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A Ringside Seat To A Kazakh Success Story

Qanat Islam (left), his manager Nelson Lopez (center), and Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz in Miami
Qanat Islam (left), his manager Nelson Lopez (center), and Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz in Miami
It's a punch that makes even the most grizzled, seen-it-all boxing fans wince the first time they see it.

In a video uploaded to YouTube and seen almost 16,000 times since, Kazakh fighter Qanat Islam flattens Armenia's Andranik Hakobian with a vicious left to the jaw that sends Hakobian bending over backward -- literally -- to the canvas. The referee stops the fight before trying to help the delirious Hakobian stumble to his corner.

It's the kind of ferocious power that will serve the emerging talent well as he pursues a professional career. And he's off to a good start, but there's a long way to go.

WATCH: Qanat Islam levels Armenia's Andranik Hakobian

On November 24 in Bogota, Islam defeated Colombia's own Segundo Herrera, knocking him out in the second round. Islam is now 5-0 as a professional light middleweight, all of his wins coming by knockout.

Born in China, the 28-year-old Islam was a member of the Chinese national boxing team at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where he won a bronze medal.

He returned to Kazakhstan, his ancestral homeland in December 2009, settling near the former capital, Almaty. He eventually obtained Kazakh citizenship but moved to the southern U.S. state of Florida in the spring of 2012 to pursue his career with more focus.

According to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Islam was unable to represent Kazakhstan at the London Olympics last summer due to regulations that required him to have lived in Kazakhstan for at least two years beforehand or else to have obtained special permission from China to fight for Astana.

China, apparently miffed at Islam's change of nationalities, refused.

(While Islam's situation backfired, RFE/RL's Claire Bigg examined the growing practice of athletes switching nationalities to compete in the Olympics.)

In Florida, Islam signed a two-year contract with Nelsons Promotion, run by Cuban-born trainer Nelson Lopez, after being touted by none other than Felix Diaz, the welterweight from Dominican Republic who won gold at the 2008 Olympics and a man who knows a thing or two about powerful punching.

Islam traveled to Miami from Nelsons' base in West Palm Beach a few weeks ago in order to spar with Diaz. It was Gold Medal vs. Bronze Medal.

"This Kazakh has power," Diaz is quoted as saying on Nelsons' website. "But what Kazakh do you know that doesn't?"

Islam's former trainer in Kazakhstan, Tursynghali Edilov, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that Islam has decided to devote his life to professional boxing, which is why Islam's wife and son are with him in Florida.

Edilov says that despite his early success major challenges remain for Islam, who must fight 20 or 30 more times in the next few years -- and win them all -- to have any chance at a world title.

Nelsons' website says Islam, whose next bout is scheduled for November 30, "continues to grow and fine-tune his craft." It also aptly -- but unintentionally -- refers to him as "Kanat Slam."

A typo, perhaps, but I smell a nickname in the making.

"In this corner...

-- Grant Podelco

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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