Record: 19 wins, 9 knockouts, 1 draw, 0 losses
Birthplace: Igrim, Russia
Evgeny Gradovich dreamed of playing pro soccer as a kid. “I didn’t like boxing,” he says. “I liked soccer. But when I went to the soccer gym, the coach said, ‘We have too many players, so maybe you have to come back next year.’ ” He turned to the Sweet Science and became a top prospect in Igrim, his Siberian hometown. Gradovich, 28, was largely unknown until his first ESPN fight against Billy Dib in 2013. An underdog, Gradovich earned just $20,000, but he snatched Dib’s IBF featherweight crown by stalking and battering him with the ferocity of a feral animal. Gradovich’s warrior style earned him the enviable nickname “the Mexican Russian,” and he’s since been living in Oxnard, California, under the tutelage of world-class trainer Robert Garcia. He has defended his title
four times, becoming a rising featherweight star known for his combination of aggression and precision. Like fellow Siberian Ruslan Provodnikov, Gradovich’s high-pressure offense has made him an instant fan favorite.