Artur Kyshenko is, probably, the best-known kickboxer to emerge out of the Russian Commonwealth states. He’s a pioneer who led all other Ukrainian kickboxers in breaking into the professional international level.
Kyshenko beat both the current welterweight and middleweight GLORY champions over the last two years. He is considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound kickboxer regardless of weight. Kyshenko recently spoke to Combat Press writer Ruslan Navshyrvanov.
You have fought professionally for 12 years. What is the most successful year of your career?
Probably, 2015, I think. I won my first K-1 four-man tournament in 2006, [but] the next big event that I won is the world championship — that was in 2015.
In Kunlun Fight?
Dec. 15 marked a year since the opening of your gym. Tell us three main achievements of the gym’s fighters, not counting your own.
The gym has operated only a year. Before that, I had a team: Kyshenko Pro Team.
This gym is only one year old, so there are no special achievements by the fighters of the gym yet. It is possible to note only Artur Gorlov, who is from Pro Team and now is in Kyshenko Gym. He has 15 fights and 13 wins. He became the IFA world champion. That is Rīga, Latvia organization. I don’t think it is very popular. He won the belt, won the fight, had a good fight and became a champion. But I think this is a lesser-known promotion, so I do not consider this as a great achievement.
Kyshenko Pro Team existed under the auspices of Mike’s Gym?
Kyshenko Pro Team, roughly speaking, started with Mike’s Gym. I, when I moved to Mike’s Gym, started pulling the guys up. Those guys who trained with me started promoting Kyshenko Pro Team. It all started with Mike’s Gym.
You have a car with the name of a representative of your gym, Wang Kehan, on the sides. Is it your promotion’s decision, or does she have sponsorship support from China?
Generally, this car is not here, not in Spain. This car is in China. It is sponsorship from the Chinese side. Even so, it’s Kehan’s car and the sponsors are side by side. She just bought a car and pasted it with stickers to travel around China to tournaments nearby.
When did you decide to open your gym in Barcelona? Did Mike Passenier of Mike’s Gym help you with the opening?
Yes, he did. But I still have not made an official opening. Let’s say, party with guests. Because I’m constantly in mode, on the road, and there’s not enough time to prepare this all at a good level. So, of course, remotely, on the phone, Mike congratulated, and we met more than once after this opening. And to this day I ask him for some advice on how to promote and develop the gym.
Are you planning to organize a big presentation with the opening of the gym this year?
I do not know yet. I have not thought much about it yet. Yes, I would like to make a great presentation, but everything will depend on the time. Every weekend I’m on the road and, when at home, I try to give this time to the family. One weekend a month [I have for family]. Should I spend this time for some kind of event? Let it stay as it is for now. Maybe closer to summer, when it gets warmer, we can organize something on the beach.
You are the first Ukrainian kickboxer who went to train in Holland on a permanent basis and declared himself as a world-class professional. Some people in the Ukrainian Thai Boxing Federation were not happy with your decision.
Honestly, I have not heard a single criticism face to face. What was said behind my back, I heard from third parties. And these are only conversations. It is clear that the team, the coach and the federation were not particularly pleased with this, because they lost the No. 1 member of the Ukrainian team, the Captain’s Club and the Thai Boxing Federation. But face to face, everyone wished me good luck. Behind my back, they said different things.
But there was no conflict. Courage was not enough. What hurt me — not even that much hurt, what I noticed — was that they said, “He will not succeed. He will return.” They said, “Right now he will go, look, have a different mentality, other prices, other rules, no language, no friends. The chances are zero. He will stumble, spend all the money he has, and he will return and ask to be taken back.” This is what I paid attention to, and I proved that they were wrong.
Do you maintain a relationship with your first coach, Pavel Batrinu?
Yes. We’re not very tight — I would like more — but distance disconnects people.
Everyone has their own family, their worries. There is no common business. We send a greeting on holiday to each other. Often, I write to him about nothing, like, “How are you?” But, you know, some contact was lost over time. It’s already the eighth year that I’ve been in Europe. And for eight years now, we do not communicate well. No common affairs, nothing. And over time, the thread, the goal, some common moments were lost. Generally, we communicate, but not tightly.
Your wife, Christina, took part in the Ukrainian selection on the show So You Think You Can Dance before you moved to Europe. Does she continue to dance?
No, she’s finished with dancing. When there is time, she dances for herself.
She has given birth to our child. She’s engaged in family, the child and the gym. Since I’m often away, Christina is the boss here. All work on the gym is on her. Plus family. Plus a child. She wants to dance — she misses dancing — but there is not enough time for this yet.
Let’s get back to your move to Holland. After you, Sergei Lashchenko also moved to Mike’s Gym. Did you invite him or was it his choice?
We were very close friends. When I left, we had such an arrangement that I would leave and, when I settle down, I would immediately invite him. I would help him to move. I invited him.
When I left, I left for myself. And when he found out that I was leaving, we discussed and decided that as soon as I felt a little confidence there, he would come too.
In 2015, Lashchenko participated in a street brawl in Odessa, which ended in his death. How did you find out about Lashchenko’s death?
First, one of my friends wrote to me. Then Christina told me about it. I did not believe it initially. Honestly, I did not believe it. Then I confirmed it, at midnight, probably. The next day was the funeral. And we bought tickets at midnight and went to the funeral in the morning.
In 2008, you and Lashchenko went through training camps in Belgorod-Dnestrovsky at Vasyl Lomachenko’s gym. How did this idea come about?
In 2008, as Vasyl became the Olympic champion, the coach talked and agreed. It was such a period when we began to lack something in terms of training, and we learned about Vasyl. We contacted Vasyl. We met. He, of course, so to speak, was honest and open.
Without any hesitation, he agreed that we should come and train with him. Honestly, I do not attend camps often. Only what the Ukrainian team required. And so I’m training at home. But of course, I went to Vasyl. This happened several more times. I learned a lot and I’m grateful.
March 2016. Kyshenko Cup in Kiev. Oleksandr Usyk and Lomachenko participated in the promotion of the tournament. Tell us about the format of the competition.
I organized four tournaments in Europe. Then, there was the finale here in Spain — in Barcelona. There were three tournaments and four Spaniards automatically got to the final, like the fourth team. There was a tournament in Rīga, in Ukraine and in Georgia. There were certain weight categories and certain age groups. From each country, there was one champion.
Four countries met in Spain at the tournament for the Kyshenko Cup belt. The thought was to give children the opportunity. This is a pro-level organization, but for children there, everything is in gloves and in helmets. The winners received the belts. Runners-up, the cups. So, the children felt as if they were professionals, to some extent.
Was it just a junior competition?
Yes, up to 18 years old.
Did you manage to collect a large audience in Kiev?
Yes, the most amount of participants were in Kiev. Now I do not remember exactly — 200-something, 247, 249 — I do not remember exactly the number, but it was rather large.
Were they athletes, those 240 participants?
Yes, we had different weight categories and age categories. There were four licensed weights, in which the champions were selected for the final part. 60-, 65-, 70- and 75-kilograms. These weights were chosen because the strongest competition is in these categories.
And the audience? How many people?
The audience was not counted. The entrance was free. Maybe a thousand. You know how these children’s tournaments are going. A group of 15 people comes to cheer for their favorite. Their friends have a fight and then the people leave. People constantly changing. How many of them, we did not know. We did not count.
Did you organize tournaments with your money?
Initially, the tournament was presented to the sponsors. Many sponsors responded and said they would support it. There were support from Kunlun. There were support from Dutch organizations. But, anyway, it was not enough to cover four tournaments, so I added from my own funds.
Do you plan to develop this competition?
Well, we missed the 2017 year, because of the opening of the gym, fights and tournaments. I must attend every tournament. I’m not saying that we will not continue, but for today I’m not ready for this. I already have enough travel and investment.
Maybe. It’s possible, without a tournament grid. For example, we held the event in Kiev with the participation of WAKO. There were even talks that WAKO will enter the Kyshenko Cup tournament in its annual calendar. But then they did not do it. There are some thoughts, but not any concrete plan.
In 2012, there was a Kyshenko Gym in Odessa on Zhvanetsky Boulevard. You came there and conducted the training. Why did it close?
Probably, I became a competitor to someone. There was already a gym.
We agreed with my friends. There was Arnold Hegai, Andrei Klokov and Andrei Vakarash. We talked, advised and agreed on how to do Kyshenko Gym. And then, if there are prospects, I would to take them to Europe. We started this movement, and after three or four months, the owners asked them to postpone for a week — there were some problems with the papers.
And then rent increased. I do not remember the number. For example, if the rent was 2000 hryvnia [Ukrainian currency], then a week later they are told, like, now the rent will rise slightly. Slightly? How much is it? They called — 12 or 15 thousand. Ten times.
No one said to close the Kyshenko Gym, but they created such conditions that we had to close ourselves. I realized that it was coming from above. There is no sense with someone to swear, argue, and do everything anew. It would be the same story.
You are from Odessa. You know how it is arranged in our city.
Previously, some foreign fighters representing Dutch clubs acted under the flag of Holland. Did they suggest that you change flags?
No, honestly, they did not offer. There were some conversations. This is a professional sport. For money. In Turkey and the Arab countries, this is practiced.
In Russia, they also fight under the flag of the country where they train. Enriko “Gudan” Gogokhia acted under the Russian flag when he trained in Russia, for example.
You understand, now everyone who moved — Stas Kazantsev, other guys — are fighting under the Russian flag. This is in order to tighten the Russian sport, to represent Russian sponsors. If you are fighting under the Ukrainian flag in Russia and represent Ukraine — they are all patriots there, for Russia. Gudan is now in America. He is now under the Georgian flag. They choose a convenient flag. This is happening now in Russia. All Caucasian athletes are fighting under the flag of Russia. When they return home, they raise their flag.
Alim Nabiev presently fights under the Azerbaijan flag. Did you watch his fight against Nieky Holzken?
I watched some highlights. I don’t watch fights now.
What do you think about Nabiev’s chances for the GLORY belt?
Hard to say. Murthel [Groenhart] is the champion now…
No way! Murthel will destroy him. Holzken is old. He concentrates on single strikes.
I think Murthel will just destroy Nabiev. Nabiev works for points. He covered Nieky with strikes.
We’ll see. I don’t know. But presently I don’t see such a great power from him. Probably, it is gonna be interesting with [Cedric] Doumbe. We’ll see. A fight with Nieky is only the first step for him. We’ll see how it develops.
In November 2017, GLORY’s representative was in your gym. Did they manage to interest you?
Yes, I was in Lyon [France] at the GLORY 47 tournament. Then we met here. Then again in another place. We had three meetings. In the end, I did not agree to sign the contract and stayed in Kunlun.
And now this dialogue is frozen?
I am not interested. They do not pay as much as even the Chinese pay. And they have, let’s say, stricter rules. Strict contract. If I sign such a contract, I tie my hands. The last four years, I am a coach and a manager for myself. When I have time, I take a couple of months to prepare and fight. If I do not have time, I postpone the fight for later.
I’m not interested in GLORY today. First of all, the fees they offer are not interesting. Second, the terms of the contract are not interesting. I repeat, by signing this contract, I would tie my hands.
The largest unpaid fee to you is $100,000 for the fight in K-1. What is the biggest fee you have received?
Let’s say, around the same sum.
In 2007, when you made your debut at the K-1 Max in Japan, you said that you dreamed of buying an apartment for your mother. Did the dream come true?
I have not bought. My mother worked in the public service, and we achieved that the state gave her an apartment. My mother moved to a new flat at the end of 2010.
Do you often see your mom now?
Last year, I was literally in the Ukraine for four days. I plan that my mother comes to visit us. In the year before last, she came here and I went there. Now, with the opening of the gym, I entered a new level of work. I spend a lot of time developing the gym. Therefore, there is not enough time to visit Ukraine. And, in order for my mother to come, I’m also not always here. Therefore, we see each other quite rarely.
In 2016, you planned to fight against Israel Adesanya and Nieky Holzken. Why did these fights not happen?
Nieky asked for a crazy fee that no one agreed to pay. Of course, these are my words, but I think the organizers, and Nieky himself, understood that he asked for such a fee because he knew that I was the favorite of this fight and he wanted to make money. He wanted to arrange a fight, but he asked $100,000 for the fight. The organizers said, “We will give $100,000 for you both.” He didn’t want that. There was even a proposal where I said, “Let the winner take 75, the one who lost [takes] 25.” But the conversation led to nothing. So, we made some PR, tried to make noise. You know, this American and Dutch system is to unleash, to rise the price. I understand why it did not take place. All the organizers understood that I was the favorite of this fight and nobody was ready to pay such money for a clear result.
The second — Israel Adesanya — I do not remember [why it didn’t happen]. He could not do something there. There they announced it and literally two days later they canceled it. Maybe something was not agreed with him. I do not know the reason.
I have such a system with Kunlun. In the last battle, I had three [different] rivals in a week. First, they say this one. I agree. Then he refused. They offered a second. He also refused. Ten days before the fight, they said, “This one is ready to fight.”
It’s clear: to fight with me is not to fight a schoolboy. But, again, you have a fixed fee. Let’s say, $1,000. Ask for two and a half. Ask for three. You will be given an offer, knowing that you will argue with the first number. But they are like that. He made $1,000 in his last fight, so now he asks for 10 or 15. The organizer understands that he will just come to make money. He will not survive until the third round. He just don’t want to survive. His idea is just to make money. The first couple of strong punches and he will not have a chance to resist. Therefore, promoters are not ready to pay.
In what weight are you more comfortable to perform now, 77 or 85 kilograms?
Well, 80. My weight is 80 kilograms. Seventy-seven, of course, is more difficult. I ask a higher fee for 77. I’m not so comfortable. For 85, I also ask a higher fee and agree only for the reason that no one wants to box with me at 80.
They think that at 77, they will dry me up and it will be easier for them to fight me. I say that I will only be hungrier and angrier. At 80, so to speak, I’m balanced and pleased. At 85, they think they are bigger and heavier. But I do not exactly weigh 80 kilograms. I’m working on weight. Therefore, I’m ready to fight in three weight classes.
I suggested to GLORY, “Let me fight in 77 and 85, because I won championships in both categories. Let me fight for both titles during one year.” However, these were just jokes, conversations. They say, “No, it is impossible according to our rules.” And so on. It was only the first conversation. I say, “Let’s then fight in the first year at 77 and take the title. Then I’ll go to 85 and take the title there.” They laughed, but in the end nothing happened.
I can box in these weight classes, but the most comfortable, of course, is 80. At 77, I did not box for a long time. I fought for GLORY with Karapet Karapetyan. Then, two more fights were at 77 in China in early 2015 and then I moved to 80 kilograms.
Do you think the referee’s decision in the battle with Karapet was correct?
You see, you ask this question, so you also doubt it. I believe it was not.
At that time, GLORY had only just started and the whole internal system was Dutch. Coaches, judges and managers. It was the former It’s Showtime. GLORY purchased Showtime. Then there were talks. They promoted Karapet.
One of the trainers was told to take Karapet. He asked who it was. They said he won against Kyshenko. They thought that they would make noise on this. But after that, Karapet had two or three fights and disappeared somewhere.
What’s the most disappointing defeat in your career?
Probably, three. Masato, [Robin van] Roosmalen and Murthel. Maybe even Masato is not so disappointing.
With van Roosmalen, it was stupid. I did not know him and I underestimated him. I beat [Gago] Drago, beat Andy Souwer and reached the final.
It’s the same with Murthel. I went through one, the second opponent. And with Murthel, we trained in the same gym and prepared together for this tournament. During training, it was clear who was the favorite. I went out, roughly speaking, to spar, and he went out to win.
In the first round, I put him in a knockdown and, again, I did not engage. I thought, “Well, now, probably, you understand who is who.” But he took the chance, took advantage of the fact that I underestimated him and relaxed. That’s why I really reproached myself — because I underestimated him and did not put it to the maximum.
Who is the best Ukrainian fighter, regardless of the sport?
Vasyl. Who else? I do not have any special idols, but I always say that this is the Lomachenko family. Vasyl and his father are together. I know Vasyl well. We have talked with him openly, and Vasyl says, “All this is the merit of the father. I’m just a machine that does what he says.” Let’s say, dad is a computer and Vasyl is iron.