PLAINS TWP. — The nerve-racking reports of strife in his troubled homeland immediately capture Anatoliy Dudchenko’s attention, the way he is quickly gaining interest from the boxing world.
But these stressful world affairs back in the Ukraine are hardly a distraction to his focus, which remains squarely inside the boxing ring.
“I fight for a better life,” Dudchenko said. “That’s why I have to win.
“I don’t have any choice.”
If he wins Saturday night - “When I win,” Dudchenko quickly corrects - against streaking Nadjib Mohammedi of France at Mohegan Sun Casino in a 12-round light heavyweight eliminator bout for the IBF’s number one contender spot, he will earn a shot at reigning light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins.
It would put Dudchenko in position to fight for a world championship.
“First, it’s the dream of my life,” Dudchenko, who is 19-2 and on a 16-bout winning streak, said. “Second, it will give me a chance to prove myself. Third, I can make money. When I have money, I can help a lot of people. Actually, that’s the first reason.”
He can’t help but notice an even bigger fight that’s happening in Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine have been involved in a tense standoff that’s persisted since March, when Russia annexed Crimea and massed troops along its border following the election of current Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko. The United States and European Union have already imposed economic sanctions on targeted individuals and firms in Russia, and NATO recently reported some of those Russian troops had been withdrawing.
But one day after Poroshenko announced he would implement a unilateral cease-fire to ease the crisis in the eastern part of his country, more violence broke out.
According to national reports, at least four Ukrainian troops died in clashes with militants Thursday and 200 militants were killed as a new Russian military buildup on the Ukraine border became obvious.
“You hear the reports, and you get four different versions,” said Dudchenko, who was born in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and has family living in Skalat, a small town of about 25,000 residents located near the Black Sea in the western part of the country. “I can’t really relax, my family’s in Skalat. I’m not a political guy. Ukraine has a lot of nice people, friendly people. It’s political right now.
“I would like it to be peaceful.”
He’s so close to gaining a piece of stardom.
Dudchenko, who has 12 knockouts including six during his last seven bouts and is now part of an exciting Main Events stable of 175-pounders, will square off with Mohammedi (35-3, 20 knockouts) in Saturday’s final and co-featured bout. They will enter the ring after USBA Atlantic Coast Region lightweight champion Karl Dragon of Philadelphia puts his 15-0 record and his title on the line in a 10-round bout against fellow Philadelphia fighter Anthony Flores (11-4-1, six knockouts) at 8 p.m.
Those fights will be shown live on NBCSN as the 19th installment of the network’s Fight Night, with live streaming to PCs, mobile devices and tablets through NBC Sports Live Extra.
And the winner of Dudchenko’s showdown with Mohammedi will earn a mandatory date with Hopkins for the IBF crown, although that doesn’t necessarily mean Hopkins will be in the ring with one of them in his next fight. The IBF may allow Hopkins some leeway as he pursues a unification title bout with current RING and WBC light-heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson.
Even with that uncertainty, some boxing experts believe Dudchenko’s big shot at boxing glory may be just around the corner.
“He’s got tremendous speed, number one,” said Jesse Reid, Dudchenko’s Hall of Fame trainer who has worked with past boxing champions such as Roger Mayweather and Hector “Macho” Camacho Sr. “He’s got a very intelligent mind. He’s extremely tall and strong for a light-heavyweight. And he can knock a building down. He can really punch. I’ve trained 25 World Champions. To me, he’s definitely world championship material.”
The 35-year-old Dudchenko believes his fabric was solidified when he met Reid in a Los Angeles gym seven years ago.
A former volleyball player and who once dabbled in kickboxing, Dudchenko decided to give boxing a try.
“I played volleyball for 15 years,” said the 6-foot-3 Dudchenko, who also drew inspiration for boxing from his wife Natalia. “Then, I’m 26, I start boxing. First fight, I win by knockout. I started to believe in myself.”
Soon after, he believed he needed help.
Working on his new sport pretty much by himself, Dudchenko won a second fight with a third-round TKO, then suffered a technical knockout at the hands of William Gill. Dudchenko still insists he was robbed while losing a split decision after recording three knockdowns but being penalized for an illegal punch as his record fell to 2-2 in 2008.
“No manager, no promoter, no trainer,” is the way Dudchenko explained it. “I came here (to the United States), I worked in construction. I’d train for a little bit, I’d go to work, then I’d train again.”
“He was trying to eat,” Reid said. “A lot of kids fall into that trap.”
But Dudchenko fell back on what he’d experienced. He went back to his old boxing gym, where he’d noticed Reid working with a number of fighters during earlier training sessions, and asked if the old master would show him the ropes of the sport.
“I helped him in his first fight, where he knocked the guy out in the first round,” Reid said. “But I went one way, he went another - he was working (a job) at the time. Then as he grew, he realized he had good training with me. He’d watched me in the gym train some of my fighters. He remembered me. The thing I like about it is, he knows he’s going to get honesty from me and I’m going to get honesty from him.”
Dudchenko hasn’t lost since.
The man nicknamed “The Gladiator” has rattled off 16 consecutive victories over the last six years, the last being an impressive 12-round decision over previously unbeaten Robert Woge in Woge’s native Germany. It was Woge’s first defeat in 14 fights, and the first time Dudchenko went more than eight rounds.
“I have a trainer now,” said Dudchenko, who is managed by Vincent Caruso of RozeBOX Sports, Inc.
Mainly, though, he is training for a fight that will make victory bells toll around the world.
“I want to help people,” Dudchenko said, adding he is gunning for wealth to spread not just in Ukraine, but “everywhere - in the U.S. I’ll try to make people healthy. It’s my dream. If you have a dream, you’re still alive. If you don’t have a dream, you’re out.
“That’s my motivation.”