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Who is Ihor Vovchanchyn, whom Oleksandr Usyk will play in film with Dwayne Johnson?

13 June, 2024 Thursday
17:00

In 2025, Smashing mashine will be released in theaters, starring boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk as MMA fighter Ihor Vovchanchyn, and Dwayne Johnson as the main character Mark Kerr, an American whose defeat by the Ukrainian had irreversible consequences in his life

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Content

  1. First steps in sports
  2. Kickboxing and the fight with Vitali Klitschko
  3. Transition to mixed martial arts
  4. UFC and world fame in PRIDE
  5. Fights that are being made into a movie with Usyk and Fast and Furious star Johnson
  6. Life after sports, war, volunteering

First steps in sports

Ihor Vovchanchyn was born in the village of Fesky, then Zolochiv district in the Kharkiv region, in 1973. By his own admission, he used to fight a lot as a child and was a hooligan. 

"When I was a kid, I was always fighting. I was eating and fighting, sleeping and fighting. I fought at home, on the street, in class. The school principal pulled me by the ears more than once. "Vovchanchyn," he would shout, "what do you think you're doing?" Vovchanchyn recalls. 

As it happens in such cases, sports turned out to be the best way to channel the boy's energy. In the first or second grade, he played soccer, then track and field. He ran sprints, threw the shot put and threw the discus. In the latter two strength disciplines, he reached the level of a first-class athlete. This was the base that helped him achieve success in big sports in the future. 

Vovchanchyn began practicing martial arts after entering a vocational school, when he joined a boxing section in Kharkiv. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a real boom in the popularity of martial arts, which the future champion became interested in.  

"Tapes appeared, all the video stores were packed, everyone was sitting and watching. Everyone wanted to be like Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. I used to box and watch these movies all the time. I wanted to be like their heroes," Vovchanchyn recalled. 

                                                                                                                               Photo: Getty Images

Kickboxing and the fight with Vitali Klitschko

On this wave, Vovchanchyn accepted an invitation to try kickboxing. 

He compensated for his small height of 173 cm and arm span for his explosiveness and powerful, knockout punch. 

At the age of 20, Ihor Vovchanchyn achieved his first major success and became the IAKSA (International Amateur Kickboxing Sports Association) world champion in Denmark.

In total, Vovchanchyn won 61 fights in kickboxing, winning 48 by knockout and suffering two defeats. One of them was inflicted on him by future boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who also competed in kickboxing at the start of his professional career. 

"I lost on points. We met in Sevastopol.  Vitali was already an experienced kickboxer, a multiple world champion. I fought in the 85 kg category, Klitschko - up to 105 kg. Back then, everything was possible. I was, of course, small compared to Vitali. When he started swinging his legs, I couldn't even get close to him during the whole fight," Vovchanchyn said in an interview with the Champion. 

                                                                                                                           Photo: vovchanchyn.com

Transition to mixed martial arts

It was only the next step in Ihor Vovchanchyn's career that he turned to mixed martial arts. At that time, they were in their infancy, literally "fights without rules" and bore little resemblance to modern mixed martial arts (MMA). Opponents fought without gloves, could deliver knees to the head, punches to the back of the head, and headbutts. And the tournaments were held outside of weight categories in the format of "eights," when a fighter had to win three victories in one evening to win.   

Vovchanchyn became a true MMA legend in such brutal conditions. The Ukrainian was nicknamed Ice Cold for his ability to remain calm in any situation. 

He made his mixed martial arts debut in October 1995 at the Warrior's Honor tournament in Kharkiv and immediately won two victories. However, in the finals he lost to another Ukrainian, Andrii Besedin, who specialized in sambo and judo and won by painful submission. It was then that Ihor Vovchanchyn realized that striking techniques alone were not enough to succeed in MMA and began to improve his wrestling skills.  

                                                                                                                                       Photo: gettyimages

UFC and world fame in PRIDE

The Ukrainian progressed rapidly and in 1996 received an invitation to fight in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). However, the Ukrainian was unable to compete in what is now the world's most prestigious mixed martial arts promotion due to problems with his American visa.  

Vovchanchyn became world famous for his performances in PRIDE, an organization that held fights in Japan. The Ukrainian became a favorite of the local public due to the spectacular fights in which he managed to overcome much heavier and taller opponents. From 1996 to 2000, Vovchanchyn went on a 36-fight unbeaten streak, and in total, according to the Sherdog statistical portal, he won 56 of his 67 fights in MMA. 

The Ukrainian fought such famous fighters as Croatian Mirko Filipovic, Dutchman Alistair Overeem, Americans Mark Coleman, Quinton Jackson and Mark Kerr.  

Fights that are being made into a movie with Usyk and Fast and Furious star Johnson

It was the two fights between Vovchanchyn and Kerr that became the subject of the movie "Smashing Machine," which tells the story of the career and difficult fate of the US fighter. The Ukrainian defeated his previously invincible opponent twice. In September 1999, Vovchanchyn defeated Kerr by technical knockout, but the result of the fight was later canceled. The Ukrainian explained that the rules were changing at the time, and Pride 7 was the first tournament to ban kicking or kneeing an opponent who was on the ground. Therefore, a few extra strikes at the end of the match cost Vovchanchyn an official victory. 

The rivals met for the second time in December 2000. The first two rounds did not reveal a winner, but in the additional 5-minute period, Vovchanchyn won by unanimous decision of the judges.

The Ukrainian stated that after two unsuccessful fights against him, Mark Kerr's career and life went downhill. He began to suffer one defeat after another and plunged into problems with injuries and drugs. The US fighter retired from the sport only in 2009 and lost 11 of his last 15 fights. 
 

Five years ago, it became known that Kerr had been suffering from peripheral neuropathy since 2016, which causes pain, muscle weakness, and numbness that interfere with movement.

Life after sports, war, volunteering

Ihor Vovchanchyn himself also ended his career due to health problems. He did so very early in his career - at the age of 32 - because of problems with his previously broken right arm. The Ukrainian fought his last match in August 2005 and lost to Japanese Kazuhiro Nakamura. 

After that, there were talks for a long time about Ihor Vovchanchyn's return to mixed martial arts, but it never happened. However, sport continues to be an important part of the MMA legend's life. He opened the Igor Vovchanchyn Sports Club in Kharkiv. Even in the face of constant Russian shelling, the gym is open, children attend a martial arts school, and there are boxing, kickboxing, and hand-to-hand combat sections. 

"The year 2014 really made me realize who the Russians are and how we, Ukrainians, differ from them. And after February 24, 2022, this gap became gigantic," says Vovchanchyn.

Since 2014, the famous athlete has been volunteering and helping the military and internally displaced persons. After the outbreak of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine, Ihor Vovchanchyn, his daughter and wife stayed in Kharkiv and even served in the ranks of the territory defense for some time. He founded his own charitable foundation, which sent 7 pickup trucks to the front in May alone. Vovchanchyn also has his own cafe, where 200 free meals a day were prepared for the needy during the most difficult months of the war for Kharkiv residents.

Ihor Vovchanchyn is known to mixed martial arts fans around the world, is a living legend of MMA and deserves to be better known in Ukraine. The Hollywood movie "Smashing Machine" starring Oleksandr Usyk as a Ukrainian martial arts legend will certainly help to increase his popularity. We just have to wait for the premiere, but until the movie is released, you should at least watch the best moments of Vovchanchyn's fights. They are worth it.

Ihor Vovchanchyn (in blue jacket) and Denys Berinchyk (second from left) Photo: instagram.com/vovchanchin_igor 

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