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LAS VEGAS – In a dingy gym above an auto repair shop, Beibut Shumenov squeezed uncomfortably into a chair as a small pack of journalists crowded around him. His eyes darted around the room to the 25 or so reporters, publicists, employees, friends and relatives who leaned toward him.
Shumenov, a native of Kazakhstan, has lived in Las Vegas since 2007. He's comfortable with the city and its rhythms and his ability to blend into the background, where he's just another face in this melting pot of common folks and stars.
He wants to be more, clearly, than just another anonymous face in the crowd. He dreams of becoming a powerful boxing promoter, of running an influential company that revolutionizes the business.
He and his older brother, Chingis, have taken the first steps toward realizing that dream. They formed KZ Event Promotions, which will host its first show in the boxing capital of the world on Friday in The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in a card that is going to be broadcast live nationally on Fox Sports Net.
Beibut and Chingis are both attorneys; Beibut once clerked for a judge in Kazakhstan and Chingis once was a prosecutor.
On this cold and drizzly day, it's Beibut's job to sell the main event. In Las Vegas, where the biggest stars have their names on massive marquees and hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent marketing them, competition for the entertainment dollar is fierce.
Boxing isn't doing particularly well in the boxing capital these days. The recession has battered the city and there are still few signs of recovery; it leads the nation in home foreclosures and the unemployment rate continues to increase.
Crowds at boxing matches in Las Vegas are increasingly sparse. Even well-known fighters with elite promoters have difficulty selling tickets in the city in the current economic environment.
Beibut and Chingis are putting on a show in which virtually every boxer is anonymous to the man on the street in Las Vegas. The challenge they face is immense. It's made even bigger by the fact that Beibut Shumenov is actually fighting in the main event, competing against Gabriel Campillo for the World Boxing Association light heavyweight belt.
It's a rematch of a bout that was held on Aug. 15 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Campillo won by a majority decision. It was a fight so close that Kevin Barry, Shumenov's new trainer, saw it three different ways.
Barry hasn't worked in boxing for six years, not since a bitter split with one-time heavyweight contender David Tua.
"I had a bad taste for the fighters after that," Barry said.
He turned down Shumenov's first request for help, but ultimately agreed to sign on. And after doing so, he watched the fight with Campillo several times.
"The first time I watched it, I thought Campillo won by one point," said Barry, whose most noteworthy achievement in boxing to date has been winning by disqualification over Evander Holyfield in the 1984 Olympics. "The second time I saw it, I thought it was a draw. And the third time I watched it, I thought Beibut probably pulled it out by a point."
Barry estimates he's watched the fight around 20 times now and has marveled at how much Shumenov has improved. Shumenov has sparred 174 rounds, an inordinately high figure in an eight-week training camp, in order to absorb Barry's teachings. "He's a very bright young man," Barry said.
He comes from an affluent family in Kazakhstan and one with deep political ties.
KZ Event Promotions has paired with Golden Boy Promotions which, along with Top Rank, are the top promoters in the U.S. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer conceded that the Shumenovs have a long, hard road ahead of them, but said he was impressed by the brothers.
"They seem committed to building the business," Schaefer said. "They're sharp, they know what they want and they're not shy about going after it. This is a difficult business. It seems easy to many on the outside, but it's a very difficult business and way more who try it fail than succeed.
"What they need to do is assemble a strong team and try to build from the ground up. It's an achievable goal, I think, because properly done, there are tremendous business opportunities out there. Globally, boxing is going through a resurgence."
Shumenov has a great passion for boxing, which clearly resonates after speaking with him for only a few moments. His brother inexplicably broke up what seemed to be a successful interview after only a few moments, a not-so-bright move for a card that is struggling to sell tickets.
But while he understands there are going to be obstacles, he wants to immerse himself in the business.
"We are looking to sign good young talents and we are going to help them become world champions," Shumenov said. It's a noble goal, but when you're 26 and you haven't experienced a lot yourself professionally, it's difficult to imagine.
Shumenov beamed and said, "I told you: I'm a quick learner." Schaefer suggested the pair try to make inroads in Eastern Europe, where there is a lot of untapped talent.
"They come from a wealthy family with very good political and financial connections," he said. "They have the ability to do it. If they go after those Eastern bloc fighters, no one has really tapped that market with the exception of a few German promoters. But there's a good market there for them.
There's a lot to it and it's not going to happen overnight. But they have the financial wherewithal and the connections to do it if they hire the right people and build it the right way."