Murat Gassiev dramatically knocked out Yunier Dorticos in the waning seconds of the 12th and final round Saturday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia, to punch his way into the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight final.
It was a thrilling, action-packed fight from start to violent finish, with No. 2 seed Gassiev unifying a pair of cruiserweight world titles in definitive fashion by scoring three knockdowns against the fourth-seeded Dorticos in the last round of the fight -- the final one sending Dorticos through ropes and crashing onto the ring apron.
"It was very important to me," Gassiev said. "It was my first unification fight. Yunier Dorticos did a great job. He's a great champion and a hard hitter. I respect him a lot."
With the victory Gassiev, who retained his title for the second time, advanced to the final of the eight-man tournament, where he will square off with fellow unified world titleholder and No. 1 seed Oleksandr Usyk on May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Last Saturday, Ukraine's Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) edged Mairis Briedis (23-1, 18 KOs) in an action-packed battle to win a majority decision in Briedis' hometown of Riga, Latvia, to unify the other two world title belts in the 200-pound weight class.
Usyk was ringside and joined Gassiev in the ring after the fight.
"I want to say congratulations on your last fight. Great job," Gassiev told him. "I will do my best [against you], and I hope in final we do good fight for all boxing fans."
Usyk shook Gassiev's hand and said, "I want to congratulate Murat on his victory, and I expect a spectacular and beautiful fight."
The Usyk-Gassiev winner will become the first cruiserweight to unify all the titles in the four-belt era and will become only the fourth fighter in any division to do so, joining Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, who did it more than a decade ago at middleweight, and Terrence Crawford, who unified the four junior welterweight belts on Aug. 19.
Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs), 24, of Russia, had the raucous crowd cheering for him from the outset as he and Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs), who was also making his second title defense, put on a tremendous show in a fast-paced, hard-hitting fight.
Dorticos, nicknamed "The KO Doctor," got off to a strong start and seemed to be in control over the first few rounds. He stalked Gassiev and landed several powerful left hands to the body and right hands upstairs.
But "Iron" Gassiev, with star trainer Abel Sanchez in his corner -- and training mate, friend and unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin at ringside -- was calm and poised. Gassiev broke through in the fifth round when he landed an assortment of big punches, including a left hand that briefly wobbled Dorticos.
Dorticos, however, also was landing heavy shots as they fought on even terms through the middle rounds of the fight.
They traded huge blows in the ninth round with Gassiev landing pinpoint uppercuts that did not budge Dorticos, and he returned fire by landing heavy right hands.
In the 10th round, Gassiev shook Dorticos with a left hook to the head and followed with an uppercut-left hook combination that probably would have knocked most cruiserweights to the canvas. Dorticos, 31, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, took the shots and also ate a massive right uppercut that followed.
Gassiev appeared to hurt Dorticos with a chopping right hand in the 11th round, the first time Dorticos had ever gone that deep into a fight in his nine-year career. A left uppercut and a right hand later in the round nearly dropped Dorticos, who grabbed onto Gassiev to keep from falling down with about 20 seconds to go.
With Dorticos fading in the 12th round, Gassiev nailed him with a clean left hook to the jaw to drop him for the first time with a little more than a minute left in the fight. He knocked him down for the second time moments later from an accumulation of punishment, including a hard left hand.
Referee Eddie Claudio was looking closely at Dorticos at that point and very well could have stopped the fight, but he allowed it to continue. Seconds later, Gassiev unloaded more punches, including a devastating right hand that sent Dorticos through the ropes. His body was half in the ring and half on the apron as Claudio waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 52 seconds as Gassiev and his team celebrated and the crowd erupted.
"There was big pressure all fight. He has 21 knockouts. He has heart, and he is a warrior," Gassiev said. "He never gave up. He takes punches but continues fighting."
At the time of the stoppage, Gassiev led 106-103 on two scorecards and 105-104 on the third.
According to CompuBox, Gassiev landed 190 of 608 punches (31 percent), including 139 of 278 power punches. He landed nearly double the power shots of Dorticos, who connected with 71. Dorticos landed 132 of 602 punches overall (22 percent).
Gassiev really came on down the stretch, outlanding Dorticos 78-33 in power shots over the final four rounds.
Gassiev advanced to the semifinals in impressive fashion on Oct. 21 in Newark, New Jersey, where he drilled former world titleholder and mandatory challenger Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in the third round of a one-sided fight. Dorticos won his quarterfinal fight by a highlight-reel, second-round knockout of "The Russian Hammer" Dmitry Kudryashov on Sept. 23 in San Antonio.