Rivalries: Igor Vovchanchyn

While it has been 17 years and some change since Igor Vovchanchyn last slung leather as a mixed martial artist, he remains one of the most talked-about figures of the sport’s formative days.

Vovchanchyn carried a mean streak that belied his stoic persona and packed hellacious punching power into his 5-foot-8 frame, as he compiled a 56-10 record with one no contest—he delivered 41 of those victories by knockout—during a remarkable career that spanned two decades. The Ukrainian heavyweight was untouchable at his peak. He pieced together an unheard-of 38-fight unbeaten streak from Jan. 28, 1996 to May 1, 2000, during which he went 37-0 with one no contest and built a cult following that exists to this day. Vovchanchyn made his final appearance under the Pride Fighting Championships banner in August 2005, losing a unanimous decision to Kazuhiro Nakamura. Still widely hailed as one of the greatest fighters of the 1990s, he retired at the age of 32.

With Vovchanchyn’s unforgettable exploits fading further and further into memory, a look at a few of the rivalries that came to define him:

Gary Goodridge

“Big Daddy” welcomed the brick-fisted Vovchanchyn to Pride Fighting Championships as part of Pride 4 on Oct. 11, 1998 and felt the wrath of his fabled punching power in the first round of their encounter at the Tokyo Dome. Goodridge was victimized 5:58 into Round 1. Vovchanchyn conceded two takedowns and suffered a cut near his right eye early in the match but never lost his composure against an opponent who outweighed him by some 30 pounds. He escaped to his feet after being taken down a second time, cornered Goodridge along the ropes and uncorked a pair of thunderous left hooks. The Canadian slumped in the corner and turned away from contact, necessitating an anticlimactic but just stoppage. The two heavyweights met for a second time a year and a half later, and though it took longer to resolve the rematch, Vovchanchyn once again dispatched Goodridge with punches—this time 10:14 into the first round.

Mark Kerr

When Vovchanchyn locked horns with the three-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist in the Pride 7 main event on Sept. 12, 1999 at the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan, many observers viewed them as the top two heavyweights in the world. Kerr executed a pair of takedowns and largely neutralized the Ukrainian from top position in the first round, though his inability to pass guard prevented him from doing real damage. “The Smashing Machine” emerged for Round 2 with visible fatigue having begun to set in. He delivered two more takedowns but proved far less effective in keeping Vovchanchyn bottled up on the canvas. Kerr eventually broke down. Vovchanchyn escaped to a standing position and blasted his counterpart with an uppercut and knee before sprawling on an attempted takedown. More knees followed, until the undefeated Kerr lay prone and semi-conscious in the center of the cage 4:36 into the second round. The result was later overturned to a no contest, as knees to the head of a grounded opponent in the “four-points position” had been banned prior to the event. They rematched one another a little more than a year later at Pride 12, where Vovchanchyn outstruck Kerr to a unanimous decision.

Mark Coleman

“The Hammer” struck Vovchanchyn into submission with a volley of knee strikes in the final of the Pride Fighting Championships openweight grand prix on May 1, 2000 before a crowd of 38,429 at the Tokyo Dome. Coleman prompted the Ukrainian’s surrender 3:09 into the second round, authoring the signature moment of his unexpected late-career renaissance. Vovchanchyn mustered no meaningful offense. Coleman, a onetime NCAA wrestling champion, executed a takedown inside the first minute and stayed busy with short punches to the body and head. He later progressed to side control and threatened Vovchanchyn with a keylock before settling back in full guard, at which point he resumed his attack with ground-and-pound. The extended beating took a toll across a grueling 20-minute first round. Coleman picked up where he left off the second, where he secured another takedown and cut off an attempted scramble from the Ukrainian. He then moved to the north-south position and targeted the top of Vovchanchyn’s exposed head with a series of knees until “Ice Cold” decided he had endured enough. It was his first loss since Nov. 25, 1995.

Mirko Filipovic

Vovchanchyn became the first of the Croatian killer’s numerous head-kick victims at Pride Total Elimination on Aug. 10, 2003. Filipovic cut down the Ukrainian a mere 89 seconds into the first round, as he his left shin bounced off Vovchanchyn’s skull and sent a spine-tingling echo through the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. “Ice Cold” was instantly frozen by the concussive blow and hit the canvas in a defenseless state. Filipovic pounced and connected with a powerful right hand to the side of his head before referee Yuji Shamada could arrive on the scene. The high kick became a “Cro Cop” calling card and certainly left an impression on the fallen Vovchanchyn. It was the only clean knockout loss of his distinguished 67-fight career.
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