Hopkins foe Shumenov collects boxing gloves … and championship belts

Bernard Hopkins, left, and Beibut Shumenov do the usual face-off before their light-heavyweight title unification bout.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP


The garage of Beibut Shumenov’s waterfront mansion is filled with brand-new boxing gloves he likes to collect. There’s a hyperbaric chamber in the master closet, and weights and machines are jammed into a large room.

Outside a pontoon boat sits unused. It’s too slow for the fighter and, besides, there’s not enough time.

Shumenov fights the ageless Bernard Hopkins in Washington on Saturday night, a task he takes quite seriously. The light heavyweight champion has trained obsessively for a fight he hopes will finally get him the attention he has long been seeking.

"I’ve been dreaming all my life to get this kind of a fight," Shumenov said. "It’s not just to prove I’m the best. I want to be recognized like the old great fighters, like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson."

The fighter who moved to the United States from Kazakhstan to begin his career without knowing a word of English is in a hurry to get there. Shumenov fought a scheduled 12-round fight in his first pro bout, went up against a former world champion in his sixth fight.

He fought for a title in his ninth bout and is now taking on Hopkins in a 175-pound unification fight after only 15 pro fights.

"I chose the fast track," Shumenov said in a recent interview in the dining room of his home on an artificial lake a few miles west of this city’s glittering casinos. "Now I live and breathe boxing."

In a sport where everyone has a story, Shumenov has many. Hopkins may be the star of their fight card, but Shumenov is worth getting to know.

There was the time when he was 9 months old that he was fed tainted milk and almost died. As a child during the breakup of the Soviet Union he remembers being sent to homes of relatives to beg for bread, only to have doors slammed in his face.

He says he has a law degree and now speaks five languages. His English is nearly flawless, learned, he said, from walking around with a Russian-English dictionary and watching movies nonstop after moving from his native country to Seattle.

"The `Godfather’ movies are my favorite," he said. "All three of them."

Shumenov fought for Kazakhstan in the 2004 Olympics, only to lose in the second round after breaking a hand. After taking time away from the sport to help with the family business he came back so dedicated he now spends 10 to 12 hours a day boxing, practicing martial arts or working out.

And he not only plans to fight well but look good against Hopkins. It took a team of eight women working nearly around the clock in his native country 30 days to stitch together the ring robe — complete with gold etching — that he will wear into the ring Saturday night.

"A lot of people just don’t know me," Shumenov said. "But I’m a scientist who has studied boxing."

Shumenov will need that science and more if he is to beat the 49-year-old Hopkins, who has enjoyed a career resurgence while fighting at an age where few boxers dare tread.

He has studied Hopkins, and watched all of his fights. He understands he is up against a master practitioner of the art of boxing.

"People don’t know but he’s really like a boxing genius," Shumenov said. "He makes people think they can land a punch but they miss. He’s super human."

Shumenov is a 2-1 underdog, odds that don’t concern him. He trains himself and believes he has come up with methods he can employ effectively against a fighter who has made a career out of frustrating opponents.

"I see where I can get him," Shumenov said. "I’ve been working hard to defend from his dangerous punches."

If Shumenov does prevail he hopes it will be in a fight that people notice. The bout heads a card that will be televised by the Showtime network.

"I’ve been ready several years for this," he said. "I’m pretty confident people will be satisfied with my performance."