Izuagbe Ugonoh set to Make his Mark against Dominic Breazeale: A Conversation with Trainer Kevin Barry
By: Eric Lunger
Live on FOX this Saturday night in Birmingham, Alabama, charismatic American heavyweight Deontay Wilder will make his fifth defense of the WBC championship belt against unbeaten Gerald Washington.The PBC card is stacked from top to bottom, but I am excited about the heavyweight clash between Dominic Breazeale (17-1, 15 KOss) and Izuagbe Ugonoh (17-0, 14 KOs). Even for a global sport like boxing, Izu, as he is known, has made a fascinating journey to reach this moment at the Legacy Arena. His parents emigrated from Nigeria to Poland, where Izu was born. After graduating from Jędrzej Śniadecki University School of Physical Education in Gdansk, Izu embarked on a successful kickboxing career, making the transition to boxing in 2010.
Ugonoh caught the eye of veteran trainer Kevin Barry in 2013, while sparring in Las Vegas withheavyweight prospect Joseph Parker of New Zealand. Parker captured his first world title in December of last year, and Barry hopes to bring Ugonoh along the same path. Boxinginsider.com caught up withKevinon Thursday, and hespoke about his relationship with this remarkable athletewho is about to lace up the gloves for the biggest fight of his career.
Barry met Ugonoh fortuitously, as he was searching for sparring partners for Joseph Parker: “In my early days with Parker, we were traveling around various gyms in Las Vegas sparring anyone we could possibly get some ring time with, and I heard that Izu was training with Kenny Adams. I rang Kenny and went over there, Joe and Izu sparred six rounds, and it was probably some of the best work we had in Vegas. We came away with the thought: we’ve got to get more of this;this kid can really fight!”
It didn’t take long for Barry to connect with the Polish-born fighter: “that went on for about six sparring sessions, and during that time we built up a bit of a rapport with him. As it worked out, both Joe and Izu were helping Bermane [Stiverne] prepare for Chris Arreola, and we became even closer friends. Things weren’t really working out for Izu; I think he had moved around about five different trainers, I believe that he just wasn’t happy. He came to me and asked, ‘would I be interested in working with him?’ It was my second year with Joe Parker, and Joe was living in my house. I didn’t want anything to interfere with the chemistry that we had going, so I sat down with Joe and I sat down with Izu. In the end, in October of 2014, I took Izu to New Zealand, and fought him down there. Then in November of 2014, I moved him into my house with my family and Joe.”
Barry brought Ugonoh along carefully: “we had five fights down there [in New Zealand] in 2014, and then five fights in 2015.” Ugonoh’s pace slowed down last year with two bouts, a fourth round TKO of Ricardo Ramirez and a second round stoppage most recently of Gregory Tony.
Barry is pleased with Izu’s progress: “he has waited very patiently for this opportunity. The last two years, he’s been fighting well within himself, he’s been learning his craft, becoming a better, more well-rounded fighter in all aspects of the game. This is our first fight with Al Haymon’s PBC, and it’s a big fight.”
The matchup is an exciting one for fans. Barry sees the fight this way: “it’s a great matchup of skill and size. Really, they sort of mirror each other: Izu is 30, Breazeale is 31; Izu is 17-0, Breazeale is 17-1. Both have 81 inch reaches, both have about 8 KO’s in the first three rounds.”
Barry concedes that Breazeale has a better resume: “Breazeale has fought better names, sure, Anthony Joshua, Amir Monsour, Fred Kassi.” But Barry sees his fighter as ready to compete at that level. “Look,” Barry said, “Izu would knock out out Monsour and Kassi.I tell everybody, I think Izu is the sleeper of the heavyweight division. On Saturday night, live on FOX and around the world, everyone will know who Izu is.”
Barry feels that Ugonoh is ready for the big stage: “He is a very talented fighter, a very intelligent fighter. He’s got explosive power and very heavy hands. Look, the big question mark is: hey, this is a big step up in class from where he’s been fighting. But this is a fight, when it was first addressed to Izu, he jumped at it with open arms, saying, ‘this is the fight I’ve been waiting for.’”
Barry and his fighter know that the stakes are high: “Izuknows that the spoils definitely go to the winner in this fight: a great performance will see with Izu or Breazeale go on a short list for a fight for the world title.”
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