From sickly boy to world champion, Beibut Shumenov eluded death to live his dreams

Beibut Shumenov cuts an imposing figure that almost never was.

Beibut Shumenov

Before Beibut Shumenov clobbered dudes in the ring, he had to beat death first.

Shumenov today: long, lean and chiseled, his already angular features further sharpened by flesh pulled tight over a sinewy frame.

But the boy who begat the man who sits in a sweltering Las Vegas gym behind the house of retired boxer Clarence “Bones” Adams on a recent Tuesday afternoon couldn’t have been more unlike the fighter he’s since become.

“All my life I was weak,” Beibut Shumenov says, sweat beading on his forehead like droplets of rain on a windshield. “I wanted to be strong and tough. But I was always in hospitals, always sick, skinny, small, weak.”

Nature didn’t provide much nurture for Shumenov from the day he was born in 1983.

Back then, his native Kazakhstan was still a part of the Soviet Union—the country wouldn’t gain its independence until 1991.

Life in the USSR at that time was akin to being the grain in a gristmill: Every day was a constant grind in an egalitarian yet exacting existence.

“When we were part of the Soviet Union, people couldn’t have their own businesses,” Shumenov says. “Everybody had to work for the government from the early morning until late at night. We didn’t have any poor people or rich people—everybody had to be equal. It was tough.”

Shumenov’s mother was a schoolteacher and his dad was a chief accountant. Both worked so much that Shumenov was left with two aunts to look after him. When he was a baby, they mistakenly gave him spoiled milk, which nearly proved to be fatal.

“I shrank and turned blue,” Shumenov says. “My parents took me to the hospital, and by that time, all that poison was in my system. When the doctor checked me, they said it was too late. They couldn’t find any veins. They said, ‘Your son isn’t going to survive, he’s going to die.’ My parents were crying. They almost gave up. But then a miracle happened: I survived.”

Even though Shumenov recovered, the effects of his brush with death lingered all throughout his youth.

He was frequently ill and his growth was stunted for a time. But a love for a certain kung fu icon helped pull him through.

“I started watching Bruce Lee movies,” Shumenov recalls. “I wanted to be like him. I started taekwondo, then karate, wrestling, Muay Thai, Greco-Roman wrestling, judo and then boxing.”

Although boxing came last, it would end up first in Shumenov’s heart.

He’d eventually become a champ at 175 pounds, and after successfully campaigning at that weight for years, Shumenov (15-2, 10 KOs) recently moved up to 200, where he'll next take on B.J. Flores (31-1-1, 20 KOs) in Las Vegas on July 25. The fight airs on NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

As a sickly child, Shumenov says that he could have never imagined getting to this point.

But that’s exactly what his life has become: a realization of a young boy’s imagination.

“I had a lot of dreams,” Shumenov says with a grin, happy to be living at least one of them.

For complete coverage of Shumenov vs Flores, visit our fight page.

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