Friday, March 24, 2023  |


Usyk ready to represent Ukraine, Team Klimas in second U.S. appearance

Usyk stands beside his manager Egis Klimas, who has moved the Ukrainian star to Southern California to train with other Eastern European standouts in preparation for his second U.S. appearance against Michael Hunter on April 8 in Washington, D.C. Photo / Miguel Salazar

LOS ANGELES – WBO cruiserweight titleholder Aleksandr Usyk held a media luncheon at The Palm restaurant Thursday afternoon to promote his HBO-televised defense on April 8. Sitting between his promoter, Tom Loeffler (of K2 Promotions), and his manager, Egis Klimas, Usyk didn’t have much to say at times, but his message was still conveyed clear enough through his team.

“Thank you very much everybody for coming here,” said Usyk in Ukrainian after greeting reporters with a simple hello in English. “I’m very happy to see you. The good vibe is here, I’m happy, and my Californian shirt is sitting good here.”

Noticeably tanned and donning a white collared shirt decorated with tiny palm tress, Usyk fixed his collar while saying that with a grin. The 30-year-old Ukrainian, who recently moved his life to Southern California, seemed pleased with his new lifestyle, and when asked how he likes it, Usyk replied in broken English, “Yes, very like California.”

Klimas, who doubled as Usyk’s translator, spoke for his client most of the time and started the sit-down on his own accord with a thought about Aleksandr being away from his family.

“How about if he would be an astronaut flying through the space – can he take a family and the kids to the ship?” Klimas pondered. “No. The doctor that operates, can he take the kids to the operation room? So everybody is different, his family understands this is job. This is why he’s going away. He’s not going away for a long time. Only like a couple months. He fights then goes back home and is happy.”

A nimble big man who sometimes waltz’s the ring like a man on the moon and often dissects his opponent slowly with either hand, Usyk (11-0, 10 KOs) looks to defend his WBO cruiserweight belt a second time against 28-year-old U.S. Olympian Michael Hunter. The inaugural boxing event at the MGM Nation Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, is Usyk’s second consecutive bout stateside and it is sandwiched between an all-Ukrainian HBO Championship Boxing triple-header. Vasyl Lomachenko puts up his WBO junior lightweight title against Jason Sosa in the main event, and light heavyweight contender Oleksandr Gvozdyk faces Cuban fringe contender Yuniesky Gonzalez in the TV opener.

“I’m very happy HBO is showing my bout,” said Usyk. “Because a lot of times when I was fighting in Ukraine, a lot of people was asking if I would be fighting in United States pretty soon. I said, don’t worry about it – time will come – if I’m gonna be fighting in the United States, it’s gonna be on HBO.”

“This is a Ukrainian Dream Team,” exclaimed Klimas, who handles Lomachenko and Gvozdyk as well. “And we work hard, but these guys work much harder when I see them in the gym.”

World Boxing Gymnasium is what Klimas renamed the Oxnard, California gym he recently bought from Robert Garcia, and it is there that many of his imported fighters from the Eastern Bloc, Usyk included, have brought their boxing careers.

“I have right now, like maybe 15 guys at the camp,” explained Klimas. “When I go at night to bed, I don’t have to worry about my phone ringing and you know, come bail us out. The worse thing I can get – a phone call that say – man, I got a speeding ticket. Because these guys coming from Russia, Ukraine and the Eastern European countries, they like fast cars, and they drive fast.”

Before saying that, Klimas went on a tangent about some unnamed careers being ruined because of criminal acts or being stricken by the bottle. Stressing how important a disciplined lifestyle was to him, Egis even admitted that characteristic was necessary before he even bothers to sign a fighter, and that he does his research beforehand.

“When you make an omelette, and if you gonna put one raw egg into omelette, you can throw away the whole omelette,” said Klimas. “If I’m gonna bring one of the bad guys to the camp, that would be the wrong thing to do. I’m very very careful who I’m bringing. Listen, everybody knows how crazy Russia is. There is distractions in Russia probably even more than here, and I’m not saying these guys are just brilliant, I’m just talking about my camp and what I have going on.”

When it came to Usyk’s experience training here, Klimas first wanted to clear up a misconception once a reporter asked about Lomachenko’s father/trainer, Anatoly.

“Let me be clear, Anatoly Lomachenko is not Aleksandr’s trainer,” said Klimas. “Somebody made a very false statement, and I believe Mr. (James Ali) Bashir did, that he stated Anatoly Lomachenko was going to be his trainer,” said Klimas. Bashir had been in Usyk’s corner for most of his young career, but was let go shortly after his American debut last September. “He just had a feeling that Aleksandr was going to go back to Anatoly Lomachenko. But that was a completely false statement. His main trainer is Russ Anber.”

In his 10th professional bout, Usyk became the fastest to win a world title in the cruiserweight division’s history after beating Krzystof Glowacki in September 2016 – a record previously held by Evander Holyfield. Anatoly Lomacheko was in his corner during the amateurs, and was there for Usyk’s debut, so perhaps that drove the assumption from Bashir.

“If I’m gonna tell you right now about those changes, you guys going to write, and my opponent is going to know about it,” said Usyk on what kind of changes we may see on April 8 with Anber in his corner. “But we’re working on it. There is some changes – minor changes. We can’t make big changes in a short time, but yes, we’re making some changes and everything is going very good.”

Usyk’s energy couldn’t be contained as he sat there wandering the room while Klimas translated. Fidgeting with either his sunglasses or cellphone, Usyk would also play with the cameras set up in front of him. With protruding eyes that rested on a well-defined skull, Usyk had the ability to subdue with a blank glare and coddle once flashing a big smile. Someone’s phone rang during the sit-down, and Usyk couldn’t help but bop his head to the tune, and after someone sneezed, he made sure to say God bless you. Usyk is more animated than glib for the time being as he learns a new language, but he was most lively in his answers when speaking about his goal within the cruiserweight division.

“I need three more titles,” he said when someone asked about a move up to heavyweight. “It’s very important for me to have all four titles. Because everyone right now is talking, I am a champion, I am a champion, but when one guy has all four titles, there is no question who is the champion in that division. I thought about that even when I was fighting in amateurs – one day I’m gonna be a pro fighter, and I wanted to be undisputed champion.”

There wasn’t much else Usyk had to say when it came to dealings in the ring. When a reporter asked him if he was satisfied with his last performance – a technical knockout of Thabiso Mchunu – Usyk replied, “I won a fight, I’m happy.” He was also vague when it came to his April 8 opponent, but Usyk still managed to give you insight on what is going through his mind.

Hunter (12-0, 8 KOs), who is ranked No. 9 in the WBO cruiserweight rankings, hasn’t fought since last May, but the American is an accomplished amateur with plenty of ring experience including a 2012 Olympic bid for the United States. That same year, Usyk won the heavyweight gold medal for Ukraine, and it was there, he remembered, was the first and only time he had seen Michael in person.

“I saw everything that was available on YouTube and the internet, and I saw one bout at Olympic Games live,” he said. When asked what he thought of Hunter, Usyk replied in english, “I don’t think (about) Michael Hunter. Then explaining through interpretation, “I know he’s a good fighter. He beats with two hands. He’s slick. He’s undefeated. So, he’s pretty good, but I don’t think about him. I have something else in my mind. I have to think about my camp. I’m thinking about how my daughter going to school for first class this year, and I have to be with her September 1 at the school. That’s what I’m thinking about.”

Afterwards, Usyk took a few exclusive follow-up questions from, and the conversation got some good details from the Ukrainian.

“Yes, of course, it wasn’t easy to do it, but it was a necessary thing to do,” said Usyk about having to give his old trainer, James Ali Bashir, the news that he was moving on. Bashir, who spoke a lot with last September, called Usyk the best fighter he had ever trained.

“I think it’s going to be better for my style, but we will see on April 8th,” answered Usyk when given the thought if Hunter’s similar size will be better for his style than compared to his last opponent, who was much shorter than the 6-foot 3 Ukrainian.

It was learned that Usyk in Ukrainian means mustache, and asked if he’d ever like to grow one for a fight, Usyk responded, “I look old if I grow mustache.” When confronted by the fact that he doesn’t have a nickname, Usyk was asked to make one up. He came up with “USA” – which stood for, Usyk Sasha Aleksander (Sasha is short for Aleksandr).

The last question asked to him wasn’t one made to be serious, but he still managed to give an answer with sound advice. The subject was Russia, and given as how they have recently found themselves in American political headlines, Usyk wasn’t asked to speak on a political matter, but requested to give an uninformed American something they should know about the country.

“I’m from Ukraine, what do I know about Russia?,” replied Usyk. In response, this writer said that has to be impossible given Ukraine’s long history with Russia, and Usyk then admitted with a smirk, “Yes, I know about Russia.”

Usyk’s advice: “You guys need to learn on your own.”