OLEKSANDR USYK has revealed how he nearly died as a child and was taught to fight with a knife.
The 36-year-old currently holds the WBA (Super), IBF, and WBO heavyweight world titles after defeating Anthony Joshua for a second time in August.
ReutersOleksandr Usyk says he nearly died as a child due to pneumonia[/caption]
The OverlapHe revealed all about his childhood to Gary Neville on The Overlap[/caption]
He is now closing in on a mega unification bout with Tyson Fury, the WBC champion, with talks still ongoing.
The Gypsy King, 34, has been in discussions with the Ukrainian’s team ever since he successfully defended his WBC crown against Derek Chisora in December.
A clash in Saudi Arabia appeared to be the most likely location for the bout – which would see all four world heavyweight titles on the line.
But a failure to secure a site fee in the Middle East has left them looking at Wembley on April 29 instead.
That showdown would cap an incredible journey for Usyk, who only turned pro aged 26 after a grounding that included 350 amateur fights.
In 2012, he won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics – a year after he achieved the same feat at the World Championships.
However, it wasn’t always so easy for the man nicknamed The Cat, who was born in Ukraine’s Crimea region in the city of Simferopol in 1987, and immediately was thrust into a life where his only release was sport.
Usyk said: “When I was in year two at school, I got really ill – I had serious pneumonia. It was very bad. The doctor even told my mum that I might not survive.
“That illness lasted for a year. I’d spend two months in hospital, then two weeks at home, or a month in hospital then go home for a week.
“So, I went back and forth. So, from then, my grandma always took me to church and I found it interesting, I liked watching the service.
“I also liked the smell of frankincense. I would study the place carefully. I could pray alone.
“My family weren’t particularly religious, they didn’t really go to church.”
Usyk continued: “I also started doing press-ups, squats and running. That’s how my sporting journey started.
“There wasn’t much to do in the village and the only thing we had was football.
“So, I played football, rode horses, swam and improved my endurance by pouring cold water over me.
“But when we returned to Crimea in 2002 I started playing for a professional football team.
“I played with them until my father passed away, God rest his soul. He was the one who always motivated and forced me to train and study.
ReutersTyson Fury and the Ukrainian are trying to set-up a unification fight[/caption]
“Everything I have now is down to him. He put so much into me, taught me about priorities in life, which are family, sport and education.
“He was a military man, by the way. My mum hated it when he taught me how to fight with a knife. She’d shout ‘Sasha, he’ll grow up to be a criminal, what are you doing?’
“He’d be like ‘Get away, if he knows how to do it, he will never use it on others but when he needs to protect someone, that’s when he’ll use it.’”
Now Usyk will be trying to cut down Fury’s unbeaten record if the two do eventually agree terms for the huge unification bout.
He said: “I just need this fight and that’s it. I think he needs it, too.
“This fight is very important for both of us because all four belts haven’t been held by one person for 30 years in the heavyweight division. So, both of us need this fight.
“This will be like any other fight. It’s just a big man who has never lost before against a man who has the WBC belt.
“Of course, it’s possible to get carried away but actually, this is a normal fight for the right to win all belts.
“If a person is bigger than me, it doesn’t mean that they are stronger. If they have longer arms, it doesn’t mean that it will be an advantage.
“I’ve been boxing since I was 15-years-old. During this time I have heard many opinions from people that I know well or from people that I’ve met just once.
Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk – Date, live stream, TV channel and all you need to know about heavyweight bout
“They kept telling me that I shouldn’t be boxing, they told me that I wouldn’t become an Olympic champion or a world champion and that I shouldn’t have switched to the heavyweight division.
“But these were opinions from people who couldn’t do it themselves. Personally, I keep praying and moving forward.
“I don’t worry about whether I will reach my destination. It’s like a samurai – he doesn’t have an aim, but he has his path, I have my path too.
“It started from birth and it will take me to wherever God decides. Only God knows how long I’m supposed to live. I don’t think about it.
“I’m trying to live in the best possible way. I try not to harm anyone and help others whenever possible.”
With his country still in the middle of a war with invading Russia, Usyk added: “I’m not boxing for the belt now. I’m boxing for everyone who is defending our country right now and in the memory of those warriors who are no longer with us.
“Also, for all those who want to be free and who stood for their country against those who came to conquer us.”