Oleg Koro­taev could have become a cham­pi­on, but he chose crime and ruined his sport­ing tal­ent.

The Sovi­et box­ing school was one of the strongest and trained dozens of first-class ath­letes. But not every­one man­aged to become cham­pi­ons. Oleg Koro­taev was a great tal­ent, but he ruined his career and became a crime boss in the 90s. He left his home­land, fear­ing an assas­si­na­tion attempt, but died any­way — in the USA.

How did Korotaev come to boxing?

Oleg Koro­taev was born on Sep­tem­ber 4, 1949 in Sverdlovsk. He grew up in a dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly: his father left, and Oleg matured ear­ly. At age 14, he took up box­ing and trans­ferred to night school to train and work.

Koro­taev turned out to be capa­ble and won youth com­pe­ti­tions. The tal­ent­ed guy with a knock­out blow was noticed by the famous coach Geor­gy Dzheroy­an. Oleg moved to Moscow, where he con­tin­ued to per­form suc­cess­ful­ly.

Success in the USA and a million dollar contract

In 1971, Koro­taev took part in a box­ing match between the US and USSR nation­al teams. The Sovi­et del­e­ga­tion came to Las Vegas, and the 22-year-old box­er was delight­ed with the local life. The team was met by the leg­endary box­er Joe Louis and accom­mo­dat­ed in the lux­u­ri­ous Cae­sars Palace hotel. Koro­taev per­formed suc­cess­ful­ly: in the first fight he knocked out Nathaniel Jack­son, and in the sec­ond, Muham­mad Ali’s spar­ring part­ner, US cham­pi­on William Ratliff.

The Amer­i­cans were so amazed by the tal­ent of the Russ­ian Tank (as Koro­taev was nick­named by one of the for­eign com­men­ta­tors) that they offered him a lot of mon­ey to turn pro­fes­sion­al. Accord­ing to rumors, Muham­mad Ali’s man­ag­er and train­er Ange­lo Dundee offered Oleg a pro­fes­sion­al con­tract worth $1 mil­lion.

Boxing decline and defeats

But the pro­pos­al did not reach the box­er: the pro­mot­ers turned to the Sovi­et del­e­ga­tion, which cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly refused. Sub­se­quent­ly, Koro­taev was forced to pub­licly renounce his desire to fight in the USA. The box­er did this, but after the trip the intel­li­gence ser­vices still looked after him.

After a missed chance in the USA, Koro­taev suf­fered great­ly, and his career went down­hill. He quar­reled with the new coach of the USSR box­ing team, Ana­toly Stepanov, missed the Olympics, suf­fered a severe injury to his leg lig­a­ments and per­formed worse and worse.

The last out­break was in 1974, when Koro­taev defeat­ed Leon Spinks him­self at the World Cham­pi­onships, who even beat Mohammed Ali as pro­fes­sion­als. But in the final, Koro­taev suf­fered a cut, and he received bronze.

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Alcohol problems and criminal time

Against the back­drop of fail­ures, Koro­taev increas­ing­ly vio­lat­ed the regime. I hung out in restau­rants until late at night and fought a lot. Once he severe­ly beat the son of the head of the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs, Niko­lai Shch­e­lokov. Oleg was for­giv­en, but a cou­ple of years lat­er he beat up a for­eign­er in a hotel and, accord­ing to rumors, took his wal­let. And this time the box­er went to prison for 5 years (drugs and a machete giv­en by Fidel Cas­tro were found at his home).

In prison, Koro­taev became close with thieves and began a life of crime. He served anoth­er sen­tence for fight­ing in 1985, but was released and quick­ly became rich. Oleg became a crime boss and went into busi­ness. No one knows what exact­ly Koro­taev was doing, but it is believed that the box­er was involved in sev­er­al orga­nized crime groups.

Emigration to the USA and death

But at some point, Koro­taev feared for his life — after a wave of mur­ders of crim­i­nal author­i­ties. One of his for­mer sports com­rades, who worked in the spe­cial ser­vices, told Koro­taev that they also want­ed to remove him. Oleg noticed the sur­veil­lance and emi­grat­ed to the USA in 1992.

There he mar­ried a sec­ond time, got legal­ized and worked as vice pres­i­dent of a trav­el com­pa­ny. At the same time, he main­tained close ties with his fam­i­ly. But the threat did not pass — on Jan­u­ary 12, 1994, Koro­taev, who left the Arbat restau­rant on Brighton Beach in New York, was shot in the back of the head.

A boxing glove was placed on Korotaev’s grave

Nei­ther per­form­ers nor cus­tomers were found. Koro­taev was buried in Moscow, at the Vagankovskoye ceme­tery. Hun­dreds of peo­ple came to the farewell cer­e­mo­ny.