With an aggressive mindset and unconventional style, Nadjib Mohammedi overpowered and flustered another favored opponent.
Now, he’ll get a chance to play the underdog again in a world championship fight.
His stunning seventh-round knockout Saturday of heavily-hyped Anatoliy Dudchenko at Mohegan Sun Casino made France’s Mohammedi the No. 1 contender in the IBF light heavyweight division and earned him a title fight with Bernard Hopkins.
“I am an Avenger,” Mohammedi crowed through an interpreter after improving to 36-3 with 21 knockouts. “A superhero. Not an alien.”
To many boxing experts around the world, it seemed a foreign notion Mohammedi would work his way into this position. All but four of his 39 bouts were fought in his native France, and many questioned how competitive he’d be away from home.
They found out his strategy and style can translate into success anywhere.
During his first fight in the United States, Mohammedi frustrated the much taller Dudchenko with lunging hooks and constant pressure through most of the night. After opening a cut on the bridge of Dudchenko’s nose late in the sixth round, Mohammedi unleashed a punishing flurry of uppercuts and overhand rights that spattered the bloodied and fatigued Dudchenko and stopped Saturday’s fight just 37 seconds into the seventh round.
That was exactly when Mohammedi predicted he’d end the fight by knockout earlier last week.
“Tonight, the United States discovered me,” said the 5-foot-11 Mohammedi, who ran his winning streak to 11 straight fights and earned his second title fight after losing the WBO light heavyweight championship fight to Nathan Cleverly in 2010. “Now they know who Mohammedi is. It’s a new start for me tonight. We showed the United States we can give a great show.”
Meanwhile, Dudchenko had little to give.
Trying to load up with one big shot in the early rounds, the 6-3 Ukranian native appeared listless by the end of the third round and spent the rest of the fight trying to protect himself from Mohammedi’s relentless inside attack.
The 35-year-old Dudchenko, who fell to 18-3 and had his 16-match winning streak snapped while suffering his first loss since 2008, landed just 28 of his 200 punches while failing to create enough space to take advantage of his sizeable reach advantage. By the end, Mohammedi connected seemingly at will, and wore down Dudchenko by popping him with 137 of his 351 shots — including 87 power punches.
“I’m ready for the next step,” Mohammedi, 29, said.
That will be against Hopkins, the 49-year-old Philadelphia icon and IBF light heavyweight champion who owns a career record of 55-6-2 and is obligated to begin mandatory negotiations for a title fight with Mohammedi.
“I’m not a fool,” Mohammedi said. “I know I’m going to fight a legend. But I know what I’ve got to do. When I fight him, I’ll be the next legend.”
That bout may not happen immediately.
Hopkins has his eyes on a title unification bout with current RING and WBC champ Adonis Stevenson. And although IBF rules dictate Hopkins must fight the top contender in his next fight, IBF president Daryl Peoples has said a unification bout involving Hopkins would take precedence over a fight with the No. 1 challenger to his crown.
That could leave Mohammedi waiting for his title fight.
And although he’s not crazy about the idea, Mohammedi’s willing to be patient.
“First, it was not in the contract that Bernard is going to unify the title,” Mohammedi said. “He has to fight (me). But today, it doesn’t bother me to be in the underdog position. Because the day I fight him, I’m going to get three belts.”
He lost his chance at a first one.
Mohammedi was 26-1 when he stepped outside France for the first time in his career and lost a 12-round decision in England to Cleverly in a 2010 WBO championship bout. Two fights later, Ayitey Powers recorded a technical knockout of Mohammedi in the second round during a fight in Russia in 2011.
But Mohammedi hasn’t lost since, and doesn’t plan on losing his next one, either.
“I’m a new fighter, a new man,” Mohammedi said, “with a lot more experience now. I have a great team around me. I’m ready for the next step. That means the IBF title against Bernard.
“And it will be different.”