the kind of smile known only to a man who can order a plate of meat loaf any time he damn well pleases.
It’s a joyous new feeling for Shumenov, who in the past has had to stress out over his weight, turning mealtime into an occasion about as mirthful as the end of Old Yeller, like feasting at the Olive Garden, but with sadness in place of breadsticks.
But, no more.
“Now, I can eat whatever I want,” Shumenov says, his face lighting up like a bowl of bananas Foster. “I can have fun. I’m always in a good mood.”
This is because Beibut Shumenov (15-2, 10 KOs) has moved up from 175 pounds, where he was a former champion, to campaign at 200 pounds.
Shumenov says that he feels rejuvenated. Hey, gravy will that do that for a man.
“I was struggling to lose weight. Making 175 was very hard for me,” Shumenov explains from the private, rainforest-sticky Las Vegas gym he trains at, looking svelte in black workout gear. “At 200 pounds, I don’t have the psychological pressure. When I was fighting at 175, I was thinking, ‘How can I lose weight?’ My goal now is, ‘How can I get better?’”
On Saturday in Las Vegas (live on NBC Sports Network, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), Shumenov takes on his second opponent at this weight: heady veteran and PBC on NBC commentator B.J. Flores (31-1-1, 20 KOs).
Flores wonders how handle Shumenov will handle fighting bigger dudes such as himself.
“He’s coming up 25 pounds, so it’s a big jump,” Flores says. “But he’s been saying he needed to move up for the longest time. He says it’s going to help him out a lot, so we’ll see how it goes.”
It’s going good so far: On Friday, Shumenov weighed in at 199.4 for the fight, while Flores came in at 199.6. In the co-main event featuring a pair of undefeated 200-pound prospects, Jordan Shimmell weighed 198.8 while his opponent Isiah Thomas was 198.4.
In addition to the move up to 200 pounds, another significant change for Shumenov heading into his showdown with Flores is that he’s now working with distinguished trainer Ismael Salas, a Cuban native who’s helped shepherd the careers of current and former champs such as Danny Green, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Guillermo Rigondeaux, among others.
Shumenov made the move after training himself for his ill-fated April 2014 fight with future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, who soundly outboxed Shumenov, taking his title in the process.
But in Salas, Shumenov claims to have found a kindred spirit to help him further evolve as a fighter.
“I was taught more of a Soviet Union boxing style, and we have a lot of similarities between the Cuban school and the Russian school,” says Shumenov, who's originally from Kazakhstan. “Once we started working from the first day, we had chemistry. Everything is very similar. They’re making me a better all-around fighter. If you compare me with my last fight, I’m a different fighter now.”
For his part, Salas felt that there was a disconnect between Shumenov’s amateur background, where basic skills are stressed and developed, and the fighter he had become as a pro.
“I watch all his fights and I decided, ‘OK, the number thing we have to do is create this link,’” Salas says of bridging the gap between Shumenov’s amateur and pro training. “We start with the fundamentals, sitting down on the punch, generating power. I’d like to prove [Saturday] how much he’s improved.”
Salas is looking to turn the page on the kind of fighter Shumenov was when he suffered his last defeat. As for Flores, he’s not reading too much into said loss.
“I don’t even look at the Hopkins fight,” Flores says. “Hopkins is very sharp and crafty. Everybody could look at just the Hopkins fight and say [Shumenov is] one-dimensional, but you’ve got to look at the body of work. He won a world championship in his 10th pro fight, so obviously he’s good. I think he’s a very good opponent, and he’s the best I fought.”
Speaking of being at one's best, Shumenov says that's where he's at now at 200 pounds.
“I’m happy at this weight,” he beams.
Waiter, more meatloaf.
For full coverage of Shumenov vs Flores, make sure to check out our fight page.