Saturday, August 19, 2017

Q&A: Oleksandr Gvozdyk

At the age of 30, Oleksandr "The Nail" Gvozdyk finds himself on the brink of boxing stardom. A former bronze medal winner in the 2012 Olympics, Gvozdyk has rocketed up the light heavyweight rankings in just 13 fights, 11 of which he has won by stoppage. In his last two bouts, Gvozdyk has turned heads by forcing longtime contender Isaac Chilemba to retire on his stool and knocking out rugged Yunieski Gonzalez in just three rounds. 

On Saturday, Gvozdyk fights Craig Baker in the co-feature bout of the Crawford-Indongo card. It's supposed to be a showcase bout for the Ukrainian fighter (who now lives and trains in Oxnard, California), as Baker was stopped in three rounds in his last step-up fight against Edwin Rodriguez. Nevertheless, Gvozdyk isn't taking Baker, or any opponent for that matter, for granted. 

Gvozdyk's placement on Saturday's card indicates how highly Top Rank, his promoter, believes in his ability. Gvozdyk doesn't have a local fan base in Nebraska and isn't yet a reliable TV ratings draw but Top Rank wants Gvozdyk in front of a national ESPN audience; they are giving him the push. Top Rank believes that they have a future star in the making. 

Throughout the fight week, Gvozdyk has impressed all who have spoken with him. Intelligent and cerebral, Gvozdyk often gives unexpected and surprising answers to even the most rote questions. I had a chance to catch up with him yesterday while he was enjoying a meal after the weigh-in. Below is the interview:

First of all, where did the nickname "Nail" come from?

That's actually a translation of my last name from Russian. 

Did you always know that you wanted to get into boxing?

No, the first time I came to a boxing gym at 10 years old I just wanted to get stronger, feel more confident on the streets and with my classmates at school.

At what point in time did you think, “I can really succeed at this?”

Maybe after a couple of months. My old trainer – I don’t know why he said this – but he said I could be champion of Europe. So it motivated me. After a couple of more years, I started dreaming about the Olympic Games. Honestly, after the Olympics, I was thinking about retiring and working somewhere at a regular job. But all of the sudden, [Vasyl] Lomachenko signed a contract with Top Rank and introduced me to Egis [Klimas, who is now Gvozdyk's manager] and I turned pro.

You had a really competitive amateur environment in the Ukraine. Can you describe that era, when you were competing with so many young, hungry fighters who were trying to get to the top?

It was really a great Olympic team in 2012. Unofficially, we were in first place with the most medals. The credit for it should go to Lomachenko’s father [Anatoly]. He built the team. He made the team. He was a mentor for us. Officially, we had a head coach for the team. But in reality, everyone understands that Lomachenko’s father [was behind the success]. Maybe it was him and maybe it just happened that a lot of top boxers gathered at one time in the same place.

You often hear discussions about the Cuban boxing school. With the success of Ukraine in the amateurs, is there such a thing as the Ukrainian boxing school? Is there something unique to Ukrainian amateur boxing?

It’s not really the Ukrainian school. It’s really still the Soviet school. All the post-Soviet countries kind of have a similar school. Everyone knows that the Soviet Union school was really good, really tough. What we have right now is the heritage of the Soviet Union school.

Your last fight against Yunieski Gonzalez was thought to be a measuring stick for where you were in your career. It turned out to be a much easier fight for you than many thought it would be. What were your expectations for that match heading into the ring?

I think my opinion was the same as other people’s opinion. I was expecting a really big challenge in that fight. I was counting on it going the distance and it being a difficult fight. All of the sudden, I got him with a good left hook. I realized that it was a very good opportunity to finish the fight so why go the full distance when I can finish him off.

What are your predictions for your fight this weekend against Craig Baker?

I never like to do predictions for my fights or before anybody else fights. Boxing is an unpredictable sport because everyone can hit and everyone can get hit. I hope I can give a good performance on Saturday. I think my opponent is a really decent fighter and I disagree with the opinion that he should be a big underdog. He’s hungry. He can surprise you in unexpected moments. So I’m ready 100%. I’m ready to go the whole distance. If I could finish him before, that would be a bonus for me but I’m ready to go the distance.

If you go on to beat Baker, who are some fighters at 175 lbs. that you’d like to fight over the next six-to-twelve months?

My goal is to be a world champion. We know who the world champions are. I don’t want to look past my opponent. Let’s wait to see what happens and then we’ll discuss it.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of 
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

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