'I am a warrior': Ivan Baranchyk interview
Luke G. Williams
Photos: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Boxing Monthly's Luke G. Williams speaks to Ivan 'The Beast' Baranchyk about the prospect of facing Josh Taylor and much more besides, while Lou DiBella also gives his take on the fight...
Hungry, It’s a word Ivan Baranchyk uses several times during our interview and it aptly describes the powerhouse eastern European fighter’s desire for fistic glory, as well as his constant quest for self-improvement.
“I believe I’m the best super lightweight out there,” the 25-year-old states in a matter-of-fact manner that, as I later learn, contains the odd dash of mischief. “I am hungry and well motivated. I am a warrior and always fight until the last drop of blood.”
It’s a chilling statement of intent from a boxer whose ripped physique and brilliant physical conditioning have drawn much admiration during a professional career that is still not even five years old.
Having gained valuable and regular exposure on Showtime’s ShoBox: The New Generation fight cards, Baranchyk was soon pegged as one of the up-and-coming talents of the 140lbs division.
Now, having beaten Sweden’s European champion Anthony Yigit in an exciting World Boxing Super Series quarter-final in October in New Orleans, Baranchyk will enter the final four of the tournament as the new IBF champion.
“I expected European-style boxing from Anthony Yigit, so I got the kind of fight I expected from him,” is Baranchyk’s modest assessment of the action-packed Yigit contest, in which the Swedish southpaw suffered horrendous swelling around his left eye.
Prior to his victory against Yigit, the contest for which Baranchyk was best remembered was his 2017 war with Abel Ramos, which he admits was “the toughest fight in my career”.
This 10-round slugfest demonstrated Baranchyk’s ability to give and take punishment. The fighters exchanged knockdowns in round three and frequently stood toe to toe, delivering thrilling action. Baranchyk also floored Ramos in the fourth and won the contest via unanimous decision.
It was a bout that perfectly showcased Baranchyk’s fighting philosophy, which he describes as “an aggressive style of boxing”, hence his nickname of “The Beast”, which was coined by his co-promoter Lou DiBella, who has also labelled him “the Belarusian Gatti”.
The Beast persona is one that Baranchyk positively relishes and often plays up to. When TV or video cameras are around he will frequently fix the lens with a stare, adopt an aggressive, bodybuilding-style pose and utter an animalistic snarl. (He even went through a pre-fight ritual of emerging from a cage before starting his ring walk.)
It’s also a nickname that captures his qualities as a boxer. “My main strengths are my hard punches, speed, and persistence,” he says. Meanwhile, in response to a query about what motivates him most — family, glory or money — he quips: “Everything! I will fight on [in my career] until the time I am no longer hungry to fight, while my main ambition for now is to win the Muhammad Ali trophy.”
In order to achieve this, Baranchyk will first face Scotland’s talented Josh Taylor in the WBSS semi-finals this Saturday in Glasgow.
Despite the rave reviews Taylor has received, Baranchyk seems unintimidated and unconcerned about the prospect of meeting him.
“I am very excited to be in the WBSS semi-finals. Being in the tournament is a big opportunity for me,” Baranchyk admits, before suggesting that Taylor’s dominant seventh-round stoppage of Ryan Martin in the Scot’s own WBSS quarter-final was not as impressive as many have suggested.
“Ryan Martin did not do anything to win in that fight,” Baranchyk scoffs. “I am ready to fight with Josh Taylor anywhere and any time.”
Baranchyk’s willingness to travel is unsurprising given the background of his life, which has always had something of a nomadic dimension.
Ironically enough, his story begins pretty much as far from the bright lights of big-time boxing as it is possible to get, in the far-eastern Russian town of Amursk, an industrial urban settlement built in the 1950s to provide housing for workers involved in cellulose production and the timber trade.
By the time of Baranchyk’s birth in 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Amursk was entering a period of steep decline, both economically and in terms of a rapid decrease in population. Indeed, today the town is a decaying and somewhat grim relic of the Soviet era in an area of the country that has been termed “the forgotten east”.
Baranchyk’s family were among the many citizens who left Amursk in the 1990s, moving nearly 10,000 miles west and settling in the then nascent republic of Belarus.
Although he speaks warmly of growing up in Belarus (“I really love Belarus, my childhood there was happy and interesting”), Baranchyk identifies as Russian, stating: “I am a Russian man.” He credits his national identity with what he sees as one of his primary strengths, namely “discipline… one of the most important things for boxers”.
Baranchyk’s propensity for physical combat was established early in life. “I grew up in a family where nobody was a boxer,” he explains. “But family is one of the most important things to me. They support me all the time.
“When I was a child, I really liked to fight. I had so much energy, which had to be put in the right direction. I am thankful that my mother took me to a sports school in time. So I went to a Jiu-Jitsu class at the age of six. All the techniques I learned in the class I practiced on my classmates in school the next day!
“My friends brought me to a boxing class when I was 12 and since that time, my heart has been faithful to boxing.”
Baranchyk’s friends soon gave up on boxing, but his own passion had been ignited.
“Boxing chose me,” Baranchyk explains. “Sports is my element, and every day I work hard to reach the best results I can. I couldn’t imagine life without boxing.”
As a teenager, Baranchyk idolised Mike Tyson and adopted the former heavyweight champion’s seek-and-destroy philosophy.
Crowned world junior champion in 2009, Baranchyk turned pro in March 2014 and had three contests in Minsk before relocating to the United States, where he has fought and lived ever since.
“I signed an agreement with my first promoters in 2014 and moved to the USA straight after,” Baranchyk explains. “I really like living here. I fell in love with the USA quickly.”
Initially, Baranchyk spent three years in New York, living in Brooklyn and training under Gary Stark and Andre Rozier, gaining valuable sparring experience against the likes of Avtandil Khurtsidze and Sergey Derevyanchenko.
Then Baranchyk moved to Miami, in the Sunshine State of Florida. With its palm trees, picturesque beaches and temperate climate, which barely dips below 20 degrees centigrade even in winter, Miami offered a sharp contrast with landlocked Belarus, parts of which experience sub-zero temperatures for more than a third of the year.
After a spell under the aegis of renowned Cuban-born trainer Dr Pedro Diaz Sr, Baranchyk has now moved on again, this time to Los Angeles where he trains with Freddie Roach, who will be in his corner for the first time against Taylor.
Out of the ring, Baranchyk seems an unusually grounded man, who is refreshingly reluctant to engage in any outlandish thinking, or get ahead of himself in terms of visualising future fistic engagements beyond the immediate challenge of Josh Taylor.
For example, when I ask him what his dream fight would be, he replies: “I do not dream, I fight.”
Outside of the ring, even Baranchyk’s opponents have often spoken of him warmly, suggesting that The Beast nickname is somewhat misleading. Anthony Yigit, for example, described him to Boxing Monthly as “a very nice, very humble guy”.
Mind you, The Beast within Baranchyk is never far from the surface. When I ask him for his own take on his “nice guy” reputation he remarks, possibly with tongue in cheek: “I am not such a good guy in real life as everybody thinks!”
Lou DiBella on Baranchyk vs Taylor
Having spent 11 years at HBO Boxing during its pomp, and chalked up 18 years at the head of his own promotional firm DiBella Entertainment, Lou DiBella is a man whose views and insights are always worth listening to.
And DiBella is convinced that Ivan Baranchyk — who he promotes alongside Max Alperovich, Alex Khanas and Tony Holden — is the real deal.
“I’ve been with Ivan pretty much his whole paid career,” DiBella told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his New York office.
“When I saw Ivan’s amateur background, I was obviously impressed and after one fight I realised he was like a bull. He’s a tremendously entertaining, strong, power-punching kid. And remember, he’s still a young guy.”
The 58-year-old DiBella – speaking before Baranchyk moved to LA to train with Freddie Roach - credited his link-up with Pedro Diaz as having been crucial to Baranchyk’s development.
“He was a little bit one-dimensional early on in his pro career but now he’s been training with Pedro Diaz — the former Cuban Olympic coach who’s sort of a genius — Ivan’s entire game has got better.
“Here’s the thing that differentiates Ivan from a lot of guys — he’s a good learner, a very good student. Pedro realised there was a lot of work to be done, but Ivan really wanted to improve and he’s really progressed. With each fight with Pedro, he’s looked better and better.
“He’s still a devastating puncher but now he’s a much more complete fighter. His punches are much more proficient, they’re much straighter, he’s using his jab and setting up his combinations more and he’s showing better defence.
“Earlier in his career he was a little wilder, he threw big haymakers and giant shots and was knocking people out brutally. He’s still hurting people and stopping them but he’s a much more well-rounded and complete fighter.”
DiBella feels that Baranchyk’s WBSS quarter-final victory against Anthony Yigit was the most complete performance of his career so far.
“That’s the best he’s ever looked,” he said. “Yigit is a world-class fighter, a terrific boxer and a tough kid, with as big a heart as you can find in the game, and Ivan dismantled him. He really tore him apart. It was a tremendously impressive effort.”
DiBella sees Baranchyk’s impending showdown with Josh Taylor as a clash between two of the best young fighters in the world.
“When you’re fighting against a guy like Josh Taylor, I’m not going to make any predictions,” he cautioned. “But anybody that’s thinking Taylor is going to have an easy time is not paying attention.
“I think Taylor is one of the best young fighters out there but I also think Baranchyk is one of the best young fighters out there. It’s going to be quite a fight. Probably Ivan has never fought anybody who is as complete a fighter as Taylor, but I definitely don’t think Taylor has ever fought anyone as good as Ivan.
“I think it’s going to be a gruelling, really tough fight for both guys. But I think it could be the kind of fight where it doesn’t really hurt either fighter’s stock, that’s how good I think both of them are.”
While DiBella coined Baranchyk’s 'Beast' moniker, he says it doesn’t reflect the fighter’s out-of-ring personality.
“Ivan is a sweetheart,” DiBella said. “A really nice kid. A family guy who has a very beautiful wife, who he is very devoted to. He’s a very grounded, together, stable young man. A really good person.
“Outside of the ring, he is the sweetest, nicest kid on earth but when he gets in the ring every punch is thrown with authority and bad intentions.
“Outside of the ring, very few guys are as far away from being a beast as Ivan, but in the ring, Ivan’s a beast, he really is. A strong, aggressive fighter whose intentions are to hurt his foe. He’s a handful, man! He will be a handful for Josh Taylor, and a handful for anyone.”
A version of this interview appeared in Boxing Monthly magazine earlier this year.