When the iron curtain lifted and Russia opened communications with the United States, it also triggered an influx of athletes to this country, most notably professional hockey stars and boxers.
The latest ring import is unbeaten heavyweight Alex Moskiev (13-0), who fights Mike Whitfield (3-6), of Baltimore, in the main event tomorrow night at Martin's West.
Three years ago, New York promoter Lou Falcigno began signing Russian fighters with strong Olympic backgrounds.
The most promising in this group was Sergei Artemiev, a lightweight who combined power with skill. Artemiev won 19 of his first 20 pro bouts and was in line for a title bout with Oscar de la Hoya when he was knocked unconscious by Carl Griffith on March 21, 1993.
He underwent brain surgery and was in a coma for 12 days. Artemiev recovered and lives in New York with his wife and 3-year-old son, trying to piece his life back together.
Meanwhile, the Russian boxers keep coming. Alexander Zolkin, managed by Jimmy Johnson, who guided former heavyweight champion Buster Douglas, has become a heavyweight contender in just a few years. Zolkin's success prompted Moskiev to follow him to America.
"Moskiev's only been here three or four months," said his New York-based trainer, Peter Kahn. "He won his first 12 fights in Russia before deciding to come to America. He feels there's a lot more opportunity here for a professional fighter. He left his wife and three daughters behind, but he's hoping they'll join him soon."
Kahn says he does not speak Russian, and Moskiev is taking English lessons.
Kahn admits Moskiev, 25, is a raw product, lacking the polish of the more advanced Zolkin.
"Moskiev's awkward, but he can punch," said Kahn, who trains Moskiev at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, N.Y. "He picks up things quickly. He'll watch another fighter doing something in the gym, then he'll practice it himself, and, in a few days, he's doing it on his own."
Another Russian, super-middleweight Valery Testerovsky, will appear on promoter Stuart Satosky's undercard tonight in a six-round bout with Joe Blyther, of Laurel. Testerovsky is not a stablemate of Moskiev.
Kahn believes the Russian boxers, because of their past experience in a state-run sport, are more disciplined than most American fighters. But there are always exceptions.
"I had another Russian kid, who wound up running the streets and dealing drugs. There are good and bad fighters from all over the world. But Moskiev wants to be somebody. He's a real plugger, and that's why I'm in his corner."
NOTES: In another eight-rounder, Virginia heavyweight Sam Hampton, who knocked out Whitfield in one round in his Baltimore debut in February, will fight Matt Green (7-1) of Sanford, N.C.