Its Sunday midday in Auckland at the Pullman hotel and the brassiere/bar is going crazy, well at least moderately crazy as heavyweight contenders Izu Ugonoh and Joseph Parker have just watched underdog Tyson Fury dethrone Wladimir Klitschko to end his decade long reign atop the heavyweight mountain.
At this moment Izu is just a regular fight fan as he turns to me in excitement and remarks, ‘see that’s what I love about boxing, as I tell you anything can happen!’
It is a statement that could well sum up his own career, 2015 has been a big year for the Polish native, fighting 5 times in 12 months, while steadily moving up from 6 to 8 to now 10 round bouts.
He also now owns a highlight reel stoppage of William Quarrie while rounding off a busy 12 months now recently ranked number 15 by the WBO and poised to sign a contract to star in next year’s Polish version of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’
It would definitely be fair to say that in Izu’s case boxing really can take you anywhere.
But before he can unlace his gloves and put up his dancing shoes Izu must first get past Mexican Vicente Sandez on December 5th, a fight that you’d expect a promising heavyweight like Ugonoh to achieve with a minimum of fuss, but you never know as in Izu’s own words, in boxing anything can happen.
ESB: Congratulations on now being ranked number 15 with the WBO. What goes through the mind of a fighter when they finally see themselves ranked by an organization?
Izu: It hasn’t happened by chance and it was a stated goal at the start of the year. Talking to my trainer Kevin (Barry) he is like a professor and everything he said would happen has happened. It’s down to hard work, simple as that. And now we have Polish TV on board.
ESB: Does it also get a little bit addictive seeing your ranking move higher? You now want to see yourself ranked by more than one organization? How hard is it to keep in the moment and stick to one step at a time?
Izu: You know what? I try to look at it in a way that I am capable of seeing myself in these places. You visualize it happening before you actually get there, so that when you get there it seems more natural. But I have to see and believe it first. It is painful to get to these places, (laughs)
ESB: Do you also start to visualize how fights with the guys ahead of you in the rankings may play out?
Izu: Honestly I try not to look ahead at specific people too much. Obviously we watch the fights of all the major heavyweights, we do analyze them, but on the other hand I’ve already had the opportunity to work with some of the top heavyweights in the world, Joe of course, but also Bermaine Stiverne and Wladimir Klitschko, so it makes getting to something like number 15 with the WBO a more natural process.
ESB: And knowing Kevin Barry has taken the likes of David Tua all the way from a contender to fighting for the heavyweight title must give you some confidence as far as building your own career is concerned?
Izu: He certainly knows what he is doing, he is a very hard working and well organized person. Put it this way, I like to surround myself with people who are beasts (laughs) and he is a beast at what he does.
ESB: Vicente Sandez, he may well be the only Mexican heavyweight you ever fight! He fought Charles Martin last time, what do you know about Sandez?
Izu: I saw his fight with Edmund Gerber and we have developed a fairly simple strategy for this fight. One that we have practiced many times.
ESB: What technical elements are you wanting to develop in your game?
Izu: The right hand will always be there but the jab, there is so much that can flow off that. I like to throw combinations, the left hook is a nice punch I like to land. I’ve been working hard on my body shots, I have to commit to those more. The tougher the opponents will get the more strategic I am going to have to be, moving forward.
ESB: We’ve talked a lot about relaxation in the past. Do you find that coming more naturally now due to the amount of time you’ve spent working with Kevin?
IZU: Yeah that’s one part, but I’m now so much more relaxed in my day-to-day life. I’m not putting so much pressure on myself these days, I’ve found my way.
ESB: And all the hard work you’ve put in this year is leading to you potentially headlining your own shows in Poland next year?
Izu: It’s going to be easier for me, I’ve been supportive of Joe, I’m happy for him but at the same time I’ve been putting in all this hard work for exactly these types of opportunities for myself as well.
ESB: Such as ‘Dancing with the Stars?’
Izu: I’m not 100% sure of the schedule right now because all I’m concentrating on is my next fight. But let me tell you this, we as a team we will put a very detailed schedule in place to work around it. It is huge show in Poland and doors will open from it. That is the reality.
ESB: Now I know your sister won ‘Poland’s next Top Model.’ Has she thrown out the challenge yet for you to win your show, after all the family is currently sitting at 100% success rate for winning reality shows?
Izu: No none of that. Yes I am competitive but it is more about having fun. The way I look at it the more I have fun the longer I will stay in the competition.
ESB: Which is kind of a strategy in itself?
Izu: (Laughs) Yeah OK you got me there.
ESB: I’m sure you know the old maxim of ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it.’ So in a sense are you and Kevin a little worried about changing what has been a winning formula or is the opportunity of the dancing show just too good to pass up as far as getting your name recognized goes?
Izu: No I’m not worried simply because Kevin is so good at planning. I’m excited more than anything. Training for boxing will remain in Vegas and I will be following a strict workout and diet regimen while I’m on the show.
ESB: You know Floyd Mayweather was on it in America but he didn’t win. So you have the chance of doing something that he couldn’t.
Izu: Let me tell you one thing, the question is what is the purpose? What is the goal of going on this show? To increase my profile, this is why it’s being done.
ESB: But you definitely want to keep the momentum you’ve currently got going with your boxing career?
Izu: Yes exactly, Kevin and I will sit down and work out a schedule that will mean I can continue to fight. I hope to fight in Poland, do the dancing show and then maybe end next year with a big fight in Poland.
ESB: So you’ll be mainly based in Poland next year?
Izu: Well yeah, that is what I think so far but as you know things can change quickly and I don’t like to predict too much. But remember what I said to you before at the start of the year, we’ll be having a totally different conversation at the end of the year. We set the goals to move up to 8 and 10 round fights, we achieved that. We wanted to be ranked and we have achieved that and now my fights are being shown in Poland so we have achieved that. We’re in a good place right now.
And after looking at the year Izu has had it would be hard to argue with him. If 2015 got the ball rolling for him expect 2016 to be very much his breakthrough year as he looks to emulate fellow stable mate Joseph Parker and break into the top 15 of several other ranking organizations. And don’t be surprised if the ultra competitive Izu also wins a certain dancing competition in Poland next year as well. After all, it’s in the family DNA.
Izu Ugonoh 14(11)-0 faces Vicente Sandez 15(10)-5 at Claudelands Arena, Hamilton on December 5th.