For Kobozev, the decision to leave Russia wasn't very hard. "I was a little hesitant," he says. "But to achieve a certain level in boxing, I knew I could only do it in the States."
Oddly enough the yardstick used by unsophisticated Americans to measure a Russian fighter is Dolph Lundgren, the Swedish actor who played Rocky's steroidal Soviet opponent in the 1985 film Rocky IV. In fact, the European style of boxing is very different from—and basically inferior to—the North American style. European fighters are not as quick as American fighters; they are more open and rely heavily on the use of a circling left hand to set up a big right uppercut or hook. "There's a reason for it," says Atlas. "They were all trained under one program. There's no diversity like in the States. Sergei feels that he should let nothing slow him down while he is here. He's steady, and he's strong mentally. He has the ability to catch guys clean. It's his timing that needs work. It's learning to know when to throw the punches." Or, when not to be the gentleman he ordinarily is. Kobozev must realize that if someone hits you with a low blow, "you hit him back—lower," says Atlas.
Kobozev had his timing down perfectly when he dropped a hammer of a right hand on Dwayne Hall to knock him cold in the second round of a fight in Atlantic City on Aug. 14. "I noticed after that fight that he started taking a few things for granted," says Atlas. "He wasn't using his jab, he was looking for one punch to knock the guy out. What shocked me was that this had never happened before. So I jumped all over him and said, 'What are you going to be—a spoiled American brat now? Now after one fight, one knockout, you're on TV. You're learning some of the vocabulary. Now are you going to start using excuses, too?' And he came back to me and said, 'You're right. I am sorry.' "
On a fall day in Brooklyn, Kobozev opens the front door of the Brighton Beach house where he lives with Bistritzky and which is paid for by Cutaia and Trunov. He is wearing only bikini briefs and a smile as he takes in the 35° morning air with a deep breath. He greets a visitor in his high-pitched voice.
In the house, Kobozev and Bistritzky live like a couple of, well, bachelors. This morning, while waiting for Gary Trunov to pick them up and take them to the gym, they sit in the kitchen, in their underwear, sipping tea and flipping through a women's uniform catalog that arrived in the mail. In the empty living room, Family Feud is on the television set, playing to an orange carpet and a couch that looks like a leisure suit on legs. "I have to go to the supermarket with them. I have to go to the barbershop with them. Then I have to go to class," says Gary, when he appears a few minutes later. "These guys would starve without me." Gary is not really complaining. The truth is, he has caught the boxing bug and will make his amateur debut as a light middleweight this winter.
On the way to Gallagher's, Gary takes the visitor on a tour of Brighton Beach, an area of Brooklyn that is home to some 50,000 Russian immigrants and is known as Little Odessa. "Everybody is Russian here," says Gary. "See that? Cafe Arbaty? That's a street name in Moscow." Nearby is the Metropol, a Russian nightclub where Kobozev has a night job as a bouncer.
The neighborhood and the job help Kobozev get by because, though he can understand English, he can't yet speak it. So far, his ring career is going well. Kobozev KO'd Doug Davis on Oct. 23 in Bushkill, Pa., and will face an as yet unknown opponent in Atlantic City on Dec. 10. But the big money and big fights are still at least two years away. Which means two more years away from home, two more years with Cutaia and Trunov footing the bills. When asked how long he will stay, Kobozev says, "as long as I can." Asked if he plans to bring Irina and Alexander to the States, he says, "It is a very serious question. I haven't thought about staying yet."
Later Kobozev walks into his bedroom, which is bare except for a bed, a chair with a tape player on it and a dresser. His Central Army uniform hangs in the closet. From a dresser drawer, he pulls out a little white book that contains a dozen or so pictures of his wife and son. In one photo, Sergei, Irina and Alexander are in a park in Kostroma, posing next to a six-foot-tall Stuffed bear. Alexander and Irina are huddled against the bear. Kobozev, a.k.a. the Russian Bear in U.S. fight circles, stands to the side and stares off into the distance.