For years, Ukraine’s boxing successes had been defined, underpinned and underlined by the dominant Klitschko brothers. Their heavyweight reigns spanning three decades made the Eastern European country synonymous with success inside the ring, however, the depth of the wave that was to follow has been quite remarkable.
The past couple of years have seen the rise of three remarkable, talented and glory-destined fighters: Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and now, Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
I say “now”. Gvozdyk turned pro in 2014 after striking bronze at the London 2012 Olympics in a competitive light-heavyweight division; it is now that the 31-year-old is looking to join his former amateur teammates in picking up a world title this weekend as he faces Adonis ‘Superman’ Stevenson in Quebec.
This trio of Ukrainian talent - now finding their professional peaks in unison - have astounding numbers to fall back on. A combined number of 951 amateur wins is countered by just 46 defeats; nine world titles (including Ring Magazine belts) have so far been won between Lomachenko and Usyk, with Gvozdyk looking to make it ten on Saturday night.
It’s a big ask, but one that ‘The Nail’ is confident in accomplishing as he steps into the ring with the 41-year-old WBC champion. Stevenson (31-1-1) is looking to make the tenth defence of his green and gold strap after coming off of a draw against Badou Jack in May.
Gvozdyk is favoured with the bookmakers coming into the fight as a -188 favourite in comparison to the champion at +150; after Stevenson’s draw with Jack earlier this year, the consensus seems to be that his time is up defending his crown at 175lbs, with the technical abilities of the challenger unlikely to be troubled by the southpaw titlist.
Gvozdyk and his team are confident coming into their maiden world title venture. Outpointing Mehdi Amar in March earlier this year for the interim strap was fully expected, with the three-time national Ukrainian amateur champion refusing to acknowledge this as a success. Joining Lomachenko and Usyk as world champions (without excluding Artem Dalakian - WBA flyweight champion) would cap off a momentous year inside the squared circle for their troubled nation.
Speaking to the media ahead of Saturday’s card - which Showtime will use as a lead-in to the Wilder-Fury fight - Gvozdyk reiterated his desires come fight night, alluding to a feeling of destiny.
”My entire career has prepared me for this fight. I have wanted to fight for a world title for a very long time, and the opportunity is finally here. Stevenson is a great champion, but his time is up.”
”It doesn’t matter to me where I fight. The Canadian fans will boo me when I enter the ring, but the boos will turn to cheers after I show them what I am made of”
The challenger also referred to the major change in his corner for this fight. Teddy Atlas replaced trainer Marco Contreras for this camp, with both parties happy with the change.
”Teddy Atlas has been a great addition to my team. He has motivated me throughout camp to become the best version of ‘The Nail.’ I won’t divulge any secrets, but you will see what Teddy has added to my arsenal on Saturday night. I have one of the greatest trainers in the history of boxing, so I’m very confident. We have a good strategy. We had an excellent training camp and I’m ready. Adonis is a great fighter. He’s a dangerous southpaw and this is a real step up for me, but it’s my time.”
A win on Saturday night would be a huge step forward in the career of Oleksandr Gvozdyk, opening a new chapter in this Ukrainian story, whilst simultaneously closing Stevenson’s. He has the pedigree, he possesses the artillery; he passes the eye-test.
It’s unfortunate that this bout will be overshadowed by the heavyweight antics at the Staples Center this weekend. The light-heavys are fast becoming the most attractive weight class in the sport, with calls for the WBSS to force the unifications in 2019 by including them in the next season. Win or lose on Saturday night, Gvozdyk will be a huge part of the 175lbs conversation in 2019.