In a heart-to-heart male conversation, Mykola Kovalchuk told why Usyk surprised him, why Teofimo Lopez and his father are very grateful to Honduras and why he celebrated US Independence Day at Terence Crawford’s house.
– Mr. Mykola, you have been an attorney to Oleksandr Usyk. When did you start cooperation?
I was not hired as a lawyer, but I was his attorney. Also, our law firm provided him with a range of services for the registration of trademark rights, including USYK, USYK-17, LOMUS and other. We have built the right legal models of brand ownership, carried out constant systematic monitoring of infringements of Alexander’s intellectual property rights and instantly eliminated such infringements, using certain legal mechanisms. We also accompanied all his family affairs, audited transactions. Personally, as his lawyer, I audited and adjusted his boxing contracts for fights, promotional and co-promotional agreements with K2 Promotion and Matchroom Boxing of Eddie Hearn’s. I was also engaged in the multilateral negotiation of conditions of matches and much more.
I was introduced to Oleksandr by Serhiy and Tetyana Vatamanyuk, with whom we are family friends. It was Serhiy, as his coach and manager in Ukraine, who insisted that Oleksandr should have proper legal support and asked me to get involved in this process in 2017. I have a law firm with relevant competent specialists in respective fields and I am personally familiar with the sports and boxing specifics of the legal aspects. As a friend of Serhiy and a big fan of boxing, of course, I accepted this offer. Moreover, I carried out all this array of Pro Bono work, that is, for free.
– Maybe you immediately made a key mistake when you started working with Usyk under Pro Bono terms? After all, even in my head there is an idea that a qualified lawyer cannot work for free. By the way, was it your initiative, Serhiy’s or Alexander’s initiative?
We started cooperation, as I mentioned, upon the initiative of Serhiy. My friend asked me. In addition, we had to decide what the volumes would be and so on. I was also very interested in this sphere. I saw the possibility of my development as a sports lawyer, manager, because I already had the idea to do managerial and promotional activities, which I, in fact, am doing now. And I have absolutely no regrets. Moreover, I help and will continue to help many of our professionalboxers who do not yet have a steady significant income. There are close friends who help me a lot, and I help them – a kind of barter. Of course, if we have a systematic and stable cooperation, it will be only on a commercial basis. I need to keep the business of a law firm running, and sometimes I have to involve many lawyers in multitasking cases. But you’re right – Pro Bono relaxes customers and your work looks less valuable, as something self-evident and appropriate, so it’s really not the best and often ungrateful way.
– How long did your cooperation with Usyk last? How many contracts for fights were prepared?
A little more than two years. I don’t recall the exact number of contracts. Exactly all the contracts of the Super Series. The accompaniment and the process before the fight with Gassiev were especially difficult and capacious. There were a lot of points that we tried to establish in favor of Alexander, especially since he had to box in Moscow. Representatives of all 4 major boxing organizations (WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF), a representative of the Super Series, the Russian side, Egis Klimas and Alexander Krasyuk were involved in the process of agreeing on all the terms of the contract. We worked especially hard with Egis on this at the time, because there were a lot of problems failure to fulfill obligations on the side of the Russians. Moreover, all these moments arose on the eve of the match, about a week before. It was important not to unbalance Oleksandr Usyk before the fight and to solve all legal problems properly.
– What surprised Usyk? Was Alexander’s exceptional religiosity already noticeable then? Do you understand what it was grounded on?
Usyk is a nice guy in communication. He values his family very much, his children, wife and mother. Usyk is a creative personality. He does not like to delve into the routine details of processes. People like him as he is unique. That’s why his so-called hype before fights works better than with any of our boxers. Well, except that Ivan Redkach’s hype is at the same level.
Yes, he is a religious person, he goes to church every Sunday, he prays, and especially a lot before fights. This, as I understand it, is to some extent a meditation for him. He is thus even better morally balanced and approaches the fight in the right mood. Usyk enjoys religious rituals before the fight in the locker room as well. And that’s good, because it disciplines him.
– How did your relationship with Usyk’s promoter Oleksandr Krasyuk and manager Egis Klimas develop?
Relations with Oleksandr Krasyuk have developed well. He is an open-minded person and is easy to work with. Egis and I worked with Gassiev intensively before the fight, because that was Alexander’s demand. Also, upon request of Egis, a week before the fight between Hvozdyk and Stevenson for the title of world champion according to the WBC I flew and helped him with dietetics, as the famous nutritionist Alexander Foka did not receive his visa in time. So I was, as they say, the hands and eyes of Foka in the diet of Alexander Hvozdyk and achieving the required weight on the scales. I also dealt with many other organizational issues for Hvozdyk and his coach Teddy Atlas. Then I met Alexander and Teddy. Since then, we have been friends with Hvozdyk and his family and it is no longer about boxing. It is more, perhaps, based on other common interests and mutual sympathy.
– During his professional boxing career, Usyk changed 5 coaches. Were you surprised by such frequent changes?
No. As the only coach whom Alexander appreciates is Anatoliy Mykolayovych Lomachenko. This is the only authority for him and only his remarks and advice are accepted, apparently, similar to those of his father. Anatoliy Mykolayovych has always influenced Oleksandr’s training process in one way or another. I am surprised by another – the way he did it! Without any explanations, warnings and simple “thank you for your work”. James Ali Bashir still does not understand how and why this happened. Vatamanyuk has been with Alexander for 5 years in a row and worried about all the organizational details of the preparatory process, the terms of contracts for Alexander and so on. He always tried to achieve maximum benefit and comfort for Usyk. I know this because we were in touch 24 hours a day and Serhiy paid attention to even the smallest details. In short, he added work to me. And this is very correct, as I think. And so, Serhiy learned about the termination of cooperation with mass media. Almost the same thing happened to me. In the fall of 2019, the guys from Usyk’s team arrived, took all the documents, thanked us and left, without any explanations. I still do not know the reason. And the same story happened to Foka.
I will add that “The retinue plays the king!”. Therefore, no matter how talented an athlete is, he should be surrounded by professional people who will professionally close those areas of activity in which the athlete is either not competent at all, or is slightly competent. Americans often use a term that I really like, it sounds like “to add value.” Team members must strengthen the athlete. If random people do it, the respective result will take place. I always cite the example of a successful team of Vitaliy and Volodymyr Klychko! With their teams and excellent work of specialists, Vitaliy and Volodymyr have achieved and are achieving excellent results and are growing and developing further, achieving incredibly high results in everything. They always hire people who know more than they do.
– Did you introduce Usyk to nutritionist Foka? Did Alexander have problems with a nutritionist before that?
Serhiy Vatamanyuk introduced Usyk to Oleksandr Foka. And it happened almost simultaneously with the beginning of cooperation with me. Serhiy did everything to staff Usyk’s team with good and necessary specialists. And he was right. Everyone must perform their job well and the boxer should not be distracted by the details, especially in preparation for the fight. Before Foka, Usyk had no nutritionist. And all the food and weight loss happened in an “old-fashioned” manner, according to the Soviet classical scheme. Foka showed Alexander a completely new, professional scientific approach. We have all seen the results, namely, the form and functionality of Alexander in the battles with Gassiev and Bellew. Neither before nor after that Usyk has not been in a similar form.
– Foka said that it was you who introduced him to Lopez, after which he began to work with them. When did you meet Teofimo and his father?
About three years ago. He has been in constant contact with his father ever since. By the way, Teofimo is the youngest third in the genealogy of Teofimo. His grandfather Teofimo the Elder is from Spain, a native of Bilbao. His father, Teofimo Lopez, was born in Honduras, where his grandfather moved with his wife. And Teofimo the youngest was already born in the United States. Lopez, the middle son, and Lopez, the youngest son, love and respect Lopez Senior so much that the youngest son has a tattoo of his grandfather’s birthday in Roman numerals on his chest.
Another interesting story about the support of the boxing establishment of Lopez: Teofimo was discarded from the team, although he had a license and had to box for the US team. And only the government of Honduras gave him the opportunity to box for their national team, for which they are very grateful to Honduras.
“Why did Lopez sink into your heart?”
He has something that many other modern boxers do not have. It is like a reflection of the great boxers of the past: with excellent timing, cannon fire and the desire to make a show. In all fights except with Nakatani, his opponents fell, as if they were cut down. And Lopez did it beautifully. This is mostly due to his father, who is in love with boxing and constantly repeated that boxing has become very boring and he wants to bring back the past greatness of Era Ali and Mike Tyson. We met them after a fight. It turned out that the Lopez family and my close friend, the only WBC ambassador in the world, Chico Lopez, were compatriots and they had a lot of acquaintances and connections – so we became friends. The family is very decent and pleasant to talk to. Camera trash talking is just the right hype, a tool that is needed in boxing, especially in the United States to achieve certain commercial goals.
– Who would you bet on in a possible rematch of Lopez-Lomachenko?
Personally, I really do not want this fight to take place. I would like Vasyl to win all the men in the 135-pound division. Gervonta, Ryan Garcia, Haney are serious challenges for Vasyl, but he is stronger and more experienced than all of them. Either way, I would like if he went down and took all the 130-pound belts and became the absolute champion there. This is important both for Vasyl and for us, his fans. I really want and wish him these victories! Because he deserves it more than anyone else. And with Lopez – I think that the rematch will be even harder than the first time, because now Lopez has already studied Vasyl and will not be wary of him as the first time. It would be a very tough fight. It’s just that Lomachenko is no longer interesting to Lopez. For reasons known to all – financial and sports. He has someone to box with. In addition, there is a certain resentment and a principled position that the team of Vasyl or Bob Arum did not allow to include the item about the obligatory revenge that Lopez asked for.
– Do you think that Bob played on the side of Vasyl, not Teofimo?
Arum, when signing a contract for the fight, set a condition to Teofimo that if Lopez loses, his minimum reward, specified for further fights, is reduced. But if he wins (which Bob obviously didn’t believe and didn’t want to happen), the reward will increase accordingly. So all the talks about a bought fight, the disapproval of American judges is nothing more than gossip. Bob Arum was so upset after the fight that he did not even come up and shake hands with his father Teofimo and did not come to the press conference.
– And how did you become friends with one of the best boxers of today, an American, Terence Crawford?
I met Terence in 2016. We have a common hobby with him – we do dog trainings and have dogs of the same breed. However, as it turned out, I have a much more elite dog breeding (and Chico Lopez’s dogs are like a Rolls Royce in the world of dogs), and he had some stray ones. We began to communicate against this background. I just flew to the United States with my dog, and that’s how we became friends. He invited us in 2017 to his home in Omaha, Nebraska, to celebrate US Independence Day. It was unforgettable. We were in a completely different environment, unofficially, with his family, in his house, in his mother’s house. He is an incredibly simple, kind and open person. In his city, everyone knows and respects him. He adores his children (he already has six!) And spends all his free time with his family. He built a huge modern boxing and MMA halls, where both professionals and school children and students train, from which he does not charge a single fee for training. He grew up in a poor family and remembers that he did not have the opportunity to pay for the gym, so now he gives this opportunity to other children. He does not drink alcohol, does not smoke and always keeps fit. And this guy does not tend to hype and is very modest. He grew up without a father, with a mother, and was raised as a man by his uncle, who is a veteran of the US military, who served as the “seals”. By the way, Terence’s assets are managed by Warren Buffett – Warren is also from Omaha and they are compatriots.
– I saw a photo on social networks where you play chess with Crawford.
Terence loves to play chess and I ordered chess set with the Cossacks for him from Ukraine! And when we all got together in one hotel near Madison Square Garden, I had a chess tournament in which two absolute world champions in professional boxing were playing.
– Was Usyk second? Who played chess better?
Terence won that time. And I won Terence. We also took part in a charity ping-pong tournament in New York. Sasha Foka and Crawford reached the final. Sasha started to win confidently and then the organizers asked Foka to lose, because Terence had to give some prizes and money raised at the tournament to the children as the winner. And Terence twice won my billiards (Pool, American). They played for push-ups from the floor.
– If I’m not mistaken, you were even in the team of Crawford and Lopez in several fights?
Yes. Off stage, as they say. It is very interesting how differently these guys prepare and motivate themselves directly before the fight. The atmosphere is wonderful. Lopez is a monster, before leaving, he beats his arms so that the walls tremble. His father motivates him very much before the fight. Teddy Atlas also has this approach. And Crawford is always calm as a boa constrictor, just joking with his friends. They laugh, pray in a circle and he goes out and does his job.
– Now, as a lawyer, do you work with Serhiy Derevyanchenko?
We have been working with Serhiy not so long ago. We are family friends. We support legal processes on the territory of Ukraine and international transactions, we monitor the legal purity of all these steps. In the United States, Serhiy has lawyers with whom he works. He has everything very professionally set in this regard – he and his wife Irina personally delve into all the details. I am very impressed by their attitude and approach! And they are wonderful people in ordinary life.
– Who else do you work with as boxers?
I provide legal advice and contracts review to Ivan Redkach, Vlad Sirenko, Arnold Hegai, the Baysangurov brothers, Dmitry Mitrofanov, and K2 Promotion among the promotional companies.