Russian boxing trainer, Michael Kozlowski, helps the English National Boxing team prepare 2008 European Champion, Luke Campbell, and makes a 2012 Champion of Europe out of Yegor Plevako for the Ukraine!
Part II: Yegor Plevako.
Yegor Plevako’s story, in comparison with Luke Campbell is much more difficult. In the summer of 2010, when Yegor Plevako appeared for the first time in Gleason’s Gym in front of boxing trainer, Michael Kozlowski, he was a young guy who resembled a heavyweight boxer in size not skill. When asked to shadowbox, the trainer could not understand how this guy with no basic technique could’ve represented the national boxing team of Ukraine, much less become the Bronze medalist of the 2008 Youth World Championships!
Michael Kozlowski could find very little information on the Internet about the boxer, Yegor Plevako, only: ” It is a big upset that many good boxers from the Ukraine boxing team lost in the preliminary round of the World Championships, except for Yegor Plevako, the weakest on the team, who won the bronze medal…” – this explained everything to Coach Mike.
It is one thing to see that a boxer is not technically ready for serious competition, but another thing to teach it to him. Coach Mike told the Ukrainian boxer to spar with his fighter, Oleksandr “Sasha” Mamoshuk – the 2005 Under-19 USA Champion. Sasha Mamoshuk, also Ukrainian, had only been in the gym for a few weeks after a three year layoff. In the first round of the sparring, the trainer was worried that Mamoshuk would knock out his fellow countryman. But in the second round, the former USA Junior Olympic Champion got very tired as Yegor persevered, showing that he is not so easily broken. After round two, the sparring had to be stopped because Mamoshuk was so tired he could no longer lift his hands…
Yegor was very upset after the sparring and begged Coach Mike to schedule another sparring session soon, so he could have a chance to really prove himself. The second sparring match happened with a local heavy weight boxer who only had one year of boxing experience and no more than ten fights. Again, Yegor did not look good. The Ukrainian boxer lost clean. He only managed to land a few punches in the third round under pressure from the trainer who threatened to stop the sparring if he wasn’t more active…
Coach Mike, however, was impressed how is Yegor fighting in the ring with his fear and Yegor’s determination, despite his lack of skill. After the second sparring session, trainer Michael Kozlowski looked into the eyes of the boxer and said:
- Yegor, you do not even have basic boxing skills. It is not impressive that you have ten years of boxing experience, and it’s surprising that you won a bronze medal in the Youth World Championships! At this point, you are basically a walking heavy bag. The only promising thing I see in you is your desire to fight, but it is obviously not enough to become Champion! If all you want to do, is continue sparring, then I am not the trainer for you. It is necessary to spend the next two or three months working solely on technique before you spar again… So, think very carefully before you make a decision. If you continue to box in the same manner, your brain will begin to show the effects sooner than you think.
- Mike, I want to train with you, and I promise that I will do everything you tell me! – the young boxer said to the trainer with tears in his eyes…
From the first days of their training Michael Kozlowski told Yegor that he takes far too many punches.
- Yegor, you are only 19 years old, and if you do not start to learn good technique, especially good defense, by the age of 30 you will forget your mother’s name not to mention her birthday…
After a few weeks, the trainer and student had a more serious conversation:
- Yegor, you are already an adult, so you should not take offense to anything I say. You have not been gifted with fast reactions, good coordination, or quick thinking… But you are not the first and, believe me, not the last fighter to lack these qualities. Since you are a heavyweight boxer, you can still become a big Champion! But in order to do this, you must perfect your boxing technique! Over the course of the next five years, we will emphasize technique and foot work. You will “outbox” your opponents, instead of fighting them “toe-to-toe.” When you mature and your bones get stronger, you can decide to box in any style you choose…First, you need to prove to yourself and to all those “experts” in Ukraine who don’t believe you have a future in boxing, that you are a good prospect…
FOTO In the summer of 2010, the first time member of AIBA, Serik Konakbaev, saw Yegor Plevako, the new prospect from Ukraine, trainer Michael Kozlowski told his friend: ” Serik, look at this big fighter. I still can’t understand how he ever won the Bronze medal in the World Championships, but I can definitely understand why he is no longer a prospect in Ukrainian boxing…But, my instincts are telling that he has the potential to be a great heavyweight fighter!.. I will show the boxing world that, even without the support of a national team and all it’s glorified trainers, I can make this boy into a tough international level contender! I will teach him strictly by my boxing style and after one year you will see result…”
This marked the beginning of the laborious work on Yegor Plevako’s technique. Plevako, despite all his international experience, had no concept of footwork. Many weeks were spent getting him to properly time his steps with his punches. Besides that, Yegor had many problems with coordination, balance and reflexes. The Ukrainian boxer learned to jump rope correctly in America by jumping very slowly and primitively.
“You cannot jump rope more slowly than Tyson or Holyfield,” the trainer constantly reprimanded his new pupil. “You should be challenged by the big Champions and driven to do it faster and better than them !..” Besides the fact that Plevako was very slow and clumsy, Coach Mike used tons of exercises to develop the speed and dexterity of his student.
Working on the physical and mental aspects of this boxer from Ukraine was a 24 hour a day job, but Coach Mike was not mistaken about his new pupil! The persistence of the Ukrainian and meticulous training of Michael Kozlowski started to yield it’s fruits! Eventually the time came for Yegor to have a rematch with his sparring partner. From this time on, the Ukrainian boxer had many successful sparring matches with heavyweight professional boxers…
In the autumn of 2010 Plevako went home to his native gym in Ukraine, where trainers told him that he boxed worse. They told Yegor that he started moving too much in the ring… Yegor explained to them that he started to move more to hit without getting hit!
After a couple weeks at home, Plevako returned to New York to continue studying boxing with trainer Michael Kozlowski. At this point, Yegor was living in Kozlowski’s apartment, where his other problems became apparent. Yegor was naturally very lazy. He always needed to be pushed to accomplish something… He was very slow in his thinking and in his actions…The work of the trainer and the fighter started very early in the morning before Yegor’s run. At first, the boxer figured that he could take his time getting ready to run, since the trainer was asleep in the other room, .. The trainer sometimes found it easier to pretend to be sleeping, than to continually remind the sluggish pupil what to wear for his morning run. Yegor also didn’t know that he should do push ups and pull ups throughout the day, in addition to his training in the gym.
In spite of the fact that Plevako had about 10 years experience in boxing and no basic skills, trainer Michael Kozlowski realized that it was not a question of Yegor’s intelligence. He was impressed with the boxer’s appreciation of scientific literature, for example, and took it as a sign that Plevako wasn’t simpleminded. He just needed somebody to teach him and oversee his training process.
In addition to everything else, Plevako didn’t know anything about nutrition. He barely ate enough to recover from his workouts and definitely not enough to build the muscle required to be a heavyweight fighter. The trainer put him on a special diet and Yegor’s weight immediately went up. He gained solid muscle. His increased strength along with his new footwork maximized the power in his punches making Plevako a force to be reckoned with. Yegor was pleasantly surprised when his weight jumped to 100 kg !
- Mike, even when I did nothing but eat, my weight always stayed the same, but now I train twice a day and my weight goes up! I cannot believe it! – the boxer rejoiced.
Coach Mike began to prepare the Ukrainian boxer for one of the most prestigious boxing tournaments in USA, the 2011 New York Daily News Golden Gloves. The trainer wanted to test the fighter’s confidence. One of the boxing coaches in Gleason’s gym has a very talented fighter. He was a born heavyweight prospect! He was kick-boxer who sometimes trained at Gleason’s. This young prospect had only one problem: he was very lazy…But Yegor didn’t know about his next sparring partner.
Before the sparring, Coach Mike told Plevako:
- Yegor don’t worry about the overconfidence of your opponent. He wants to intimidate you with his strength and size. This will continue only until you land one good punch. Be ready to do this the from the beginning of the sparring! You have the whole first round to move around and to counter punch! You will see before the third round he get tired, and then it will be time to work on your power… -
In the first round, the Ukrainian boxer had the clear advantage. By the end of the round, Michael Kozlowski saw that Yegor’s big opponent was already tired… From the start of the second round, the American boxer started to work very dirty. He pushed and elbowed Plevako…Coach Mike interrupted the sparring to tell the American to stop fighting dirty, and at the same time told Yegor to fight dirty if his opponent continued to work in same manner…But Coach Mike’s new fighter froze up. He saw Plevako had was already dropping hands and his opponent was out for blood, so Coach Mike stopped the sparring.
It was a very serious psychological blow to Yegor Plevako. He understood that he surrendered… Trainer Michael Kozlowski was convinced that Plevako was not a true fighter, instead he is more similar in nature to his former fighters (champions) like Sergey Grigoriev and Yuri Foreman. They only do something by the force of the coach… Anyway Coach Mike was glad this happened to Yegor Plevako at an age when his character was still developing, so it’s not too late. Most importantly, they still had many weeks to prepare for the Golden Gloves where it’s possible to end up in the ring with similar opponents…
In the first fight of the New York Daily News Golden Gloves, Yegor Plevako met 2010 USA National Golden Gloves Champion, Roberto Morban.
In the semi-finals, it was a Ukrainian boxer who beat a two-time finalist of the Golden Gloves. Michael Kozlowski’s friend Serik Konakbaev was in attendance. He was in town for a meeting at the United Nations as a member of the Parliament of Kazakhstan. The greatest compliment Coach Mike received was from Serik Konakbaev.
He had not seen Plevako since the time the Ukrainian boxer just started to train with Michael Kozlowski in New York:
- Mike, I am amazed at how Yegor has changed in this time! Look at him, he is a punching machine!.. – these were the words of the great amateur Champion and now AIBA member, Serik Konakbaev.
In April 2011, Yegor Plewako became the first Ukrainian to win one of the oldest amateur tournaments in the World, the New York Daily News Golden Gloves! But even more impressively, in almost 85 years of this tournament, Yegor Plevako became the first representative of the Russian Boxing School to win the Sugar Ray Robinson Award for Most Outstanding Open Boxer of Daily News Golden Gloves 2011! He gave the trophy to his Russian American coach, Michael Kozlowski)
In the 2012 New York Golden Gloves tournament, Yegor Plevako was the obvious favorite to win…
Before the tournament began, Plevako asked Coach Mike to allow him to box in a more aggressive manner.
- Yegor, it will all depend on the opponent. Take your time, you are still mastering boxing technique. Believe me, it is easier to fight than to box. You should always have a strategic approach like Floyd Mayweather who keeps his hands up and has great defense. Look, we have worked very hard for the last two years. We cannot suddenly destroy it all! Don’t rush it! Take your time and continue to learn! – Coach Mike instructed his heavy weight prospect.
In the first fight of the 2012 New York Daily News Golden Gloves, Yegor Plevako once again faced Roberto Morban. This time Plevako crushed his opponent… In a semi-final bout, the Ukrainian boxer faced a self-confident Polish giant Wieslaw Zagaja, who boldly came into the ring claiming to stop the ‘Russian,’ since he had won by KO in his first two fights of the tournament.
Two weeks before the finals of the 2012 New York Golden Gloves, trainer Michael Kozlowski organized elite sparring for Yegor Plevako against the undefeated professional Polish giant Mariusz Wach. During four rounds of sparring, Wach never manage to land any strong blows on Plevako. He was very frustrated by Yegor’s fast movement and counter-punching. Yegor gave the professional heavy weight contender something to remember the from the sparring session – a big black eye….
Once again the Ukrainian boxer, Yegor Plevako, and his Russian-American trainer, Michael Kozlowski stepped into the ring of the famous Madison Square Garden! After the final bout, the director of the 2012 New York Daily News Golden Gloves, Brian Adams, put a second pair of Golden Gloves on the neck of the Super Heavyweight champion!..
A couple of months later, in December 2012, in Kaliningrad (Russia), representing the Ukraine National Boxing Team, Yegor Plevako won the Gold medal of the European Championships!