‘I once beat the heavyweight world champion’

LAST month, one of the world’s most skilled boxers shook the heavyweight division with a masterclass destruction of Anthony Joshua in front of a packed audience at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Lukasz Wawrzyczek once beat world heavyweight champion Oleksander Usyk as an amateur Picture: ROB CURRIE. (31897604)
Lukasz Wawrzyczek once beat world heavyweight champion Oleksander Usyk as an amateur Picture: ROB CURRIE. (31897604)

Oleksandr Usyk, in only his third fight at the weight and 19th professional fight of his career, dissected a stiff-looking Joshua with precision punches, balletic footwork and elusive head movement to take the Briton’s WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts and prove why many consider him the best boxer in the world.

It would have been a shock result to some, but not to many hardcore fans who have witnessed the 34-year-old Ukrainian’s meteoric rise to the top, which included becoming the undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world. And certainly not to a long-time Jersey resident who can proudly say that he is one of the few men to put an ‘L’ on Usyk’s amazing record.

Though unbeaten as a professional, Usyk also fought prolifically as an amateur, winning an amazing 335 fights and losing just 15.

One of those losses came nearly 16 years ago in Leszno, Poland, against Łukasz Wawrzyczek, who can now be found putting locals through their paces at the LH Fitness Studio on Journeaux Street.

Beating Usyk has reignited pride in his own boxing career and Polish media outlets have also been keen to talk to him about the time he beat the master pugilist.

But he did so much more than just this one fight in a tough career that just failed to take him to the very heights of his profession. A Polish middleweight champion at both amateur and professional level, he also won the WBF International title and retired from the sport with a record of 20 wins, four losses and two draws. On top of that, Wawrzyczek fought an incredible 220 times as an amateur with just 20 losses against his name.

‘Twenty-one years in the ring,’ he says proudly, in the gym run by former Leonis boxer Dave Lund and his business partner Ben Harding, though he doesn’t have much in the way of battle scars to prove it.

‘My dream was always to go the Olympic Games. But in 2004 I was too young and then in 2006 I signed for a professional career.’

Despite the amount of time that has passed since, Wawrzyczek still remembers the Usyk fight well.

‘He was already a junior European champion,’ he says of the Ukrainian, who was less than two months shy of his 19th birthday when they met in November 2005. ‘That was his first year in the senior division and it was an international match between Poland and Ukraine.

‘It was funny because it wasn’t my weight division. As an amateur I was 69kg but they asked me if I could go up to 75kg. I was like ‘’yeah, I can go’’ and I remember he was so big and so strong.

‘I remember two rounds was really close and the national team coach came to me and said “Łukasz, one more round. If you lose this round, they will give you a draw. Please do everything that you can and win this fight’’, and I did.

‘My tactic was to attack him all of the time because he is a south paw. You need to always be first.

‘I hope that someone recorded that fight.

‘It’s funny because in the 1964 Olympic final, our Polish champion, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, fought against Muhammed Ali. He lost but for the rest of his life they always remember him because of the fight, so I reckon as long as Oleksander Usyk will be on top people will remember me because he only lost 15 times [as an amatuer] and I was one of them and the only Polish person.’

At the time, Wawrzyczek says he wouldn’t have expected Usyk to become the boxer he is today. It was only when he won the gold medal in London 2012 Olympics when he realised his true potential.

Wawrzyczek added that Joshua got his tactics all wrong against the smaller man but slightly favours Tyson Fury – should the two ever meet.

‘Fury is much bigger than Usyk. He’s a very good boxer and very clever as well.’

Wawrzyczek’s only style contrasted with the tactic he himself used against Usyk.

‘I was a counter-puncher.

‘I only had three wins by KO but I was quick and intelligent. In the ring,’ he jokes.

He was only knocked out once, against George Katsimpas in Dublin, just over a year into his pro career. ‘He broke my nose in the ninth round,’ he says, crediting Katsimpas with dishing out the hardest punch he received in his career.

One of Wawrzyczek’s fondest memories was fighting at the world-famous York Hall in Bethnal Green, the spiritual home of British boxing, when he beat Scott Jordan on points.

‘All of my fights were very tough because of my weight division,’ he explained. ‘There are lots of good boxers at middleweight.’

A career highlight was fighting against another Ukrainian, Ruslan Shchelev, previously unbeaten with a record of 10-0-0, to win the WBF International middleweight belt in front of a home crowd.

Two fights later he would win the vacant Poland middleweight title, beating Alexey Ribchev on points in his home town of Oswiecim. However, he would lose the belt in his next fight against Maciej Sulecki (15-0-0) by unaminous decision. ‘My hardest opponent,’ says Wawrzyczek.

Sulecki would go on to challenge for a world title against current champion, Demetrius Andrade, for his WBO middleweight belt, losing by decision in 2019.

Wawrzyczek, meanwhile, fought his last professional fight just over a year later, losing to Denmark’s Patrick Nielsen before returning to live in Jersey.

He first came to the Island in 2009, disillusioned with the way his professional career was being managed – and a lack of money – shortly after his fight with Jordan. He has family here and took a job at Jersey Pottery, before going to Poland the next year to reignite his boxing career with a new management team.

The 37-year-old came back to Jersey six years ago and spent five years working on construction sites before setting up his own boxing clinic, ‘Lucas Pro Boxing’.

‘It’s going well. I am bringing to Jersey my knowledge and experience. People are happy. I have a lot of clients who trust me. Some want to prepare for a fight. Some want to lose weight, some want to learn some boxing skills,’ he says.

A lot of people with mental health issues also come to see Wawrzyczek and he says he has a few kids under his wing who look up to him with the experience he has had in and out of the ring.

‘Boxing teaches a lot about respect,’ he adds. ‘Everyone tries boxing for two reasons. Self-discipline and then kids who have ADHD, like I have, sport – any sport – helps you to keep calm.

‘When I was young I was quite naughty at school, so boxing made me very tired and when I was tired I was calm.

‘I recommend everyone who has ADHD or OCD to come down here.’

He has an interest in local boxers too and was in the corner of Jersey professional fighter Danny Kennedy, now based in Australia, when he fought and beat Jordan Grannum in York Hall in 2017. But to make it he says: ‘it’s a tough business and you have to be tough.’

Watching Wawrzyczek get in the ring to begin a sparring session with two of his boxers, you can see up close just how tough you have to be.

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