The Ukrainian WSB Franchise had a slow start to the season choosing instead to blood their younger and less experienced fighters in the opening matches of the Regular Season.
With an official line-up that includes some of the biggest names in boxing, (such as the likes of double Olympic and AIBA World Champion Vasyl Lomachenko), the team’s opening results were a surprise to many. Beginning their campaign with a 3-2 loss to fellow finalists Astana Arlans Kazakhstan, the Otamans got the same result again against the German Eagles. A 4-1 loss to defending champions Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder followed and it wasn’t until they took on the star studded British Lionhearts that the Ukrainians began to really cook. That night Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk were finally let off their leashes and the Olympic Champions left an impressive trail of destruction in their wake.
But the pair was again taken out of the starting line-up as the Otamans lost the second of their two encounters with the Arlans (4-1). Ukraine had certainly left it late in the competition to begin to show their true potential, but with a 5-0 redemptive win over the German Eagles they achieved just that. Italia Thunder was the next to feel the full force of Ukraine’s capacity as they were on the wrong end of a 4-1 drubbing by the Otamans. Finally, by squeezing out a 3-2 victory away to crack the perfect home record of the British Lionhearts, the Ukraine made it through to the play-offs.
This is where the stats get interesting: while fighting at home in both the quarter and semi-finals, the Otamans were utterly dominant, getting a clean sweep over both the Azerbaijan Baku Fires and Italia Thunder (5-0). When competing away from home however, they lost to both teams 4-1. Only Lomachenko (vs. Azerbaijan) and Usyk (vs. Italy) were able to notch up wins.
Given that the WSB Team Finals will be held in Kazakhstan, what does this tell us about Ukraine’s chances of winning this season?
Otamans fans will be quick to point out that with the unbeaten trio of Lomachenko, Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk all expected to feature, the team can expect a significant boost to both its competitiveness and its moral. Moreover, perhaps the strategy of giving less well known fighters match-time early on in the season will pay off. Certainly it will have boosted their experience sufficiently to cause Kazakhstan problems elsewhere.
For the team themselves the importance of reaching the final after such a slow start cannot be understated. One of the team’s star boxers, London 2012 Olympic Bronze medallist Gvozdyk explained, he “can single out our last win in Kiev [against Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder], that sent the team into the finals, as the best moment of the season”.
Teammate, Dmytro Mytrofanov agrees: “Reaching the finals has been the best moment so far”, though he also lavished praise on the quality of WSB athletes this year saying: “all the boxers I faced this season where tough. It is hard to pick just one out as being more difficult than the rest”.
Whatever the result of the Finals however, the Ukrainian outfit has been the surprise team of the season, and with so much of their investment being placed in their indigenous boxing talent, the future looks bright for Ukraine in WSB.