Igor Yaroslavovych Vovchanchyn ( , ; born August 6, 1973) is a retired Ukrainian mixed martial artist and kickboxer, who competed in early no holds barred MMA contests. After making his professional MMA debut in 1995, he won nine openweight mixed martial arts tournaments (back when tournament format required 3 to 4 consecutive bare-knuckle fights during the same night,) 3 superfights, holds the second longest unbeaten streak in MMA (at 37 fights,) and is the second most successful MMA fighter ever by number of wins achieved by way of knockout. A stand-up striker throughout most of his career, he is widely considered one of the MMA legends, Ukrainian authorities created a MMA tournament named after him, the Igor Vovchanchyn Cup.
Vovchanchyn was born in the settlement of Fesky, in the Zolochevsky district to his father Yaroslav Iosifovich and his mother Kladiya Michaylovna. Vovchanchyn said that growing up, he caused trouble and got into street fights and different kinds of mischief. Due to his antics, there was a popular story in circulation, that whenever Igor became upset, the villagers would ring a bell in the center of town which would alarm everyone to stay in their houses until Igor calmed down. Vovchanchyn later stated that this story was just a joke, although there was a bell in the center of town. At age 17, he moved to Kharkiv and began competing in track and field, running the 100m dash and throwing the discus. Due to his love for fighting, he later moved to boxing under trainer Oleg Ermakov. In 1993, he met Eugenia Borschevskaya, general secretary of the All Eurasian Kickboxing Federation. After taking up kickboxing, he later went to Denmark to compete at the World Kickboxing Amateur Championships with the Ukrainian national team, where he became the world champion that same year. Vovchanchyn also won the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) kickboxing championship in 1994.
Mixed martial arts career
Honour of the Warrior
In late 1995, Vovchanchyn transitioned from a successful kickboxing career to MMA after being invited to participate at Honour of the Warrior in Kharkiv, Ukraine. In this 8-man tournament, Vovchanchyn knocked out his first two opponents before losing via submission to Ukrainian Sambist Andrey Besedin in the final.
International Absolute Fighting Council
He then fought a month later in a 32-man tournament, performing impressively at the inaugural International Absolute Fighting Council event in Russia, where he TKO'd Sergei Akinen before defeating Adilson Lima, a Gracie Jiu Jitsu black belt who trained with Ryan Gracie. Vovchanchyn won by knockout via soccer kick 56 seconds into the fight, but Lima's cornerman (Renzo Gracie) argued to the tournament organisers, complaining that kicks to a downed opponent were unfair and demanded an instant rematch. Unusually, an immediate rematch was granted, and the fight began again only to be stopped a second time after Lima's nose was broken by a punch, giving Vovchanchyn the win by TKO. Vovchanchyn would advance to the quarterfinal, where he would be finally submitted by Russian sambo champion Mikhail Ilyukhin.
Mr. Strongman SEKAI
With his dominant kickboxing style, he became famed for being one of the few strictly stand-up fighters to overcome grappling-based opponents, exemplified in his victory in the 8-man Mr. Strongman Sekai tournament in Minsk, Belarus on January 23, 1996.
In March 1996, Vovchanchyn fought in and won 3 different tournaments: the DNRF: Ukrainian Octagon, the UCMAL: Ukrainian No Rules Championship, and the first ever IFC event: IFC 1: Kombat in Kiev. Across these three tournaments, he won 9 fights (7 KO/TKO's and 2 submissions) with none of them going past the first round. At the IFC tournament, all three men he faced in the same night (Fred Floyd, Paul Varelans and John Dixon) weighed over 300 pounds/136 kilograms. The fight against Paul Varelans was considered one of the greatest fights in European MMA history. In attendance at this event, was former heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks, who was a 'guest of honor'.
Vovchanchyn was invited to fight at UFC 11 in September 1996, but could not participate due to visa issues as well as dissatisfaction with the offer.
World Vale Tudo Championship
Having achieved much success across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and even winning a tournament in Israel - winning 7 tournaments in total - Vovchanchyn competed in the World Vale Tudo Championship in Brazil. He won all 3 fights in one night via KO/TKO, including a brutal 14-second knockout in the final over Nick Nutter, an NCAA All-American Wrestler from Ohio State (and a teammate of Mark Coleman). Vovchanchyn won eight MMA tournaments during this stage of his career, and was considered arguably the best heavyweight in the world for several years to come.
Early PRIDE career
After winning at World Vale Tudo Championship 5, Vovchanchyn was invited to Japanese promotion PRIDE, fighting Gary Goodridge in his debut. Vovchanchyn was taken down twice by the larger Goodridge and was left behind on points, but he dominated Goodridge during the stand-up exchanges and knocked him out with two left hooks, 5:58 into the first round. Vovchanchyn returned to the World Vale Tudo Championship, winning two superfights against Aloisio Freitas Neto and Edson Carvalho. Once again in PRIDE, Vovchanchyn then fought Japanese fighter Akira Shoji. Most of the fight stayed in the standing position, with Vovchanchyn damaging a wary Shoji and throwing him down, while the Japanese circled him and lied on the mat to avoid his hits. At the end Vovchanchyn won the judges decision by damaging Shoji badly with strikes. In what was Vovchanchyn's last venture for some time outside of PRIDE, he participated in another 4-man tournament called 'InterPride' in his home country of Ukraine, winning the first fight via TKO and the final by submission. Coming back to PRIDE, he fought Carlos "CarlÃ£o" Barreto, a Carlson Gracie team member and reigning IVC Heavyweight Champion. Despite the larger height of Barreto, Vovchanchyn countered him with punches and leg kicks and shut down his takedown attempts for the first two rounds, but action was slow and often saw Barreto as the most active fighter. Come the overtime, they traded hits and Barreto managed to take Igor down, ending the fight working ground and pound on him. The decision was given to Vovchanchyn, which was met with a certain controversy. After the Barreto match, Vovchanchyn made a special appearance in K-1 for a kickboxing rules match, facing multiple champion and established star Ernesto Hoost. The format impaired Igor, who often found himself going for takedowns, while Hoost kept attacking his left leg with low kicks. At the end, the Ukrainian fighter fell down thrice due to the damage to his leg, which cost him the match by knockout. At Pride 7, Vovchanchyn faced Mark Kerr in a highly anticipated bout. Vovchanchyn knocked out Kerr with a knee to the head from a north-south position. Later, the fight was ruled a "no-contest", as knee strikes to the head of a grounded opponent was illegal.
=Unofficial #1 Heavyweight Superfight=
Vovchanchyn was next matched up with American wrestler Mark Kerr for the unofficial title of #1 heavyweight in the world. Nearly all outlets that covered mixed martial arts considered either Igor or the unbeaten two-time UFC Champion and ADCC Champion Mark Kerr as the best heavyweight and pound for pound fighter in the world. Early in the fight, Kerr cut Vovchanchyn with a knee strike to the right eye and secured several takedowns, but he was unable to pass Igor's guard or do any more significant damage. In the last round, Vovchanchyn pounced on the now-exhausted Kerr and dominated him with strikes, eventually knocking him out with a series of knees. Igor was declared the winner, but the result was later overturned and the result declared a no contest. Knees to the head of a grounded opponent in the four points position had been banned just prior to the event. This fight was also the first time Vovchanchyn's manager, Eugenia Borschevskaya, was seen in his corner.
In his next fight, Vovchanchyn fought Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Francisco Bueno. Igor knocked Bueno out with a vicious combination, Bueno literally falling face first as he was being punched in the face. This knockout is still to this day considered one of the most brutal knockouts in the history of MMA - it even prompted the promoters of K-1 to give him $1,000 cash in the locker room and propose that he fought K-1 Champion Ernesto Hoost. After this string of victories, Vovchanchyn became a huge favorite going into the Pride Grand Prix 2000.
PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix 2000
Vovchanchyn had been considered the top fighter in the sport for some years, and as commentators Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten stated, he was likely the favorite to win the tournament. In the opening round he defeated Japanese professional wrestler Alexander Otsuka by decision and, in a rematch with Gary Goodridge, decisively won by knockout in an entirely stand-up fight. He reached the final of the PRIDE 2000 Openweight Grand Prix. Vovchanchyn then faced the number one pound for pound fighter in the world, Kazushi Sakuraba of Japan, who had beaten Royce Gracie earlier that night in a 90-minute bout, the longest in recent competitive fighting history. Though Sakuraba took him down and punched him, Vovchanchyn eventually grabbed a waist lock takedown and controlled the Japanese with strikes while Sakuraba covered up. After the fight was declared a draw and needed a second round to determine a finalist, Sakuraba's corner threw in the towel as he had just fought for 105 minutes and could not physically continue. Vovchanchyn won the fight via TKO (corner stoppage) and advanced to the last round. Vovchanchyn met powerhouse American wrestler Mark Coleman in the final. Coleman had the advantage, coming into the final match, as he bypassed the semi finals after his opponent, Kazuyuki Fujita, retired due to injury. Coleman kept the visibly tired Igor on the ground, and during the second 20-minute round, finished the fight by gaining a north-south position and repeatedly kneed Vovchanchyn the head, forcing Vovchanchyn to tap out. Igor later said that Coleman was the toughest opponent he faced up to that point.
Post Grand Prix
Facing Japanese gatekeeper Daijiro Matsui at PRIDE 9, Vovchanchyn controlled the bout by sprawling and performing ground and pound on him, until the fight was stopped by eye damage on Matsui. Igor then fought Enson Inoue at PRIDE 10 in what was one of the most one sided fights in MMA history, which resulted in a doctor stoppage after the end of the 1st round. Inoue later recounted of the fight, "I sustained a broken jaw, fractured finger, perforated eardrum, swollen brain, a liver count 2000x the normal person and spent 2 days in intensive care." Vovchanchyn then faced off against Nobuhiko Takada at PRIDE 11, who was the trainer of Sakuraba and Matsui. Vovchanchyn was taken down and met leg kicks and some resistance, but he finished him on the second round via ground and pound. After three straight victories, Vovchanchyn received a rematch with Mark Kerr at PRIDE 12. Vovchanchyn's advantage in the stand up fighting was countered by Kerr's superior grappling and takedowns, and the fight was ruled a draw after two rounds. After an extra, third round, Vovchanchyn was awarded the victory via unanimous decision. Igor cited both of his fights against Mark Kerr as the most difficult wins of his career.
Although he was scheduled to face Ken Shamrock at Pride 13, Vovchancyn faced Tra Telligman, as Shamrock had sustained a neck injury 2 weeks prior to the fight. Despite Igor being able to counterstrike, Telligman surprised him with a left straight which knocked Vovchanchyn down, allowing Tra control the rest of the fight and win the decision. This was the first time Igor had been outstruck, even if it was seen as an upset. He later faced another feared striker, former RINGS Openweight champion Gilbert Yvel at PRIDE 14. However, sensing Gilbert was weaker than him on the ground, Vovchanchyn took him down, putting his sambo skills to use and choking Yvel out. Vovchanchyn would go to defeat another striker, beating world karate champion Masaaki Satake by decision at PRIDE 15. In PRIDE 17, Vovchanchyn suffered another upset when was submitted in under three minutes by Brazilian Top Team trainer Mario Sperry. After this bout, he was invited to fight at the RINGS promotion, in Lithuania. Vovchanchyn's original opponent pulled out of the event with an injury, and was replaced by a fighter who "hadn't fought for quite a while". This fighter requested that no punches be allowed in the fight, which Igor said was difficult to avoid, but won via leg kicks in the second round. He ended the year on a high note; showing great grappling expertise against Valentijn Overeem at PRIDE 18, escaping from heel hook attempts and slipping his own heel hook for the tap out, ending 2001 with a mixed record in PRIDE - going 3-2.
At the start of 2002, Vovchanchyn considered moving down to the Middleweight (205lb) division, and stated he thought he had a good chance to become a champion in that weight class. This move did not happen, and he faced Heath Herring at PRIDE 19, struggling in a fight which saw both grappling and striking from the two men, but after Herring accidentally headbutted Vovchanchyn at the third round, he was controlled by him, and judges gave the decision to Heath. Fighting Quinton Jackson would be similarly unfortunate for Vovchanchyn, as the American fighter slammed him twice, getting him submitted due to injury at PRIDE 22. After beating Bob Schrijber by submission in a Dutch promotion, Vovchanchyn faced off against Mirko Cro Cop in August 2003. Igor was knocked out via left head kick. This fight is considered a 'passing of the torch', as Vovchanchyn had split his last 8 fights in Pride with a record of 3-5 (1-3 in his last 4), and it elevated the newer striking sensation Cro Cop into an Interim Heavyweight Championship fight with AntÃ´nio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Breaking his losing streak at the start of 2004, Vovchanchyn defeated former King of the Cage Super Heavyweight champion Dan Bobish and was announced as one of the participants of PRIDE's upcoming 16-man heavyweight Grand Prix, but withdrew due to injury. Vovchanchyn went on to fight Katsuhisa Fujii at the end of the year.
Drop to Middleweight (93 kg)
In 2005, Vovchanchyn moved down a weight division - beating former Pancrase Heavyweight champion Yoshiki Takahashi. Takahashi said after the fight, "I've never been knocked out by a single punch until today, I'm still dizzy and have a headache." After this victory, he entered PRIDE's 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix. PRIDE commentator Bas Rutten believed that Vovchanchyn was a favorite to win the tournament.
=PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix 2005=
Vovchanchyn was matched against Yuki Kondo - the reigning Pancrase Light Heavyweight champion and former two-time Pancrase Openweight champion - in PRIDE Total Elimination 2005. Vovchanchyn controlled the fight, winning a unanimous decision. He then fought Alistair Overeem in the quarter finals and lost via submission. Vovchanchyn received a second chance to progress when offered a fight against Kazuhiro Nakamura in PRIDE Final Conflict 2005, with the winner earning the right to be an alternate in the finals of the tournament. After 15 minutes, Vovchanchyn lost a unanimous judges' decision in what would be his last competitive MMA fight. On his move down to the Middlweight division, Vovchanchyn said, "It's all about training. I was 93 kg only for the last two years in PRIDE when they introduced weight divisions. But actually my natural weight is around 103-104 kg. Losing weight I did't feel myself as strong as before. But 104 kg is the best weight for me and I am really comfortable about it. I felt strong, powerful, full of energy. Due to losing weight I felt lack of self-confidence. By the way the same goes for Fedor (Emelianenko), when he lost the weight, he felt out of his comfort zone. It's not about the shape and visual muscular performance but it was not his style." Regarding Vovchanchyn's weight, popular nutritionist Mike Dolce stated that he wished he could've helped Vovchanchyn drop to the 170 lb weight-class and make him the 'welterweight Fedor'. Some experts say that Vovchanchyn ideally should have fought at the Welterweight (183) division that PRIDE had, and that he was an undersized heavyweight.
Although he was rumored to fight at PRIDE 34 against Wanderlei Silva, Vovchanchyn retired at age 32, citing multiple injuries, including a right hand that remained seriously affected as of 2008.http://www.m-1global.com/lang/en/2009/05/02/m-1-exclusive-igor-vovchanchyn-life-after-pride/ It has been speculated that due to this injury, his last few performances in his career were passive. He finished his career in PRIDE with a record of 18-8 with 1 no contest, having the second most bouts in PRIDE history (27), second most wins in PRIDE history, and third most wins via KO/TKO (10). Vovchanchyn is considered one of MMA's hardest punchers, one of the best fighters in history to have never competed in the UFC, one of the greatest European mixed martial artists ever, and one of the best mixed martial artists of the 1990s. He was a top 10 heavyweight from April 1996 to January 2001 according to FightMatrix. In 2011 and in 2017, Vovchanchyn received several votes on Sherdog's 'MMA's All-Time Heavyweights' list.
Potential return to MMA
In July 2009, Vovchanchyn was linked to making his return in MMA at the Fighting Mixed Combative event in South Korea, which was scheduled for September 29, 2009. Although Jan Nortje was rumored to be his opponent, Vovchanchyn had just stated one year prior that he had no interest in fighting due to his injuries. The event took place and Igor did not appear on the card.
In September 2016, Rizin Fighting Federation CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara posted several photos on his Instagram account, showing Vovchanchyn training in his gym back in Ukraine - even hinting that he may invite Igor back to fight in Japan.
Primarily a kickboxer, Vovchanchyn based his MMA game around his punching power, which made him to be considered one of the most dangerous strikers of his time.Black Belt magazine, November 2001 His boxing utilized an ample pattern of looping punches, among them the casting punch, and he specialized in an aggressive counterpunching style in order to make up for his short reach.Black Belt magazine, January 2000 Vovchanchyn also displayed significant grappling skills, utilizing his sambo background, and would work a vicious ground and pound offense with short and hard strikes from the top. He was able to surprise many with his defensive guard and dexterity on the ground despite being known primarily as a striker, and displayed this ability against submission fighters such as Carlos Barreto, Mark Kerr and Valentijn Overeem among others. Despite his small size, Vovchanchyn was known for his toughness and strength, leading Nobuhiko Takada to call him a "strongman". Vovchanchyn would later state that his punching power and fighting skills came naturally, not because of the martial arts, even though martial arts helped him along the way.Igor Vovchanchyn, The King of Fighting, DiMarzio, Daniel, He also never invited any famous fighters to spar and train with him as he did not see the point in copying their styles.Igor Vovchanchyn, The King of Fighting, DiMarzio, Daniel, He trained with many of the same coaches his entire career.Igor Vovchanchyn, The King of Fighting, DiMarzio, Daniel, Vovchanchyn was known to take on any challenger, despite size or rules, even fighting in prison when he was not even a prisoner himself.Igor Vovchanchyn, The King of Fighting, DiMarzio, Daniel,
Vovchanchyn is married and has one daughter, named Zlata. He identifies himself as neither Russian or Ukrainian, but as a Slav. He is close friends with Fedor Emelianenko. In a 2008 interview, Vovchanchyn stated that since retiring from competition he runs a local cafe-bar called 'Champion'.
Championships and accomplishments
Mixed martial arts
Ukrainian Combat Martial Arts League
Honour of the Warrior Runner-up (1995)
Ukrainian No Rules Championship Champion (1996)
Mr. Strongman SEKAI
Mr. Strongman SEKAI Champion (1996)
Donetsk No Rules Fighting
Ukrainian Octagon Champion (1996)
Ukrainian Octagon 2 Champion (1996)
International Fighting Championship
International Fighting Championship 1 Champion (1996)
International Absolute Fighting Council
1st Absolute Fighting World Cup Pankration Champion (1997)