With a nickname like “Made In Hell,” one might expect Roman Karmazin to be a foul-mouthed, tattooed, ex-con biker with a rap sheet from here to Alcatraz. That is not the case, as Karmazin is a soft-spoken family man and a consummate professional. But if you ask any of his former opponents in the ring, they will tell you they’ve been to hell and back.
"The nickname was given to me because of where I come from," Karmazin explains. "When you here about products "Made in Japan" or "Made in the U.S.A.,” there is a good and clean quality associated with them. Well, I am a product of Hell. I grew up very poor and had to overcome many obstacles just to box. I was never given a chance at Olympic glory or amateur fame. I was forced to go to the Russian Army and I was not able to train while in the Army. When I did get a chance to box, I was paid with food so I could feed my family. And my early fights were dangerous street fights, with no rules or regulations."
After rising from the ashes in his home country to become the Russian World Boxing Board 154-pound junior middleweight champion early in his career, Karmazin made his United States debut against Anthony Fields (14-1 going in) on Jan. 29, 2000, and recorded an impressive, business-like second-round technical knockout. Karmazin showed good patience against the southpaw and threw nice, short combinations to the head and body.
“Prior to the Fields fight, I met a lot of Russians and they all felt sorry for me,” Karmazin recalls. “They said Fields was very a good American boxer and would knock me out. I did not think so. I had already beaten an American fighter (Robert "Push Up" Frazier) and I was not afraid of my first fight in America. In the early going, he (Fields) landed one good shot and I started seeing stars. But it only made me angry. I finished him almost at once and then I truly knew I could fight anywhere in the world.”
Karmazin returned to Russia on March 10, 2000, and registered a second-round TKO over Nico Toriari. Shortly thereafter, Karmazin moved on to capture his first European junior middleweight title with a third-round knockout of Turkey’s former Olympian and capable challenger Orhan Delibas (23-1 going in).
In 2001, Karmazin’s undefeated record and No. 1 World Boxing Council ranking earned him a “golden” opportunity for a championship bout with Oscar De La Hoya. While De La Hoya sought a bigger payday and less risk by fighting Fernando Vargas, De La Hoya and Vargas were unable to come to terms, creating a chance for Karmazin. Karmazin relinquished his European title so he could challenge “TheGolden Boy” in his own backyard of Los Angeles. One month before the fight, however, the golden goose laid a rotten egg as De La Hoya called off the fight claiming an injury. Karmazin could have taken money to step aside rather than get in the ring with Oscar De La Hoya, but he refused.
“I wanted to fight him,” Karmazin said. “I wanted De La Hoya in the ring. I came to Los Angeles without my entire team but I was still ready to show the entire world that I had the weapons to beat him. My trainers, sparring partners, co-manager, masseuse, and cutman could not get visas to enter the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but I was still going to beat him. I was using Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym to prepare for the fight and I was ready to shock the world. All I wanted was a chance. And then he cancelled the fight. What can I say? I am a fighter, not a politician.”
Dejected but still determined, Karmazin returned home to St. Petersburg and disposed of the tough and awkward Russian foe Sergey Tatevosyan. While De La Hoya recovered enough to schedule a bout with Fernando Vargas, Karmazin was ordered by the WBC to fight for the interim junior middleweight title with WBC junior middleweight champion Javier Castillejo of Madrid, Spain. Taking on the Spaniard on his home soil in Madrid on July 7, 2002 proved to be costly as Karmazin lost his first professional bout on a close and controversial points decision.
“A classy champion does not make excuses,” Karmazin responds when asked about the Castillejo fight in 2002, “and a true champion learns to overcome adversity. Castillejo is an experienced fighter and a strong adversary. That loss, however controversial, was the best thing to happen to me because it helped make me the boxer that I am today.”
Undeterred and determined to regain a chance at a world championship, Karmazin first looked to reclaim the European crown he relinquished for a chance to fight De La Hoya. Seven months after the Castillejo fight, Karmazin returned to the scene of the crime in Madrid and scored a fifth round knockout of Castillejo’s fellow countryman Jorge Araujo (17-0-1) to regain his European junior middleweight title. No hangover was suffered from the close Castillejo defeat as Karmazin mastered his demons by visiting Spain again to knock out the young undefeated prospect.
Karmazin defended his European title on June 6, 2003, when he took on, and sent into retirement, the International Boxing Federation’s intercontinental junior middleweight champion Michael Rask (30-2 going in), with a second round knockout in Aalborg, Denmark. Rask, in front of home support was seen as a very solid contender who had a great shot at beating Karmazin. The fight was expected to be long, tough and grueling. Quite the opposite occurred as Rask couldn’t handle Karmazin’s stand-up skills and was picked off continuously by the champion’s impressive jab. Karmazin pulled the curtain down in the second round when he dramatically and impressively knocked out the hometown favorite.
Karmazin then defended his belt again against English champion David “Kid Dynamite” Walker with a convincing third-round knockout in front of a hostile London crowd. With yet another win on foreign soil, Karmazin continued to prove time and time again that going into an opponent’s backyard does not phase him in the slightest. He has always been a true "road warrior" in every sense of the word. By 2004, Karmazin had cleaned up the entire European scene and disposed of all challenges to his desired and much-loved European throne.
“Traveling to my opponents’ backyard is nothing new to me,” Karmazin explains. “I enjoy hearing the adversarial fans and it makes me want to win even more. It makes me want to come into another country and bring honor and glory to my own country. I have fought and beaten my opponents in their hometowns of Germany, Belgium, England, Spain, Denmark, and the United States. It doesn’t matter what country I am in as long as I am in the ring, where my opponent has nowhere to go but down.”
After chewing up and spitting out so many opponents in so many different countries on the European level, Karmazin decided build a new empire in the United States. In April of 2004, Karmazin decided to once again vacate his European title to concentrate on world honors. He flew back to Los Angeles to continue training at the Wild Card Gym. Then, Karmazin signed a contract with legendary promoter Don King.
“I came to the biggest and best promoter in the world because I wanted that world title shot,” Karmazin explains. “At the time I signed with Don King, I was the IBF's top ranked junior middleweight. I told Mr. King: any time, any place, any champion. Unlike my previous handlers, I felt Don King had to power to prevent boxers from ducking me and last minute cancellations like the De La Hoya fight."
After years of struggling with foreign management, Karmazin decided to enlist a Russian-speaking attorney from Beverly Hills, Calif., named Steven Bash. With the help of his new counsel, Roman flew to Florida to meet with Don King Productions and begin to pave his road to the championship. He immediately took on the biggest challenge in his career by signing to meet two-time WBC middleweight champion Keith Holmes in an elimination bout to determine the mandatory challenger to the IBF 154-pound throne.
On April 2, 2005, in Worcester, Massachusetts, Karmazin came one step closer to capturing a world title with a defining come-from-behind victory over Holmes. The Holmes fight turned out to be a tactical, close fight but Karmazin began applying pressure in the championship rounds. In the 11th round, Karmazin hurt Holmes with a straight right hand to the head while Holmes was stuck on the ropes. Karmazin then followed up with a flurry of hard punches, most of them landing cleanly.
Holmes made it out of round 11 thanks to the bell, but Karmazin continued to punish him in the final round, landing another straight right that staggered the former world champion again just before the final bell sounded. Karmazin won a majority decision with two judges scoring the bout for him, 115-113 and 116-112, and the final judge scoring the fight a 114-114 draw. Karmazin dealt Holmes his first loss since Holmes lost the WBC middleweight title to Bernard “The Exexcutioner” Hopkins in April 2001.
"Holmes was a very difficult fighter in the ring." Karmazin recalls. "He fights smart and scared and a smart and scared fighter is always a dangerous fighter. It is a like a good soldier who is alone in a foxhole and afraid for his life. He will quickly peak out to shoot some bullets and then quickly go back into his hole. In the last few rounds of the fight, I realized I just had to go in there and pull that crazy fox out of the hole."
On July 14, 2005, in Las Vegas, Karmazin found himself fighting a real soldier in Kassim "The Dream" Ouma. Ouma, who was kidnapped by the National Resistance Army in Uganda when he was 7 years old and forced to fight in the civil war. He overcame this adversity to become one of boxing’s up-and-coming stars. But that evening it was Karmazin who became the star as he shocked Ouma with a dominating performance to capture the IBF junior middleweight championship by unanimous decision.
Karmazin started quickly against the heralded champion with two rounds of sharp jabs and body punches that would not allow the usually active Ouma to get off. Early in the third round, Karmazin threw Ouma off balance with a sharp right hand to the chin and then followed up quickly with a wicked kidney shot that sent Ouma to the canvas. Seconds later, a series of punches put Ouma near the ropes and Karmazin landed a follow up straight right that sent Ouma crashing down on the ropes for the second knockdown of the round. Visibly in trouble, Ouma went into a shell, enduring a flurry of power punches from Karmazin but suriving the round. Ouma was so dazed after the round that he went into the wrong corner after the bell rang.
Karmazin continued to dominate the fight on his way to a convincing 118-108, 117-109, 116-100 unanimous decision victory and the coveted IBF 154-pound crown.
"I told everyone that I was not going back to Russia without the world championship. Ouma was a very deserving champion. He beat many Top 10 fighters and he has great punching totals and endurance. But I knew he was not as good as me. And I am glad I fought the boxer who was considered by many to be the best junior middleweight in the division and the next great thing."
For Karmazin, the championship victory over Ouma was twice as sweet as he was able to exact some revenge against an old foe. As Karmazin continued to expose the overmatched champion in the ring, Ouma's new promoter Oscar De La Hoya sat ringside with a shocked look on his face. Karmazin was able to show De La Hoya and the world what he could have shown years ago if given the chance - that Roman “Made in Hell” Karmazin is the best junior middleweight boxer in the world.
"I respect Oscar De La Hoya greatly as one of the greatest boxers in history," Karmazin acknowledged. "And all I have ever asked for was the chance to prove myself against the best boxers in the world. I told them (Golden Boy Promotions) that Ouma was very good but not great. Hopefully, this victory will allow me to pursue my dream of fighting some of the superstars like De La Hoya, Winky Wright, Tito Trinidad, and Ricardo Mayorga. Any time, any place, anywhere."
After his championship victory, Karmazin returned to his home country to an enormous welcome as Russia celebrated its only current world champion and only the fourth World Champion in Russia's history. Karmazin told his countrymen that he plans to return to the United States to fight the world's greatest boxers and to become the undisputed junior middleweight champion.
When asked what he had to say to the other champions in his division as well as boxing's other superstars, Karmazin exclaimed, “I am Roman "Made in Hell" Karmazin, the IBF junior middleweight champion of the world. I will fight you any time, any place, anywhere, and I will never back down. And when you’re done with me, you’re going to feel like you’ve been to hell and back.” International Boxing Federation Junior Middleweight Champion
Born on Jan. 2, 1973 in Kutsniesk, Russia
Now living in Hollywood, Calif., and St. Petersburg, Russia
Height: 6'0” Weight: Junior Middleweight (154)
Record: 34-1-1, 21 KOs