- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Lightweight Rustam Nugaev is riding a six-fight winning streak, including his last five by knockout, to put him on the brink of a mandatory world title shot.
Nugaev squares off with Denis Shafikov in an all-Russian showdown at the Chumash Resort Casino in Santa Ynez, California, on this week’s edition of “Friday Night Fights” (ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, 9 ET) with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger for 135-pound titleholder Miguel Vazquez (34-3, 13 KOs) of Mexico.
During his winning streak, Nugaev (27-6-1, 17 KOs), who generally makes for crowd-pleasing fights, has stopped undefeated Jonathan Maicelo and slick Marvin Quintero, both solid victories.
"I feel I've earned my way to this position by beating top contenders,” Nugaev said. “Against Maicelo, who was undefeated and rated very high, I was able to knock him out. No one has been able to go the distance with me in my last five fights. This is my chance to get one step closer to fight for a world title and I'm not going to let it slip away.
"Training camp has been very hard this time around. We always train hard but in this camp we stepped it up a bit. I've been sparring with top-level opposition and I'm in great shape. I feel my punches are landing with a lot of force. There are no corners being cut in this camp and I'll be ready to fight to the death against Shafikov."
In his last fight, Shafikov (33-1-1, 18 KOs), a southpaw, lost a unanimous decision challenging Vazquez in February in Macau. Yet, he is right back in a title eliminator and probably will pose some problems for the rugged Nugaev.
"That is his only loss so I know he can fight,” Nugaev said. “He does a lot of things well in the ring and I'm going to have to be smart when we fight. I feel I have the power to slow him down and get him out of there before the final bell rings. This will be an all-out war and the fans will please with my performance.”
On paper, the fight looks like it could be highly entertaining, which is just what promoter Gary Shaw said he is expecting.
"This is going to be one hell of a fight for the fans," he said. "Nugaev is a tremendous puncher with a great chin and he loves to bring the fight to his opponent. Shafikov is similar as he also likes to come forward and throw big shots. Both fighters have a lot to gain with a victory. With the winner becoming the mandatory to fight for the IBF title, I see nothing but fireworks in this fight, and I feel Nugaev will come out on top."
In the opener, junior lightweight Jose "Sniper" Pedraza (17-0, 11 KOs), a former amateur standout and one of Puerto Rico’s top prospects, faces Juan Carlos Martinez (20-14-1, 7 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder.
Martinez’s record is pedestrian but he pulled a major upset in his last fight in March, outpointing Alejandro Perez and killing his shot at featherweight titlist Nicholas Walters. That fight had already been set for May 31 but Perez lost his tune-up fight and the title shot.
"Martinez is coming off an impressive win against Perez who is a good fighter," Pedraza said. "I know he's going to be coming with all he's got to try to knock me off, but I'll be ready for anything he brings. A world title fight is right around the corner and I just want to keep getting better with each fight. I'm excited to put on a good show for the fans."