It is rare to see 2 contenders fighting in the same division being coached by the same trainer at the same time. But that is exactly where unbeaten Polish heavyweight Izu Ugonoh finds himself ahead of his fight with Thomas Peato at Auckland’s Vodafone Arena on Thursday night.
In an old school tradition echoing some past greats like Cus D’Amato and Manny Steward, Coach Kevin Barry has both protégés Joseph Parker and Izu Ugonoh not just training with him but also living under his roof. ‘The only nightclub they see is the one in my living room’ quips Kevin of the situation.
It is borne from the idea that when it comes to the 5am training runs and the brutal gym sessions it is better working environment for Joseph and Izu to endure them together, working as a team. It also means an improved quality of sparring, Kevin also adding that ‘due to the very high respect they have for each other the sparring is always very intense and competitive.’
I sit down with Izu after a light workout at their Auckland hotel to elicit his thoughts on this fairly unique situation, what he hopes to achieve in his career for 2015 as well as his upcoming sparring sessions with Wladimir Klitschko and of course his fight on Thursday.
ESB: So you are fighting Thomas Peato. He is kind of unknown and he hasn’t fought a heap, I assume this fight is more important for you and Kevin to keep building the chemistry between you?
Izu: Yes. I have a job to do, I can’t be so much concerned about my opponent. I just have to show that I am capable and can execute the game plan. I think I’m on the right path, I just need to be patient.
ESB: And the advantages of having quality sparring with Joseph, day and day out?
Izu: Everything is high quality. The hard work we’re doing it’s so much easier doing it together.
ESB: At the minute he (Joseph) is kind of the star of the show and you are flying under the radar a little bit. Are you comfortable with that?
Izu: Honestly, like I said earlier I’m patient. I have high ambitions, but this is where I’m at right now. I’m just focusing on the work and getting better and better.
ESB: Is this year setting up perhaps for next year, will next year be your ‘moving’ year?
Izu: I don’t think there is a need for me to speak too much about it. I think it’s more about the fights that I make and by the end of the year I’m going to be a totally different fighter. I just need to give it time.
ESB: You’re here in NZ and you live and train in America but with your former kickboxing career plus your sister having recently won Poland’s Next Top Model competition it’s fair to say your family is fairly well known back home. Any plans to fight back there (Poland) and expand your fan base?
Izu: Yeah, I can’t say too much now but we’ve got plans. Poland is a big country and I would love to be on Polish TV with my fights and bring it back home.
ESB: I’ve read some reports and I know the etiquette is you don’t say too much about what went on in sparring, but the word that’s come out is that when you were sparring with Stiverne for his defence against Wilder you more than held your own against him. For a young up and coming fighter that must be encouraging?
Izu: Yes it was, for me honestly it built my trust in working with Kevin, that things worked so well. It made me feel very good and excited for the future. I also sparred him (Stiverne) half a year earlier before the fight with Arreola and I’m sure he noticed a big difference.
ESB: You’re also going over to spar with Klitschko in April. Have you ever been in the same room as him?
Izu: He’s a big guy, a powerful guy.
ESB: Will he be the biggest guy you’ve faced so far in either fighting or sparring?
Izu: Let me put it this way, as a kick boxer while amateur I went to Holland and sparred the best in the world, guys like Alistair Overeem and I did well. All I tried to do was bring it to them and it toughened me up, so I’m more excited for this opportunity than anything. You should want to fight and spar the best, that’s how I look at it.
Izu will fight Thomas Peato at Vodafone Vodafone Events Centre on Thursday March 5th, Auckland, New Zealand.
You can follow Izu on facebook: www.facebook.com/iugonoh