By Derek Bonnett: Ukraine, often unnecessarily preceded by the article "the", is an Eastern European state bordered by Russia, Belarus, and Poland among other nations. Much of the recent news surrounding this country has centered on the territorial disputes between Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. The fertile soils of Ukraine lend it the authority to be among the world’s largest grain exporters. However, for the purposes of this article, my focus will shift to another area of mass production Ukraine has been responsible for since the turn of the century. In spite of traditional football reigning as the national sport, the Eastern European territory has become a prominent force in the world of professional prizefighting. Ukraine has produced ten male boxing champions since 1999. Heavyweight Vitali Klitschko became the first when he won the WBO crown with a second round KO of Herbie Hide. At present, Ukraine boasts only two world champions, but a whole horde of world class competitors claim heritage from this productive land. Some of which are also previous belt holders. It is highly likely, no, a guarantee, that the number of current Ukrainian world champions will grow. As Ukraine’s national anthem asserts, "The glory and the will of Ukraine has not yet died."
The following four active boxers presently lead Ukraine’s assault on the boxing world and may not only add world title belts to the national trophy case, but also notch historical benchmarks and climb to the top of the mythical Pound for Pound ladder.
4.) Viktor Postol, 28-1-0 (12), only recently tasted his first defeat at the hands of American Terence Crawford this past July. Crawford already sat among the top ten fighters in the world today, so the defeat brought no real shame to Postol. However, the shockingly lopsided decision cost the lanky Ukrainian the WBC 140-pound title he won with relative ease against Argentine favorite Lucas Martin Matthysse, who was counted out in round ten. Postol, born in Velyka Dymerka, showed a strong beard through this particular 2015 contest as he swallowed Matthysse’s right hands without stopping to chew. His rangy, long-distance attack has surprised many and produced power when it most certainly counted. Just the year before, Postol administered a bruising defeat upon the former champion Selcuk Aydin. Postol’s chopping right hands marred the face of the Turkish fighter, but the end came via a brutal inside attack punctuated by a right uppercut. Earlier wins over Yvan Mendy, Demarcus Corley, and Henry Lundy round out a strong resume. It’s hard to imagine Postol, 32, losing to any other fighter at 140 pounds the way he lost to Crawford if at all. With no bout scheduled at this time, fans can only hope that the Ukrainian "Thin Man" gets back into the ring soon and those results steer him toward a world championship bout against Eduard Troyanovsky of Russia.
3.) Wladimir Klitschko, 64-4-0 (53), now the elder statesman of Ukraine boxing, has not fought in a year since his embarrassing title defeat to Tyson Fury last November. Klitschko, 37, has had a pair of rematches fall through in that time making it hard to gauge how far the once mighty heavyweight has fallen. Against Fury, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist looked disinterested and unable to pull the trigger, both signs of a fighter who got old in between bouts. With the added year of inactivity, who knows where Klitschko really stands or if we’ll even see him be competitive again. However, only Joe Louis owns a lengthier heavyweight title reign, so keeping Klitschko among the Ukrainian elite is a no-brainer. Klitschko has already defeated all the top heavyweights of his era and some from the new. Three of the current SecondsOut top ten heavyweights, including the default number one Alexander Povetkin, have already lost to Klitschko. Love him or hate him, the Ukraine’s jab and grab style has been effective in setting the pace for most of his title fights since 2006. His style has also been unfairly attacked, at times, as he has produced stoppages over the vast majority of his contenders including highlight reel finishes against Calvin Brock and Kubrat Pulev. Klitschko truly has been a paradox in the sport. Once a heavyweight too big for his own comfort, lacking in stamina due to his own inability to fight within himself, and unable to recover once hurt, it is amazing to measure how far Klitschko has really come. Something finally clicked in the first Samuel Peter fight, which saw the Ukrainian heavyweight get up to outlast his foe and finish stronger. That hurdle cleared, Klitschko went on to forged a Hall of Fame career in the division. With talk of an Anthony Joshua bout approaching, it is easy to dismiss Klitschko’s chances and see him off to the final stage of his career. So what. Most champions finish that way. Bring on Joshua and let them have at it.
2.) Oleksandr Usyk, 10-0-0 (9), eyes his first world title defense in just a matter of weeks. The Kiev born boxer and 2012 Olympic gold medalist takes on the formidable Thabiso Mchunu with his WBO belt on the line. Much will be learned about Usyk afterward and some might argue his number two rating is hasty, but, with Klitschko winless since April 2015, Usyk’s lofty status may not be so crazy. Last time out, Usyk easily defeated the man who beat the man. That is to say, Usyk completely outboxed Krzysztof Glowacki about year after the Polish fighter stopped Marco Huck for the WBO cruiserweight title. Usyk moves well on his feet for both defense and when on the attack. He aptly loops shots inside of his opponent’s guard when coming forward. Usyk, 29, is as spry a cruiserweight as the memory can conjure. He mixes a stiff jab in with a committed body attack, most of which was seen in his twelve round portrait against Glowacki. Prior to Glowacki there isn’t a whole lot of depth to resume of Usyk, but he has disposed of the nine men he faced without much cause for concern as expected. Mchunu will be a great test and after that we can look forward to match-ups with Denis Lebedev, Marco Huck, and, hopefully, fellow phenom, Mairis Breidis.
1.) Vasyl Lomachenko, 7-1-0 (5), is taking the world of boxing by storm. Lomachenko became a two-division champion in just seven bouts breaking Naoya Inoue’s previous mark of eight. Some already have the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist atop the heap of the world’s best boxers today. That accolade seems hasty to me, but I have no problem arguing his place among the top five. Amazingly, Lomachenko is already 6-1 in world title fights, having challenged for a world title in just his second bout. That contest ended in defeat against the wily and rough Orlando Salido, but the Ukrainian star has made up for the glitch with victories over Gary Russell Jr., Roman Martinez, and Nicholas Walters. Against these foes, Lomachenko showed a command of the ring with masterful distance, movement, and combination punches from a variety of angles. The blazing hand speed of Russell was completely negated, Martinez was left in a heap, and Walters, so befuddled, quit on his stool without ever being physically battered. Lomachenko has a very natural tendency to throw punches while advancing in on a target. Even under fire, the Ukrainian is able to slip many blows and find his way to the chest of his opponent where he then can steal a body blow. Needless to say, he’s been matched tough and has matured as a professional since the Salido defeat, which was fairly scored, but very close. A rematch with Salido would satiate a lot of critics, as great champions do avenge their defeats. However, match-ups with any number of super featherweights or lightweights are possible. I foresee a Jason Sosa bout for purposes of unification, but the big plan for Lomachenko just might be Manny Pacquiao. Bob Arum just celebrated his two thousandth boxing promotion the night Lomachenko undid Walters and he must be craving another blockbuster event in the likeness of say, Oscar De La Hoya versus Manny Pacquiao. It’s all speculative at this point, but it’s hard to not imagine Lomachenko building a Hall of Fame career before his fifteenth pro bout.
If not these exact four, Ukraine has plenty of other talents to help carry the torch. Oleksandr Gvozdyk certainly will be stepping into line following his impressive string of victories in 2016, adding Isaac Chilemba, Tommy Karpency, and Nadjib Mohammedi to his resume. Vyacheslav Glazkov laid an egg in his first world title bout against Charles Martin, but the experienced heavyweight may be able to rebound. Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, a nice-looking light heavyweight contender, is fast on the rise with a tough victory over Yunieski Gonzalez and Sullivan Barrera next on the docket. Others will follow for sure.
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November 30, 2016