Saturday, 24 July 2010

Igor Vovchanchyn - Lethal Weapon of the North


This artlicle was featured in the July 2010 issue of Fighters Magazine.

Pride FC truly gave the mma community some of the most subliminal moments in combat sport history. Anybody who was fortunate to witness Pride at its apex can usually recount a selection of encounters with a certain degree of fondness. The larger than life nature of the Godzilla culture seemed to combine perfectly with warrior spirit that Pride’s fighters seemed to embody. They truly were the world warriors; more Street Fighter 2 than street fighters.

After Zuffa bought out Pride and quickly began stripping the assets it was clear that times had changed. Dana negotiated, both successfully and unsuccessfully, with the fighters he was interested in and once the dust had settled all that was left was memories. The legacy of Pride FC still lives on today as we see fighters who once fought there still an active part of the mma landscape.

The likes of Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, Quinton Jackson, the Nogueira brothers and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic have all had varying degrees of success in the UFC. The enigma that is Fedor Emelianenko continues to defeat all who face him and evade the grasp of Dana and the Fertittas whereas others like Alistair Overeem fight between Dream and Strikeforce.

Of all of the fighters who fought under the Pride banner there were few who commanded the respect of fighters, fans and analysts alike quite like Igor “Ice Cold” Vovchanchyn.

Igor Yaroslavovich Vovchanchyn was born in Zolochiv, Ukraine on August 6, 1973. As an adolescent Igor quickly showed athletic potential but struggled to find the right avenues to channel it. It became urban legend that Igor’s temper was so fierce that whenever he was in a bad mood the local villagers would ring a church bell to warn people about the danger of confronting him.

Igor was initially interested in track events but when he became involved in kickboxing it became apparent he had enormous potential. The young Vovchanchyn was a natural fighter and was able to harness his incredible power, often with devastating consequences. He soon became the Russian Kickboxing champion amassing an impressive 61-2 fight record which helped to build his growing reputation as “The Ukraine Freight Train”.

1995 would prove to be a pivotal year in the career of Vovchanchyn. The UFC had bought mixed martial arts into the mainstream consciousness and the rest of the world was quick to capitalise on this exposure. Coming off winning the world kickboxing championships in Moscow, Igor would make his mixed martial arts debut at UCMAL – Warrior’s Honour 1 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Igor would make his mma debut against grappler Alexander Mandrik and would claim his first victory just 3 minutes into the first round as a barrage of punches resulted in a quick tap out. He would make it to the final of that tournament but was eventually submitted by Andrei Besedin. Igor would go on to develop his ground fighting skills as his career progressed but his first love would always be his legendary punching power.

Igor was able to rack up a huge number of wins in these early tournament events, often fighting three or even four times in one night. At the inaugural Absolute Fighting Championships event he was drawn to fight Gracie black belt Adilson Lima. The fight would last less than a minute as Igor won by a soccer kick but Lima’s corner men argued that kicks to downed opponents were unfair and began demanding an immediate rematch. Lima and Vovchanchyn both agreed to this rematch and the officials granted this request and the two would fight again. Lima lasted nearly two minutes this time but suffered a broken nose and the Igor was given the win by TKO. In the final bout of this competition Igor would lose to Mikhail Illoukhine but it would prove to be a temporary setback as he began on one of the longest winning streaks in mixed martial arts history.

For the next 3 years Igor Vovchanchyn continued to fight and improve but more importantly he continued to win and impress. He would compete in several of the multi fight tournaments that he had originally cut his teeth in and would fight anyone that the organizers could put in front of him all with the same result. It seemed nobody could stop him.

Following on from winning the World Vale Tudo Championships in late 1998 Igor received an invitation to fight in Japan for a newly launched promotion that was clearly picking up momentum. He duly accepted and made his debut for Pride FC against UFC veteran Gary Goodridge. Both fighters had stand up pedigree but it was the wrestling prowess of Goodridge that allowed him to dictate the pace of the fight initially as he scored two good takedowns. Vovchanchyn showed good composure in the face of such adversity and when the two were stood back up was able to land a shot that rattled his opponent. Goodridge looked out on his feet and it was all he could do to cover up while Vovchanchyn forced the stoppage with an onslaught of strikes.

Igor became an instant favourite in Japan and was quickly dubbed “Ice Cold” for his in ring demeanour. He would go on to defeat Akira Shoji, Carlos Barreto and Mark Kerr but the fight with Kerr was declared a no contest as it was won by knees to the head of a grounded opponent which had recently been illegalised. The fans were enamoured by Igor’s fights but they were yet to see him unleash his full destructive potential. His next fight against Francisco Bueno would give the fans and the highlight reel makers something to talk about. Bueno clearly respected the punching power of his foe and looked to circle away at every opportunity. Vovchanchyn threw an overhand right which put the lights out in a hurry and his foe fell lifelessly to the canvas, the dictionary definition of ‘out before he hit the floor’.

This explosive form earned Igor an invitation the 2000 Pride Grand Prix which he went into as a favourite. Igor defeated Japanese fighter Alexander Otsuka in the qualifying rounds and was drawn to fight Gary Goodridge at the next Pride event. The quarter finals, semis and the final would all take place on the same night. This was a concern to some fighters but was clearly not a problem to Vovchanchyn who had fought in numerous tournaments all over the world.

Igor would defeat Gary Goodridge once again by TKO and would also force Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba’s corner to throw in the towel which would book his place in the finals. These lengthy fights, however, had clearly taken a toll on Igor. He made his way to the finals to fight UFC champion Mark Coleman who had received a bye in the semi finals due to an injury. Coleman looked the fresher fighter and was able to wear Igor down and score a win in the second round with a TKO victory. It marked the end of a phenomenal winning streak as it was the first time that Vovchanchyn had been defeated in over 4 years but it proved to be merely the start of his career with Pride FC.

Igor’s next fight would be only 5 weeks after his epic battle at the Grand Prix as he took on Daijiro Matsui. Vovchanchyn would force a doctor’s stoppage in the first round and over the next 5 years would fight for Pride on no less than 15 occasions defeating the likes of Valentijn Overeem, Gilbert Yvel, Mark Kerr and Japanese legend Nobuhiko Takada.

In 2005 it would be another Pride tournament that would attract the attention of the Ukranian. He made the cut to 205lbs to fight in the middleweight grand prix. Vovchanchyn looked a different fighter at a lighter weight and many speculated that if he could retain his knockout power he would truly be a force to be reckoned with. He was matched up with Pancrase and UFC veteran Yuki Kondo at Pride Total Elimination 2005. It was a back and forth contest but Igor was able to take a much deserved unanimous decision victory.

The fans were happy to see Vovchanchyn win and his match up with Dutch kick boxer Alistair Overeem was eagerly anticipated. In a fight of two seasoned strikers it was ironic that it would finish on a submission as Overeem wrapped up his trademark guillotine for a quick win. Vovchanchyn was clearly disappointed with his performance and jumped at the chance to fight for the position of alternate in the finals of the event. It would prove to be his last fight for Pride as he dropped a unanimous decision to Kazuhiro Nakamura bowing out of the organisation and also the sport.

Igor Vovchanchyn retired at the age of 32 with an impressive 49-10-1 record and the admiration of mixed martial arts fans all over the world. After his retirement there were a lot of rumours about his return and when Zuffa acquired Pride it added more fuel to the fire. Igor was adamant however that he would not return, a long career of fighting in the early days of the sport had left him with several injuries.

Sure I think about it every once in a while but the main problem is the injuries. I can’t even strike with my right hand; I’ve got 3 screws in my right elbow and one in my left.

To long time fans of the sport the name of Igor Vovchanchyn will always be synonymous with explosive knockouts and the ice cold attitude that he took to all his fights. Over his career he fought the very best in the world and left a trail of destruction in his wake that few will ever forget.

2 comments:

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