By Thomas Gerbasi
The smile was a familiar one. It was the kind of ear to ear grin that you see on the face of someone who looks at the green grass of Yankee Stadium for the first time. And for Ukraine’s Ievgen Khytrov, being at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the recent Paulie Malignaggi-Zab Judah card wasn’t just a night out, but hopefully a forecast for things to come.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Khytrov through translator Max Alperovich. “It was my first time that I was present for a professional event. I only saw it on TV previously. It was very enjoyable and I can’t wait to do it myself.”
Barclays Center may have to wait, but when it comes to the pro game, the 2011 world amateur champion and 2012 Olympian will be getting down to business at Webster Hall in New York City with a debut bout against Christian Nava. It’s one of the most highly anticipated debuts in a while, one undoubtedly aided by the emergence of middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, and when you consider that as an amateur Khytrov was lauded for his heavy hands and aggressive attack, the bar has been set pretty high for the 25-year-old native of Kryvyi Rih.
For now though, it’s all about getting acclimated, not just to the pro game, but to his new home in Brooklyn. When asked about Khytrov’s arrival and adjustment to life in New York, Alperovich laughed.
“He’s been here two weeks; he just adjusted last week.”
That’s sooner than most, and though there will undoubtedly be growing pains along the way, the Ukrainian’s resolve is strong and his goals are clear.
“I came here for my pro debut and to pursue a pro career,” he said. “I want to fight in the States. The Mecca of boxing is the United States, and all the best fighters in the world live or compete here, and I want to be the best.”
Could the United States’ embracing of Golovkin, or any exciting knockout artist for that matter, have aided in that decision?
“People like knockouts, not only in the US but around the world equally,” said Khytrov. “I have the style that I have, I’m still going to work on my game, but I never look for a knockout. I look to win, and if it happens it happens. But I’m going to do my best to please the fans.”
That shouldn’t be a problem. Convincing his family that leaving home to pursue his career in the States took a little longer.
“At first they were really shocked and really against it,” he said. “It’s a foreign country with a lot to possibly lose, but at the same time a lot to possibly gain. But now, I called them back and told them everything is set, it’s a great country, and they’ve favorable now.”
Maybe it’s best for Khytrov to make this move, to get a fresh start after he left the amateur game with a bad taste in his mouth following a controversial Olympic loss to England’s Anthony Ogogo. Ogogo’s win wasn’t bad on a Roy Jones Jr. losing in the 1988 games level, but it was enough that the heavily-favored Khytrov needed some time to shake it off.
“It took me about six months to get over it,” he said. “I stopped boxing for six months, spent time with my family, and reset. Obviously it was very disappointing, and then I decided to proceed with a professional career and hopefully win all the fights by knockout and not let the judges decide.”
That’s the spirit that will make Khytrov a very popular young man in Brooklyn and throughout the US in the coming years. And with his amateur pedigree, world-class power, and renowned trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, the future looks bright. And for now, that future involves almost re-learning the sport that has been part of his life since he was a child.
“He’s training with pro fighters for the first time, and he says the system of training is a little different, but he’s very excited,” said Alperovich. “The Ukrainian school of boxing has a lot of movement, and his style was different, so he was unhappy with the training he had to do there. He’s tremendously happy with the training he has to do right now.”
Call it breaking the mold, or just deciding that the traditional ways aren’t always the right ones for him. Whatever it is, Ievgen Khytrov is here, and he plans on staying a while.
“Where I’m from in Ukraine, winning the Olympics is one of the biggest things you could possibly win, so that was my ultimate goal,” he said. “And at some point after the first unfavorable outcome of the first Olympics, I still had an idea to possibly try for the next Olympics to prove myself because I really felt like I won. But then I decided to turn pro and prove to the world that I am the best in the world.”