What Oleksandr Usyk can’t say
Athletes are often asked – in fact, they ask themselves – “How bad do you want it?”
It’s as if desire could be quantified. The truth is, that’s an empty question that usually elicits empty answers. The athlete usually understands their role in this exchange: to pass by as quickly and graciously as possible, providing a typically glassy reaction like That means the world to me or that’s what I’ve dreamed of since I was a child.
Desire cannot be calibrated with words. It also doesn’t come out with a soundtrack meant to sell sneakers or sports drinks. Still, the empty question prompts the honest athlete to ask a real question:
Did I really kill myself training for this?
How much pain have I taken for the cause?
Desire is consistent with motivation and shows in training. And with that in mind, there’s actually a pretty accurate way to gauge how badly Oleksandr Usyk would want to keep the three heavyweight belts he won from Anthony Joshua in their rematch on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Usyk’s career is unprecedented. He is the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Olympic champion and the last man to defeat the much feared Artur Beterbiev. But in preparation for this fight, he’s done things he’s never done before. Namely:
Swim 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in a five-hour workout.
100 kilometers of cycling in 110 degrees heat, a desert hike outside of Dubai, where he did most of his training.
He held his breath for four minutes and 40 seconds, a personal best that also breaks the record held by friend and stablemate Vasiliy Lomachenko, who held his breath for just 4:20 in preparation for one of his two Olympic gold medals.
Did I mention there’s a war? And that Usyk – from Kyiv via Crimea – has become a proxy for the hopes of his Ukrainian compatriots?
So, yes, you can tell Usyk wants it really bad. Still, to say so much almost demeans the thing itself. Finally, here is a fight that should defy description as war. And yet it is a metaphor that many Ukrainians like to invoke.
Usyk was scanned for a video game in London when the Russians invaded. Tens of millions were at stake in the rematch against Joshua, but he hastily returned home, crossing the border through Poland and joining his local militia. Despite all the political zeal, it was a decision to at least take a big risk. Usyk has three children (all now safe in Europe, including the daughter who turned 12 on the day of the bombing) – enough to earn him an exemption from military service. At the time, most military and political analysts — who appear to know nothing about sportswriters — took Kiev’s case for granted.
“I lost 10 pounds in the first month of the war,” Usyk told The Guardian’s Donald McCrae. “Every day that I was there, I prayed and asked, ‘Please God, don’t let anyone try to kill me. Please don’t let anyone shoot me.
But then Kyiv survived. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (whom Usyk recently praised) recognized that good PR was a boon in the struggle to procure ammunition and supplies from the West. And Usyk visited wounded soldiers in a hospital in Lviv.
“As soon as they saw him, they started clapping and cheering him on,” says Usyk’s manager Egis Klimas. “They said, ‘Please, please, you don’t have to be here. We will fight, you go.’ In fact, it was a wounded soldier who convinced Usyk to “leave the country and fight back”.
I ask Klimas if he was there. he laughs at me
“We spoke on the phone,” he says. “You won’t find my ass there.”
Klimas is a boxing manager and three-time manager of the year. He’s built an empire signing the best talent from the former Eastern Bloc nations – not just Usyk, but Lomachenko, Sergey Kovalev, Evgeny Gradovich and WBO interim middleweight champion Janibek Alimkhanuly. He doesn’t measure himself by desire, but by what he gets for his clients — the struggles and money he once had precious little of, just $42 when he first arrived in Seattle 33 years ago. But he gets irritated with the war questions, which inevitably lack nuance. Most fighters from the former Soviet republics avoid these questions entirely, fearing that something might get lost in translation and endanger someone at home.
Still, I find myself incapable Not Ask about the pressure Usyk is under.
Klimas, who served in the Soviet Army before emigrating from his native Lithuania, finally admits angrily: “It’s a lot of pressure, okay? It’s pressure from Ukraine, from the government. It’s pressure from Russia. It’s pressure from the British.”
From the British? I ask.
“I get emails about someone trying to poison [Usyk] In the locker room.”
Irrational people, he argues, as opposed to purely rational governments.
Still, Usyk did his part by wearing Ukrainian colors or traditional Cossack costumes. If the Saudis had been as good at sponsoring fights as they were at sourcing them, perhaps more people in the States would have gotten his message: that his desire to win for his god and motherland aligns with a new physique to be Promoter vs. One has “Cyborg” and the ability to not breathe for 280 seconds.
Most recently, he negotiated a deal to ensure the fight can be watched for free at home in Ukraine. That is Trust.
In addition, it informs the Ukrainian desire to have him fight in the midst of the war. Since 1996, Ukraine has won 15 Olympic medals and produced eight professional champions. In this still young century, Usyk is the third heavyweight champion of Ukraine. In other words, you can hold your breath for as long as you want, but they’re pretty good at it.
https://www.espn.com/boxing/story/_/id/34420507/what-oleksandr-usyk-say-ahead-anthony-joshua-rematch What Oleksandr Usyk can’t say