- Oleksandr Usyk, one of the best fighters on the planet, wants Business Insider to spread the word that the secret to his country’s success in boxing is eating “pork fat.”
- Usyk told us this with a grin, causing his translator to laugh, meaning he is likely only trying to sabotage the diets of his rivals.
- Business Insider also spoke to executives and fight promoters to understand why Ukraine has become a force in world boxing in the last 10 years.
- We were told that it is a combination of “tough people,” the strategies of Ukraine boxing coach “Papachenko,” and an influx of government funding into amateur boxing in that country.
- One of Ukraine’s top fighters Vasyl Lomachenko fights Saturday, taking on the English lightweight Luke Campbell in London.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Oleksandr Usyk is trying to sabotage the diets of his boxing rivals by mischievously telling Business Insider to spread the word that the secret to Ukraine’s success in the sport is because they “eat a lot of pork fat.”
Usyk is one of the best fighters on the planet. A European, world, and Olympic gold medal-winning amateur, it was not long before Usyk transferred his success in the unpaid ranks into the professional circuit, winning a world cruiserweight title in only his 10th bout in 2016.
Within two years Usyk had beaten many of the top cruiserweights, winning all the major titles in the division, as well as the World Boxing Super Series final and the Muhammad Ali trophy.
He has now left cruiserweight behind and is expected to make his heavyweight debut later in the year. But he is not the only Ukrainian to dominate at the highest echelon of the sport.
Vasyl Lomachenko has been called “the greatest fighter since Floyd Mayweather,” and defends his world lightweight titles against Luke Campbell at the 02 Arena in London on Saturday.
Business Insider asked many of the people involved in the Lomachenko vs. Campbell fight why Ukraine has emerged as a fighting powerhouse in the last decade.
Through a translator, and talking with a grin on his face, Usyk told us, “that’s a secret … a national secret of Ukraine.”
The translator then started laughing, before saying Usyk had said: “We eat a lot of pork fat. Other countries with good amateur programs like Cuba have no fat, no pork fat. But even if they did, they’d never get strong because they are not Ukrainians.”
Usyk put his hand on our shoulder, looked us in the eye, and said: “Pork fat … remember that.”
Government funding helped Ukrainian boxing flourish
Adam Smith, the head of boxing at Sky Sports, gave Business Insider an alternative answer. “Why are they so successful? They train doggedly hard. A lot of them are southpaws. They’re extremely light on their feet. And they control the ring really well. Those are the keys to success as an amateur but also the transformation into being a pro.”
Brad Jacobs, the chief operating officer at Las Vegas fight firm Top Rank, which promotes Lomachenko, told us there is another obvious answer — someone athletes affectionately call “Papachenko.”
That is the nickname given to Anatoliy Lomachenko, who trains the unbeaten light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Usyk, the Ukraine amateur boxing team, and, of course, his son Vasyl.
Anatoliy Lomachenko’s methods are unconventional, and he often avoids the limelight. When his son was a child, he withdrew him from boxing training and instead put him in dance classes for more than a year to improve his footwork, before putting him back into boxing as an improved fighter.
“Lomachenko’s father is an incredible coach, trainer, mentor,” Jacobs told Business Insider. “He’s really ultimately responsible for the success of these fighters.”
Eddie Hearn, the group managing director of Matchroom Sport, which promotes Lomachenko’s opponent Campbell, says there’s also been an influx of government funding into the sport, which helped amateur boxing in Ukraine flourish.
“The background and pedigree is very tough,” Hearn told Business Insider. “You’ve got a great trainer in Papachenko, as he’s called there.
“Everywhere just goes through cycles. It’s not this new phase coming out the Eastern bloc, they’ve always been there, but the investment from the government into amateur boxing has meant that those fighters become a lot more apparent and those fighters have better funding and can go into all these tournaments and win them.
“You’ve got two guys in Usyk and Lomachenko who are probably top three pound-for-pound in the world, both of them. Then you’ve got Gvozdyk, the light heavyweight, another great fighter who is going to be unifying against Artur Beterbiev later in the year. And other fighters coming through from that territory as well.
“They train hard, they’re tough people.”
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