Thabiso Mchunu, December 2016, WKO9
Egis Klimas asked me to come on board with Oleksandr Usyk after I’d been part of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s team for several fights. The first time I worked with Usyk I wrapped his hands and was the cut man for his WBO cruiserweight title fight against Thabiso Mchunu. It was an excellent performance by Usyk. He stopped Mchunu late and made a real statement.
Something else that really stuck in my mind from that evening is that it was the night that Bernard Hopkins got hit through the ropes by Joe Smith Jr. I remember getting up on the ring apron during the Usyk fight and realising there was hardly any room to stand. The ropes were so far back there was virtually no room to spare on the apron at all. I also remember how loose the ropes were. As I touched them they were so floppy. I remember turning to James Bashir Ali who was training Usyk at the time and saying: ‘yo, these ropes are really loose, we gotta be careful here. Usyk has to watch out whenever he goes on to the ropes.’
Sure enough, down went Hopkins later that night and he fell straight out of the ring. That really was a dismal excuse for a ring in California that night!
Michael Hunter, April 2017, W12
Before the Hunter fight, Egis asked me if I would act as Usyk’s lead trainer, which was a real honour. I loved training him and feel I brought something extra to this already very gifted guy for this fight. One of the things that I loved about training Usyk was that he was so responsive and very open to ideas and suggestions. He would always try out the things I talked to him about. Our partnership worked as well because Usyk’s performance against Hunter was a really good one, particularly when you bear in mind how solid and well schooled Hunter is. No one really gives him much credit but Hunter is an excellent fighter: However Usyk put on a hard-fought yet dominating performance and a very impressive display.
Marco Huck, September 2017, WTKO10
After being head trainer for the Hunter fight I thought maybe it would be the start of a long term arrangement with Usyk but for his next fight he decided to train again in the Ukraine which sort of put me out of the picture in terms of being head trainer. Although my time as Usyk’s head trainer was short lived I really loved it and ever since I’ve been ever present in his corner, which has been another real honour.
Anyway, for the Huck fight Usyk was now training in Ukraine with Serhiy Vatamanyuk. Usyk and I would talk on WhatsApp and FaceTime and although I felt sad I couldn’t be there in camp with him, it was still great to be a part of the team after we all met up in Germany for the fight.
Something I remember really well is that at one of the media events in fight week – possibly the weigh-in or possibly the final press conference – Usyk and Huck faced off and Huck with two hands shoved him in the chest and pushed him backwards.
Everyone was thinking: ‘oh shit! What’s gonna happen next?’ But Usyk stayed super cool. All he did was smile, lift his finger and shake it at Huck as though admonishing a child. It was like he was saying: ‘no, no Marco, you just wait!’
That was brilliant psychology by Usyk and he put on a very convincing performance against Huck. This fight was a perfect illustration of the fact that although Usyk is a great talent it’s the sheer pressure he puts on that breaks fighters.
Against Huck he was like a runaway train that just would not stop moving and in the end – inevitably – Huck basically collapsed under the pressure. Sure the punches Usyk hit him with were hard and hurt him but it was the constant pressure that destroyed him. Usyk just kept coming and coming and Huck couldn’t keep Usyk off him. In the end the pressure crushed him.
Mairis Briedis, January 2018, WMD
I love Riga. This was my second visit to the city and I absolutely love that town and Latvia – everything about it was sensational from the hotel to the food to the pool hall! Going to work for Usyk against Briedis felt like going home, that’s how comfortable I felt there.
The atmosphere that night was incredible and it was a hell of a tough fight. That fight exposed more flaws in Usyk than I’d ever seen before and in retrospect I realise that maybe we all underestimated Mairis Briedis. He was a far better fighter than anyone in the boxing world had given him credit for. I too underestimated just how good this kid was.
Time has shown that Briedis is a quality operator and he gave Usyk easily his toughest fight to date. It was a majority decision to Usyk and I thought he won the fight but it was a close fight. I think Usyk landed the better shots as the fight went in and shaded it but Briedis fought a great fight.
Murat Gassiev, July 2018, WUD
I love Gassiev. He’s a great fighter with devastating power. He’s trained by Abel Sanchez so you know he’s bringing the hardware as well as having dynamite in his fists because those are the sort of fighters Abel likes.
But I was very confident going into this fight. Everybody thought it would be a close fight but I always felt that stylistically Gassiev was perfect for Usyk and that’s how it played out. Gassiev was always going to be dogged and determined but I knew that Usyk would have the answers. I was in camp for this fight along with Papachenko who had Usyk working with a lot of bigger guys who put him under the kind of pressure that we felt Gassiev would bring.
Usyk was fighting in Russia of course – just as he fought in Latvia against Briedis and Germany against Huck – but I never had any worries or concerns that he wouldn’t get past Gassiev.
It was a great night – a memorable night. On a personal level, the fact both fighters wore Rival gloves was an extra honour and source of pride for me. On top of that, to be in the corner of the first man to win the World Boxing Super Series was amazing – and a feat I repeated when I was in Callum Smith’s corner in September the same year when he beat George Groves to become the second WBSS winner. That’s a record no one can ever take away from me!
Tony Bellew, November 2018, WTKO8
This fight gave me a very different perspective on the British boxing scene. Previously, most of the times I’d been at fights in Britain over the years I’d been in the corner of the hometown fighter – whether it was for Liam Beefy Smith or his brother Callum or whoever. So I was used to being treated well, having the crowd on our side and so on.
Suddenly here I was for the Bellew fight walking out and I suddenly realised: hang on, we’re the enemy now! And boy the verbal tirade and the profanity we were subjected to in Manchester was really something else! I remember thinking: ‘holy smoke, I’ve never heard anything like this!’
The fans had had their share of pints by the time of the main event the time and I had flashbacks of the scenes of crowd unrest at Marvin Hagker vs Alan Minter and I was thinking to myself: ‘oh shit, where are we going to hide if something goes wrong?’
Anyway it was a great fight. Bellew is a great competitor and tried everything he could to catch Usyk. But at the end of the day Usyk was just that level above him. Yes, Bellew won some rounds but you just sensed that even when Usyk lost a round he was still winning the war of attrition. He was making Bellew expend so much energy, he was draining him. Usyk was controlling the pace even in the rounds he lost and in the end – of course – he landed a crushing shot which ended the fight – one of the most beautiful shots Usyk has ever thrown.
Chazz Witherspoon, October 2019, WRTD7
This was Usyk’s heavyweight debut but it was a low key fight in many ways. Witherspoon was a last minute replacement and as such It didn’t generate the excitement of Usyk’s previous few fights. It took place in Chicago and locally the fight didn’t really mean anything. Witherspoon is a decent enough fighter but he isn’t a Chicago guy so that big fight vibe wasn’t really there.
Usyk did what he had to do and won, but his greater challenges at heavyweight were still to come.
Derek Chisora, October 2020, WUD
In many ways this fight was a surreal experience. It was Usyk’s first real test at heavyweight but it took place during Covid so there were no fans in attendance. I remember Anthony Joshua being sat on one side of the ring and being very calm and silent, while Tony Bellew was on the other side of the ring screaming incessantly for 36 minutes urging Chisora on!
Chisora was a good test for Usyk in terms of showing him what the heavyweight division was going to be like. The lack of atmosphere was strange of course, but Usyk got the win in a good, action-packed fight, in which he proved that he has an incredible engine and that he can keep going and going and going.
Anthony Joshua, September 2021, WUD
This fight was, without doubt, one of the most memorable of my many nights working in boxing – it has to be up there near the top – after all it’s not every day you’re in the winning corner when the world heavyweight championship changes hands! It was a pretty good feeling! An electric night, which was so far removed from the stale, behind closed doors atmosphere we had during Covid.
This was a fight that – in many ways – summed up the experience of the British boxing scene at its best with a packed house in attendance making tremendous noise.
What some people are forgetting about the fight is that after about eight rounds the cards were just about even. Despite Usyk’s early dominance AJ found a way to get a toe-hold in the fight before Usyk pulled away over the last third of the fight.
It was a great fight and at times AJ was very competitive. Before the scorecards were read out I was even a little scared and nervous about what the judges may have decided because when you’re in the UK you can never be sure! But thankfully two of the three judges were pretty fair and the right man got the win.
On a personal level, I was also delighted with my work in the corner that night as cut-man. A lot of people didn’t realise it at the time – or even after the fight – but Usyk suffered a potentially devastating cut in round nine or ten above his right eye. The cut ran north to south, up and down rather than across – which is the worst sort of cut to deal with. After the fight it needed three stitches inside the cut and seven on the outside, which gives you some idea how severe it was.
Thankfully, I dealt with it quickly – I dried the wound, got the adrenaline on it, put pressure on and added the vaseline and it didn’t prove a factor in the outcome of the fight.