Meeting at a cosy restaurant opposite the National Opera in Kyiv – a place he likes for its cultural vibe – Usyk immediately comes across as calm, collected, and strikingly erudite.

The boxer has returned from Gdansk, Poland where on Sept. 17 he defeated previously unbeaten Polish boxer Krzysztof Glowacki in a 12-round unanimous decision, which established Usyk as the new WBO cruiserweight world champion.

“We aimed high (with Glowacki) for just my 10th fight,” says the boxer confidently, but with no sign of smugness.

“But from my very first professional fight, my team and I have set targets that are not easy.”
At the age of 29, Oleksandr Usyk has fought 10 professional fights, winning all of them, and around 300 amateur fights.


He has been a national celebrity since performing a celebratory Ukrainian gopak dance after winning a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. His Cossack hairstyle, worn during and after the Olympics, and his overt patriotism won him a special place in many Ukrainian hearts.

Way to success

But that success didn’t come easily. Crimea-born Usyk started boxing at the age of 15 when his father suggested he try out the sport. The future champion already did some wrestling and hand-to-hand combat training, so it seemed a logical next move.

But after Usyk lost his very first fight, he started thinking that boxing might not be his thing. His trainer told him not to treat it as a failure, but try again instead. His father and his friends also supported him.

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“So I carried on and on. And things started working out,” Usyk said.

Another difficult moment in his career came when, during the World Championship finale in Baku, he was fighting an Azerbaijani boxer – and an extremely partisan crowd of spectators.

That, and other experiences, has helped Usyk develop a thick skin. He says he’s now used to criticism and people trying to give him a hard time – which still happens. A couple of months ago the boxer was slammed in the Ukrainian media for responding “Crimea is Crimea” to a question whether Crimea was Russian or Ukrainian – for many patriotic Ukrainians he went from a hero into an enemy overnight.


“You know, it does hurt a little,” says the champion, “but people just feel hurt and lied to in general, so (such reactions) are probably a form of defense for them. In the end, being a patriot doesn’t mean hating everybody other than your country.”

“It’s easy to love humanity, but we need to learn to love our neighbors.”


It’s only been a few days since Usyk won the WBO, so he is still on a well-deserved break, but the boxer says he is itching to get back into training in the end of September. His favorite place to train is Bukovel, a ski resort in western Ukraine. Usyk loves the facilities there, along with the breathtaking mountain and forest landscapes.

Oleksandr Usyk sits for an interview with the Kyiv Post on Sept. 20 in Kyiv, only two days after winning a WBO title in Poland. (Volodymyr Petrov)

When the boxer is preparing for a fight, his typical training day begins at 6 a.m. with an 8-10.5-kilometer run. The next training session normally takes place at midday – either weight lifting or a cardio workout. The main training happens in the evening, comprising punch bag or punching mitt workouts.


After 3-4 weeks of intensive three-times-a-day workouts, the sparring begins. The boxer’s training sessions then start at 10 a.m. or later, with sparring training done closer to the usual fight time (around 8 p.m.), so that the body gets used to working at night.

After a fight, good nutrition, vitamins, massages, sauna and other procedures help Usyk recover.


Midway through our conversation the boxer talks of his family’s recent move from his hometown – Simferopol in Crimea – to Kyiv. His older son can now come to his training sessions to watch him, and his daughter Liza comes too sometimes.

“When they’re closer to me I feel more content, and my soul is fulfilled,” Usyk says.

Usyk and his wife Yekaterina have three children, the youngest one being just eight-month-old, but the boxer says he would like to have two more. His three-year-old son Kyrylo is too young to understand what his father’s job is, but likes to play with Usyk’s boxing equipment. A six-year-old Liza watches all his fights and supports him.

When Usyk got a foot injury in March which forced him to cancel his fight with Stephen Simmons, Liza video called him and demanded authoritatively to see his foot.


Usyk’s favorite pastime is walking with his family in Shevchenko Park in Kyiv, and visiting theaters and the dolphinarium together.

Usyk likes to read educational, religious and psychology literature. He speaks highly of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, whom he always admired – and not just for his sporting achievements, he says.

“A boxer becomes great not through fighting technique or records,” Usyk says, “but through what they say and what they do.”

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