Not-so-great expectations: Beibut Shumenov never thought he’d be a world champion—and then he became one

He had a law degree to fall back on, and that’s exactly what Beibut Shumenov expected to do when he turned pro: fall.

Beibut Shumenov

Beibut Shumenov won a 175-pound world title after only 10 fights, faster than any boxer in the division's history.

“I was excited to try professional [boxing], but to be honest, I thought that in my very first or second fight, somebody would knock me out,” he says with a grin after a workout in a hot, austerely decorated private gym in Las Vegas, its walls adorned only with the poster for George Foreman’s 1994 title fight with Michael Moorer.

Beibut Shumenov (15-2, 10 KOs) mirrors his surroundings: no frills and to the point.

He’s not self-effacing. Shumenov is a confident presence who seldom breaks eye contact and whose words are as blunt as the business end of a sledgehammer.

But he is self-aware, his assessment of his early prospects in the sport as direct as his jab.

Initially, he didn’t expect his boxing career to lead to much more than a career in another field.

“I would regret not having tried professional boxing,” Shumenov says of his decision to turn pro, which he did after earning a law degree and clerking for a judge in his native Kazakhstan.

“But I thought I would find myself somewhere else, try some business here or get more education. That was my goal. I didn’t think I would go that far [in boxing].”

Instead, Shumenov would win a 175-pound title quicker than any other fighter in the history of the division, becoming a world champion in just his 10th pro fight with a split-decision victory over Gabriel Campillo in their January 2010 rematch.

Shumenov’s explanation for challenging for a championship so early in his career is predictably straightforward.

“I didn’t want to waste my time,” he says. “That’s why I fought for the title in my ninth fight [losing to Campillo], because if I was meant to be world champion, then I’ll be world champion.”

It was the culmination of a remarkable journey for Shumenov.

When he moved to America in 2007, first to Seattle, he didn’t speak English and had no team in place to help with his career. He was all on his own, a move akin to trying to learn how to swim after having plunged oneself into the nearest body of water.

“It was very hard for me to adapt to a new culture,” Shumenov says. “After six months, I wanted to give up and go back to my country, it was so hard for me.”

What kept him here was pride, and a particularly memorable conversation that he had with his father upon leaving his homeland.

“My dad was hugging me and smiling, he was saying, ‘OK son, go see America, go have fun, check out all the cities, go to nightclubs, then after a few months, when you come back, you’ll start working,” Shumenov recalls.

“I told my dad, ‘No, I’m going to find my career, I’m going to succeed.’ He goes, ‘OK, OK.’ He was laughing. One time, when I was going to give up, that came back to me, that conversation. If I go back, I will be a failure.”

And so Shumenov relocated to Las Vegas and pressed on with his career, building it brick by brick, punch by punch.

Now, he’s headlining televised cards, next taking on B.J. Flores (31-1-1, 20 KOs) in a 200-pound tilt Saturday in Las Vegas, which airs on NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

More than 6,000 miles separate Shumenov’s native Kazakhstan from his adopted hometown of Las Vegas, but if anything, there’s an even greater distance between where Shumenov began his career and where he is now.

“I didn’t have any talent,” he says of his early years in the sport. “I’m just a hard worker.”

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