Aleksandr Usyk: Big man, big personality, big boxing dreams

Ukrainian cruiserweight Aleksandr Usyk gets your attention whether cracking jokes or cracking opponents with power punches.

Striking a pose, Aleksandr Usyk embraces the Southern California lifestyle with an immigrant's work ethic to back it up. Photo: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, Communities Digital News
Striking a pose, Aleksandr Usyk embraces the Southern California lifestyle with an immigrant's work ethic to back it up. Photo: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, Communities Digital News

LOS ANGELES, Calif., April 6, 2017 Ukrainian cruiserweight Aleksandr Usyk couldn’t find himself in a more foreign environment full of contrasts to his native country than in Southern California.

Duck, meet water.

Usyk is thriving under the sun, adopting the casual lifestyle outside the ring and enjoying every minute of it. Meeting with news media to preview of his upcoming bout on HBO Boxing against unbeaten American Michael Hunter (12-0, 8 KOs) Saturday, Usyk sported Gucci shades and a palm tree print Aloha shirt to go with his “what, me worry?” gap-toothed grin.

Usyk has an outsized personality to match his imposing physical presence. He expresses a liking for James Brown, Denzel Washington, and MMA athlete Nate Diaz. He enjoys his custom shoes and his Bentley.

Promoter Tom Loeffler, Aleksandr Usyk, and manager Egis Klimas at a recent Los Angeles media event. Photo: Courtesy K2 Promotions

Though the smile on his face said it all, in improving English while assisted with translation by manager Egis Klimas, Usyk said, “I love California, the weather is fantastic, it’s much easier to train here and I will continue to train here for my fights. It’s very cold in the Ukraine right now, this is much better … Running by the ocean and training in the warm weather is much better for me.” The downside for Usyk is being away from his wife and three small children, but he says they understand boxing is his job and support him.

But don’t misunderstand Usyk’s laid-back look for a lack of drive in the ring. Manager Egis Klimas said the hunger of Eastern European boxers like Usyk drives a work ethic second to none. This is the reason for their wave of success.

“They come in hungry. They come in here knowing what they want,” said Klimas. “Hard working, huge discipline because they have that in the amateurs. They come to this country and they know the opportunities what is waiting for them here. Hard work and having talent stands up.”

Usyk will appear in a tripleheader card with his fellow Ukrainian “Dream Team” boxing stars including junior lightweight pound for pound talent Vasyl Lomachenko in the main event against former super featherweight champion Jason Sosa, and light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk against Yunieski Gonzalez of Miami via Cuba rounding out the televised bouts. The three men will appear at the sold-out brand new venue, The Theater at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

The “Ukrainian Dream Team” in boxing, left to right: Aleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Photo: Mikey Williams

Usyk, Lomachenko, and Gvozdyk all train out of the same Southern California gym. It’s a happy and productive environment, and a lot of credit goes to Klimas for this.

“I have right now like maybe 15 guys at the camp. They have their own apartments, some live with families, some live without families, somebody lives, like four, five fighters at the same place. When I go at night to bed at night, I don’t have to be worried about my phone is gonna be ringing and (hear) ‘Come bail us out.’ The worse thing I can get is a phone call and say, ‘God man, I got a speeding ticket.’ Because these guys coming from Russia, Ukraine, Eastern European countries, they like fast cars and they drive fast,” Klimas laughed as Usyk sheepishly nodded his head in agreement.

Usyk’s 2012 Olympic gold medal in boxing is one of five brought home by the Ukrainian team, tied with Great Britain for the most earned. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

Usyk is the 2012 London Games gold medalist in the light heavyweight division, and a significant star in his home country, which will be watching his bout televised live at a very early hour. Usyk laughingly explained that several of his mother’s friends back in Ukraine asked if her son the big star could please move his fight later in the morning because they didn’t want to get up so early. His photo is on posters at the Kiev airport. But his goals are much bigger.

“I’m very happy to be on HBO and showcase my talents. Fighting in the United States and on HBO is something I have wanted to do since I turned professional in Ukraine,” said Usyk.“I’m working hard in camp with my new trainer Russ Amber, we’ve made some small changes and you’ll see some of them on April 8.”

Usyk’s WBO cruiserweight title is on the line, which he won in a stunning upset of Polish champion Krzysztof Glowacki, who himself won the title in an upset over longtime champion Marco Huck of Germany. “You don’t see someone with ten fights fighting the world champion in his home country and winning (the title),” said promoter Loeffler. “ This is really what launched his career. If he fights in Ukraine in the summertime, he’ll have a hero’s welcome.”

Oleksandr Usyk (right) works to the body of Thabiso Mchunu. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing
Oleksandr Usyk (right) works to the body of Thabiso Mchunu. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

Usyk’s goal is to unify all four cruiserweight titles in the future, and says he’s willing to face any of the other titles holders. Once he accomplishes this goal, he’ll consider a move to the heavyweight division. It’s a path similar to middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. Promoter Loeffler said Usyk runs up against the same problem as the Kazakh star. No one wants to face Usyk unless the stakes and the payday are worth the risk. The current titles are held by Mairis Briedis of Latvia, who upset Marco Huck to win the WBC title last Saturday; Russians Denis Lebedev (WBA), and Murat Gassiev (IBF). Gassiev trains in Big Bear, California with Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer. A fight with Gassiev is one many hardcore fans would love to see.

Usyk, who is 30 years old, would like to fight three times a year for the American public to get to know him, a formula that’s worked for Gennady Golovkin.

The cruiserweight division hasn’t received much attention in the U.S. since American Evander Holyfield was at the top. Usyk shattered Holyfield’s record for becoming a cruiserweight champion. Holyfield did it in his 12th fight, while Usyk became champion in his tenth. Usyk has the talent, drive, and the fun-loving, fan friendly personality outside the ring and the knockout power inside the ring to bring the spotlight back.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News when quoting from or linking to this story.

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