When we talk about “home field advantage” in terms of boxing, it’s generally to describe a fighter competing in their home state, maybe even their hometown, and as the A-side on a card promoted by their own promoter. Boxing doesn’t afford true home field advantage the way other team sports do, in terms of the luxury of competing in the same place you practice on a daily basis.
Vladimir Shishkin enjoyed boxing’s truest form of home field advantage this month, as he defeated Oscar Riojas in the main event of a card staged by Salita Promotions in the Kronk Gym in Detroit, Michigan, where the super middleweight contender has trained for roughly two years. The event was the first pro card to ever be staged in the Kronk itself, long a dream of the late Emanuel Steward.
In the before times, the difficulties of staging pro bouts in a gym in a church basement are obvious—the inability to have many fans, if any at all, primary among them. The circumstances created by COVID-19 however made the Kronk the perfect location for Salita to stage a show, providing an existing venue with a regulation-sized ring in a small space that can’t house any fans anyway. It also just happens to be where Shishkin and stablemate Timur Kerefov, who also fought on the card, spend most of their time anyway.
“It was interesting. I know that there will not be too many of such unique opportunities, so I am grateful. At times it felt like a sparring session for me because I have trained in that ring so many times,” said Shishkin.
Though the space between the Kronk ropes is his boxing home now, it’s a long way from his his birthplace in the Saratov region of Russia. Shishkin grew up poor, and was a self-made amateur standout. Without the resources to travel abroad or even outside of his home region for training, he became national champion in Russia before the age of 19. At that point, the country’s aggregators of athletic talent took notice, but while he joined the national team and racked up an amateur record of 301-29, he never felt like the Russian federation was going to position him to go to the Olympics. He turned pro at 25, and four years later is 11-0 and knocking at the door of title contention as the WBC’s No. 10-ranked fighter at 168 pounds.
The squared circle itself is also a long way from his other vocation. Shishkin is a true academic, holding a bachelor’s degree in law and soon, a masters to accompany it.
“In my opinion you have to get not one or just two degrees, but more than that,” boasts Shishkin. “I think I will get my next degree here in the USA.”
It’s possible that in addition to his advanced development due to his lengthy amateur career, that his aspirations outside the ring are also factoring in to the fast track he’s choosing to take as a professional. Shishkin has chosen to push forward even in circumstances in which taking time off would have been acceptable. In January, he fought and defeated Ulises Sierra on ShoBox, despite entering the fight with a bicep injury that ultimately resulted in surgery, requiring him to fight almost exclusively with his right hand for ten rounds.
With his growing collection of degrees, Shishkin has a waiting career in academia or law when he decides to hang up the gloves, and a clear curiosity about the world outside of the sport.
“I enjoy seeing and learning new things,” said Shishkin. “It’s a big change of scenery. I like this American culture, I think it’s very cool. It’s a culture that has some swagger to it. I like the coffee spots here (in Detroit), but I like the food the most.”
Shishkin’s worldly outlook on the sport is reminiscent of Andre Ward’s, and fittingly, he cites Ward as one of his boxing idols. Ward took an intense but calculated approach to his professional career, maximizing the importance and profit of the fights he did have, before leaving active competition with his faculties and a second act in life already set up.
“Andre Ward is one of the smartest boxers out there, phenomenal working ability, and in my opinion the best boxer at close range, you can write a book about his achievements,” said Shishkin.
The 29-year old is honing in on matching at least one of Ward’s accomplishments, the WBC super middleweight title, which currently is in a bizarre limbo. David Benavidez was the reigning champion, but lost the belt on the scales prior to a bout against Roamer Alexis Angulo on August 15. The WBC also recently ordered a bout between Canelo Alvarez and its current no. 1 ranked contender Avni Yildirim, but that bout was rejected by Canelo’s home network DAZN, and as such, very unlikely to proceed.
With the muddled situation and the WBC’s penchant for creating unexpected title opportunities, not to mention titles altogether, there is the possibility that Shishkin’s own litigious skills could come in handy to finagle a crack at a belt in the near future.
“If the title is vacant and I can fight for it I welcome the opportunity. I want to be world champion and am confident that if I stay busy I will get that opportunity. If a fight with Avni can be made I would love it,” he said.