Few prognosticators are giving the 140-pound champion much of a chance Saturday night in San Antonio—but the Kazakhstan-born, former kickboxing world champ insists that's all part of his grand plan.
This type of opportunity was what Sergey Lipinets visualized when his co-manager, Alex Vaysfeld, convinced him to leave the world of kickboxing behind to pursue boxing stardom in the United States.
Competing on a huge stage, against an elite opponent, in a title fight that could change the lives of him, his wife and now their 20-month-old son. The unbeaten IBF junior welterweight champion acknowledges that with just 13 professional fights on his record, it might look like he doesn’t belong in the ring with Mikey Garcia, an undefeated three-division champion (37-0, 30 KOs).
Lipinets has been confident, though, that he could win very difficult fights from the moment he moved from Russia to Southern California less than three years ago. Now that his opportunity is a just a few days away—this Saturday night on the Showtime-televised card (10:15 p.m. ET & PT) from Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio—Lipinets is anxious to prove himself against Garcia.
“Right from the get-go, I was asking for fights that would elevate my standing in the boxing business to a certain level,” Lipinets said through a translator. “I believe I belong at the top of the food chain.”
The Kazakhstan native won a 140-pound world title in just his 13th pro bout, but he’ll take a steep step up in class in his first title defense. The 30-year-old Garcia convincingly defeated former four-division champion Adrien Broner by unanimous decision this past July and is widely viewed as one of the top 10 boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport.
Lipinets beat Japan’s Akihiro Kondo by unanimous decision to win the then-vacant IBF title November 4 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. He had hoped to land a big fight in his first title defense, yet Lipinets admits he was surprised that Garcia agreed to fight him.
“Just the fact that they took the fight goes to show that they believe they’re gonna win,” Lipinets said. “You don’t take fights you think you’re gonna lose, especially at that level.
“Maybe they looked at my last fight, when I won the championship, and they saw something, that I have vulnerabilities of some kind, that I have holes in my game. Whatever they saw, it’s gonna be different when we step in the ring.”
The 28-year-old Lipinets beat Kondo by big margins on all three scorecards (118-110, 117-111, 117-111), but Lipinets went the distance for just the third time in his career. The newly-crowned champion suspects getting hit with several flush punches by Kondo and going 12 rounds with an opponent that entered their match with six losses lowered skeptics’ expectations of him.
Kondo hasn’t been knocked down, much less knocked out, in his 37 fights. Once Lipinets accepted by the eighth round that he probably wouldn’t become the first foe to drop or stop Kondo, Lipinets changed his approach to their fight.
“I believe that a lot of people underestimated Kondo when he fought me,” Lipinets said. “I hit that guy with everything I had, but he didn’t go down. He didn’t budge and he kept on coming. As tough as he was, I had to show the diversity that I possess as well. I had to change my game plan as the fight went on.”
“ I’m a champion of the world right now. And he’ll have to pry my title out of my dead hands to get it from me. ” Junior Welterweight World Champion Sergey Lipinets
An accidental clash of heads late in the sixth round caused a large gash in the middle of Lipinets’ forehead. Blood flowed from that cut at times and the head-butt impacted Lipinets’ vision.
“When the head-butt occurred, the blood was dripping right into my eyes,” Lipinets said. “I got hit with a stupid shot that I didn’t see coming because of the blood in my eyes. I had to readjust then and I had to go back to boxing. I think I showed in that fight that, first of all, I can stand and fight toe-to-toe, second, that I can take a punch, and third, if I have to box, I’ll box your ass.”
Lipinets and Garcia initially were scheduled to fight February 10 in San Antonio. Their fight was postponed January 17 for four weeks because Lipinets suffered an injury during training camp that caused his right hand to swell.
The extra time to rest has left Lipinets feeling much better than if they would’ve fought February 10.
“It’s like a brand-new hand,” Lipinets said. “It’s better than it was before. You will see that right hand in action, guaranteed, March 10th. Not once, but many, many times.”
That said, Lipinets expects that he’ll encounter a masterful technician who has regularly displayed the ability to box and punch on his way to winning world titles in the featherweight, super featherweight and lightweight divisions.
“His pedigree speaks for itself,” Lipinets said. “He’s a great fighter. He’s fast, has great timing, great defense and a lot of great fundamentals that have been instilled in him since he was a kid.”
Garcia grew up in a boxing family, which includes his older brother/trainer, Robert Garcia, a former IBF super featherweight champ. Lipinets took a more meandering path toward their showdown.
Lipinets won two world titles as a pro kickboxer and participated in more than 300 kickboxing bouts combined as an amateur and pro. Fighters can’t make nearly as much money in kickboxing as boxing, which was what led Lipinets to switch sports.
He went 35-5 during a brief amateur boxing career, thus he is far less experienced in this sport than Garcia. With his family’s financial future at stake, the resilient Lipinets still is confident he can pull off an upset in a fight he’ll enter as nearly a 10-1 underdog.
“I’m a champion of the world right now,” Lipinets said. “And he’ll have to pry my title out of my dead hands to get it from me.”
For a closer look at Garcia vs Lipinets, visit our fight page.