Izu Ugonoh Interview: It all starts now

Its funny how one big punch can change a career, either positively or negatively, especially in this brave new world of social media where ‘going viral’ can make or break a career. For undefeated Polish heavyweight Izu Ugonoh it was an experience in the positive providing his career with a well earned bump after a year of graft and hard work with new trainer Kevin Barry.

Just over two months ago Ugonoh ended his 13th professional fight against William Quarrie with a right hand so spectacular it blasted Quarrie out of the ring and onto the dinner plate of a ringside spectator.

So stunning was it in its execution that it went viral in a matter of hours and was subsequently viewed a staggering 2.8 million times, around the world. A great advert for an up-and-coming fighter. And although in Ugonoh’s own words he was only doing what he should’ve done against a fighter with much less ability while Ugonoh now stands on the cusp of being ranked with at least one sanctioning organization.

It will be just reward for the hardworking heavyweight who is not only in his 4th fight of the year but has also served as one of the chief sparring partners for current and former world champions Wladimir Klitschko and Bermane Stiverne respectively.

The hard work isn’t just paying off with a potential rise in rankings and movement in his career but also in Izu’s demeanour. Twelve months on from our first meeting I encounter a vastly relaxed fighter, confident in the work he is doing and the direction he is heading in. We start by discussing the knock out of William Quarrie and how it has opened some doors for him.

‘Altogether it was around 2.8 million views. I got messages in Spanish, Russian and stuff, people were posting it up. ‘

Izu at the same time remains realistic, emphasising that the William Quarrie’s of the world should be put away convincingly by a far more talented opponent and to that point he was merely doing his job. Regardless of quality, heavyweight, despite the lackadaisical landscape of the past decade, still remains one of boxings glamour divisions and this knockout has certainly opened some doors. ‘It couldn’t have worked out better for me.

It’s the type of fight that could pass by unnoticed, y’know I’m in New Zealand fighting on an undercard, but it didn’t. As long as you do your work and do your part strange things can happen.’

What was most pleasing for Ugonoh was the way the right hand was set up; a combination that he had spent many hours working on in the gym with Kevin Barry. If anything it was an affirmation that the relationship is working well and bringing results.

‘It was our fourth fight together and everything is clicking very well and I keep getting better.’

The reaction to the fight was so good in Poland that his next fight is now being televised there, a situation that certainly pleases Ugonoh, with boxing going through a particularly buoyant period in his home country. With Polish fighters performing well at light, cruiser and heavyweight, it has become a lucrative market and he is keen to enter his name into the mix. Should he get through the year undefeated, with one more potential fight possibly scheduled in New Zealand on December 5th, a fight in his native Poland looms large for 2016.

We also briefly discuss what has perhaps been Izu’s toughest opponent to date, the 6 foot 10 inch giant and evergreen veteran Julius Long whom he fought in June of this year. It was a fight that saw Izu easily dominate Long dropping him midway through the fight and almost finishing in the 8th round to cruise to a handy unanimous decision. Just over two months later Julius Long travelled over to Australia at short notice and took several rounds off the highly ranked Australian Lucas Browne. I ask Izu if his arguably better performance against Long than the more highly ranked Browne gives him cause for optimism moving forward.

‘Like you say everything is matter of perspective and now I have gained a different perspective over the past year, especially seeing how Long performed against Browne. ‘

Izu’s next assignment is Ibrahim Labaran for the interim WBA Oceania and WBO African heavyweight titles. In a sport awash with belts and straps I ask Izu from the fighter’s view as to how these types of titles can actually help a fighter’s career.

‘You need to get used to the belts, you need to get used to fighting for some sort of title at stake. It’s how you learn to cope with pressure. It also helps with rankings and it becomes a mental thing. Plus it has helped with getting my fight televised in Poland, and it does help with securing future opponents.’

Talking about Labaran, Izu remains consistent as he always has when discussing future opponents: It’s a case of not what can they do to you but what you can do to them.

‘I looked at him a little bit, he has a nice jab for instance but then I focussed more on what it is I have to do, on what my game plan is.’

Preparation for this fight has been meticulous with Ugonoh declaring this as his best camp yet, something that is easily understandable when you consider that he has had world class sparring on tap with both with stable mate Joseph Parker as well as former world champion Bermane Stiverne providing him with some tough work.

Respectfully towards Stiverne he is careful not to reveal too much other than to say he’s sure Stiverne will have noticed a big improvement in him from when they first sparred nearly a year ago. That is some statement considering those who were around the Vegas gyms at the time and witnessed his work with Stiverne came away very impressed with the Polish fighter’s work.

Should Ugonoh get past Labaran as expected it is more than likely that he will find himself with a ranking with at least one major sanctioning body. As Kevin Barry remarks to me as training is wrapping up, ‘for Izu this is where it all starts. What is happening now and moving forward is a payoff for what we have been working on for the past year.’ Looking at the way things are progressing and the confidence emanating from their camp it’s not difficult to believe him.

Izu Ugonoh 13(10)-0 faces Ibrahim Labaran 13(11)-3 at Trusts Arena, Auckland on October 15th