Ukrainian Professional Boxers Fighting For Their Dreams in Pittsburgh

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Oleg Dovhun (Left) and Lyubomyr Pinchuk (Right). Posing in the ring at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym in North Oakland. Photos by Brett Rothmeyer.

When Lyubomyr “The Demolition Man” Pinchuk, 22, turned 18, he sent messages to boxing trainers all over America asking if they wanted to train him for his professional career. Through a translator, he sent 500 messages in broken English via Facebook and email, receiving only 10 or 20 responses. “He emailed that he wanted to come to America ‘to become champion on them world,'” said Michael McSorley, his trainer and cornerman while watching Pinchuk’s longtime boxing partner Oleg “The Ukraine Pittbull” Dovhun, 25, work the heavy bag.

Lyubomyr Pinchuk training in the ring at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym in North Oakland. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Pinchuk and Dovhun trained together while with the amateur Ukrainian National Boxing Team. “We’ve known each other for seven years. We even went to the same university,” said Pinchuk before his training session at Conn-Greb Boxing Gym in North Oakland.

Since moving to Pittsburgh in February 2017, the Ukrainian duo have gained regional acclaim with their professional boxing careers in America. Ukrainian fighters usually go to bigger cities outside of Ukraine than Pittsburgh for professional training.

Oleg Dovhun (Left) punching white tubes held by Michael McSorley (Right) at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Their journeys through boxing began at young ages. Pinchuk started boxing at age 7 and Dovhun began training at age 10. They amassed prolific amateur careers. Pinchuk fought as an amateur 250 times and captured two Ukrainian National Championships. Dovhun fought 325 times and captured four championships.

McSorley and Pinchuk emailed and talked over a two-year period. Those interviews were translated by Anna Dasta, wife of Tom Dasta, a fellow cornerman. He introduced Dovhun to McSorley as well. Unlike Pinchuk, Dovhun didn’t go searching around the country for boxing coaches. When Lyubomyr introduced him to McSorley, he knew he wanted to work with him. “I like working with him,” said Dovhun, after his training session. “He’s a very good coach.”

Pinchuk’s persistence impressed him, making him rethink his plans of not importing the two standouts. “I was impressed with them,” McSorley said. “I knew we were in store for something great.”

Michael McSorley at the end of Spring Slugfest at the Priory Grand Hall in Pittsburgh on March 2nd, 2019. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

McSorley, a Southside resident and boxing lifer, began boxing in his freshman year of college. After graduating, he found work as a cut-man, someone who fixes facial damage during bouts for fighters like Sammy Vasquez, a professional boxer and Iraq veteran with a 21-2 record. “I spent a lot of time in gyms,” said McSorley. “One thing led to another and fighters started asking me to train them.” In addition to training, he manages and promotes matches of all his fighters through Integrity Fighter Management, a fight team ran by himself and his business partner J.J. Richardson.

Michael McSorley (Left) training with Lyubomyr Pinchuk at the Conn Greb Boxing Gym in North Oakland. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

He trains the Ukrainians out of the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym, on the property of an apartment complex and parking garage he owns in North Oakland. The gym is named after Billy Conn and Harry Greb, two legends of boxing, born and raised in Pittsburgh. Entering the gym, it looks like an underground fight club. The boxing ring is in the middle of the gym, with heavy bags on one side and weightlifting equipment on the other “We had a nice gym in Ukraine, but I’m okay with this gym,” said Dovhun. “It’s not where I train, it’s how I train and the coaching I get.”

Before coming to Pittsburgh, McSorley, Dovhun and Pinchuk talked about the fight scene, gyms and neighborhoods around the city. “I felt like they knew the characters here and some of the gyms before they came to town,” said McSorley. “I learned more [about the Ukrainian community in Pittsburgh] once they got here.” Their first experience of Ukrainian life in America was at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in McKee’s Rocks.

Michael McSorley (Left) working with Lyubomyr Pinchuk (Right) at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym in North Oakland. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

“It’s pretty cool that two Ukrainian kids are making waves for boxing in Pittsburgh,” said Father Tim Thomson, a pastor for seventeen years at the church. “Pittsburgh hasn’t been a boxing hub in a long time.” Thomson grew up a boxing fan watching Ali and Foreman and he has seen Paul Spadafora fight people at the A.J. Palumbo Center. He goes to their fights when possible and is excited about boxing’s future in Pittsburgh.

Outside of the ring, Pinchuk and Dovhun live normal lives. They do contracting work in construction and plumbing. Dovhun stays in contact with his girlfriend and parents. Pinchuk keeps up with friends,family and his old boxing coach.

Lyubomyr Pinchuk, training at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Initially, they went to the church every Sunday, meeting people who immigrated to America or have a family history in Ukraine. Pinchuk doesn’t go to church anymore, but Dovhun still takes the hour and a half trip from their apartment in Bloomfield to McKee’s Rocks every Sunday, despite being raised Catholic. “There are very nice people at church,” said Dovhun. “I like going there. They all support my fights.”

In addition to his role as a pastor, he is also the Vice President of the Ukrainian Community of Western Pennsylvania. “Our goal is to promote the culture of Ukrainians and create a fellowship with others,” said Thomson. “Our Members range from 1st to 3rd generation Ukrainian”. According to Popular Pittsburgh, a website informing people of Pittsburgh’s cultural history, the city is home to the fourth largest Ukrainian Population in the United States.

Michael McSorley working with Lyubomyr Pinchuk at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym in North Oakland. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Ukrainian people have immigrated to Pittsburgh in waves. The first wave was at the beginning of the 20th century. Ukrainian immigrants would work primarily in the mills and mines. Thomson says Immigration was steady from the early ’80s to the ’90s. They came to America because of economic and political reasons. The third wave is currently underway. Ukrainian immigrants are coming for economic reasons as well and because of the Ukrainian Crisis of 2014. “It’s a shame because it’s a beautiful country with many resources,” says Thomson. “People are leaving for a better life, just like Oleg and Lyubomyr with boxing.”

Douglas Cavanaugh, a friend of McSorley, was one of the first people McSorley told about the possibility of bringing in the Ukrainian fighters. “He contacted me when they were still in Ukraine,” said Cavanaugh, who has written about boxing for 25 years. “It was the middle of the night when he told me they were coming here. He was very excited.”

Oleg Dovhun after the end of his sparring session at Conn-Greb Boxing Gym in North Oakland. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

It’s rare for international fighters to go outside the big fight towns. Pinchuk and Dovhun stepping into the city in 2017 may have made history by stepping into Pittsburgh. “They usually go to bigger fight towns like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston,” said Cavanaugh. “As far as I know from my research, they are the first Ukrainian fighters to train in Pittsburgh.”

Cavanaugh lives in Burbank, Calif., but he documents the hidden history of Pittsburgh boxing on his Facebook page, “Pittsburgh Boxing: A Pictorial History.” He talks about the many fighters that are from, trained, or fought in Pittsburgh. One fighter from Ukraine was a fan favorite during boxing’s boom in Pittsburgh.

Benny “Little Fish” Bass, born in Kiev, Ukraine, immigrated with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he was three. Bass fought out of Philadelphia in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. He was the first ever Ukrainian champion in boxing history winning titles in both divisions. Jack Dempsey, a boxing legend in his own right, called him the greatest boxer he had ever seen. “He fought a couple of times in Pittsburgh,” said Cavanaugh. “He was popular in the Lower Hill District and the rest of the Pittsburgh Ukrainian community during Boxing’s heyday in town.”

Pittsburgh fighters tended to be second generation fighters in the 1920s, 30s and 40s in Pittsburgh. Cavanaugh lists second-generation fighters like George Chip, who had Lithuanian roots, Teddy Yarosz with Polish roots, Fritzie Zivic had Croatian roots, and Billy Soose was Hungarian. “These fighters looked at how their parents worked in the mills and said ‘I’m not going to kill myself on the assembly line. I’ll become a prizefighter and make a month’s worth of pay in a day,'” said Cavanaugh.

Lyubomyr Pinchuk, training at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Cavanaugh believes Pinchuk and Dovhun, first-generation immigrants, carry similar traits to those fighters. “They represent everything Pittsburgh boxing was,” said Cavanaugh. “Immigrants that came over from foreign countries to make a better life for themselves.”

Watching these two train makes it clear when tell that when these guys throw a punch, they mean business. Seeing McSorley and Pinchuk train with the fight mitts. The loud thud of the pad and the loud effort from Pinchuk. Every strike is precise. Right on the pad with little effort

Same with Dovhun on the heavy bag, his combinations are no longer than three strikes akin to what happens in a real fight. Their training is always heavy on conditioning. Technique becomes another point of emphasis closer to fight night. “Our training is rare on flash, it’s more grounded in reality,” said McSorley. “It’s rare do you see more than three punches in a combination.”

They fight in two different weight classes. Pinchuk is a lanky cruiserweight, a weight class of 200 pounds in between the smaller light heavyweight division and the bigger heavyweight division. Dovhun is a quick southpaw in the super bantamweight division, where fighters weigh 122 lbs.

Lyubomyr Pinchuk’s hand raised in victory after defeating Thad Berkhousen via second-round TKO by Referee Tim Shipley (left). This was his third title defense. Photo by Tyler Polk.

Both have winning records in their young professional careers since debuting in March 2017. Pinchuk has a 10-1 record, seven wins by knockout. Dovhun is 8-0 in his career, with two wins by knockout. McSorley believes that their willingness to fight anyone he can put in front of them will help them and endear them to the community. “I think in the long run they will progress faster and in the short term, people enjoy the challenges they are willing to take,” said McSorley.

Every event that Integrity Fighter Management holds, no matter the location; The Carnegie Library, Monroeville Convention Center or The Priory Grand Hall, the crowd gets bigger, drawing up to 700 people for their fights. The demand to see these two in person has gotten higher every show. “It’s starting to come together, there was a lot of Ukrainian supporters at the last show,” said McSorley. “Word getting out has helped, people had a good time, and they bring more back each time.”

Lyubomyr Pinchuk (Left) throwing a shot at Thad Berkhousen (Right) at the Spring Slugfest in the Priory Grand Hall in Pittsburgh. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Ron Witkosky, a friend of McSorley for five years has been to every one of the shows sponsored by Integrity Fighter Management. He said he is in awe of seeing these fights in person and enjoys the atmosphere of the intimate venues. “A lot of people in the audience are directly invested in the fighters like me,” said Witkosky. “When they are invested it’s much more exciting. Mike and J.J. really do a great job with these shows.”

Dovhun and Pinchuk have captivated boxing fans outside of town too. Phil Chalmers has been to all their fights as professionals along with his brother Paul. He cites the times they fought in West Virginia at the Moundsville Penitentiary as an example of how entertaining they are. “They love them down there, even in [Philadelphia],” said Chalmers, who lives in the Southside. “They can see greatness; they know they are going to be great.

Clare Burke, President of the American Boxing Federation, takes a video on her phone of Pinchuk’s fight at Spring Slugfest at the Priory Grand Hall in Pittsburgh on March, 2nd 2019. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

They have received attention from regional sanctioning organizations, including the American Boxing Federation (ABF), which gave them their first professional title shots. The ABF was founded in February 2018 and is one of the busiest regional and national sanctioning body in the western hemisphere since its inception. Their goal is to be a starting point for a future world champion for one of the Big Four organizations of boxing. “Oleg is exceptional, and Lyubomyr is very good as well,” said Clare Burke, the vice president of the ABF. “I’m around the country almost every weekend and what I’ve seen from them is exceptional.”

Daron “Sweet Tay” Williams (Left) and Oleg Dovhun (Right) battle for the vacant ABF USA Super Bantamweight Championship. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

McSorley sent her some tape of Pinchuk last summer. She was impressed and offered him a chance at the vacant ABF USA cruiserweight championship. He defeated Lamont Capers by unanimous decision for his first pro championship in August 2018. Since capturing the title, he’s made two defenses. Burke believes his reign has been great so far. “It’s been great for the ABF as well, we’ve even got some exposure from Ukraine,” said Burke. “He’s a role model for future fighters. You can’t ask for anything better.”

When Burke went to the Priory Grand Hall to Pinchuk’s first title fight is when she saw Dovhun fight for the first time. She liked a lot of his performance that night and wanted to give him a future chance at gold. “I called [ABF President] Jeremy Lantz to tell him how good he was and sent him a video of the fight.”

PA Announcer Matt Antonucci (Left) and Oleg Dovhun (Right) after his victory for the ABF USA Super Bantamweight Championship. Photo by Tyler Polk.

Dovhun’s chance came this past March for the ABF USA Super Bantamweight Championship. He battled fellow undefeated fighter, Daron “Sweet Tay” Williams. Dovhun won the championship by unanimous decision.

Burke believes that Williams is good and still developing as a fighter, but Oleg was the better fighter that night. “Oleg made him work [in the fight],” said Burke. “He’s awkward for fighters because of the Ukrainian style’s contrast to American boxing techniques.”

The duo are champions of the ABF’s USA division. Which recognizes them as champions of the United States. “It feels good to be a champion,” said Dovhun. “It was a big fight, and I want the next fight to be bigger.”

Daron “Sweet Tay” Williams (Left) sent off balance by Oleg Dovhun (Right) during their bout for the vacant ABF USA Super Bantamweight Championship. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

The crowds cheer loudly at their fights. But, the loudest people in the room are in their corner. McSorley and Dasta are usually yelling instructions primarily in English, but they used to yell the word “attack” in Ukrainian. “When it came towards communicating boxing terms, they’ve understood from day one,” said McSorley. “I said that word in their early fights, but not much anymore.”

McSorley’s training has created an interesting blend of their natural European style, with techniques studied by professional boxers in America.” Most guys I rain tend to be high-pressure counter punchers,” said McSorley. “I hear from people who’ll say Oleg is a high tempo, aggressive fighter, and Lyubomyr is an excellent counter puncher.”

He said getting them the feel for the professional style after so many fights as amateurs was the biggest challenge when he started training them. “Amateur boxing is getting more shots off for points,” said McSorley. “When you get off a high number of shots, you’re not throwing power shots.” He said the two are now fighting on their back knee a little more, giving their punches a meaner intent.

Travis “The Terror” Clark, a 13-2 Heavyweight, is a fellow member of Integrity Fighter Management. He has sparred with both men and speaks highly of both. “They are the real deal,” said Clark. “They are amazing, great people and great athletes.”

Lyubomyr Pinchuk (Left) throwing a shot at Thad Berkhousen (Right) at the Spring Slugfest in the Priory Grand Hall in Pittsburgh. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

He first met them when he was getting ready for a title fight and was asked to spar Lyubomyr. He thought it was going to be an easy session, but it resembled a true contest. “He was fast and was hitting me hard,” said Clark. “I was ready to get him, but I settled down and got used to his speed and his power. Not many people are going to mess with that kid.”

Clark also sparred with Dovhun, who at super bantamweight to his heavyweight is a large size disadvantage for the super bantamweight. “It’s like getting stung by a bunch of bees,” Clark joked.

In preparation for his fight against Williams, Oleg sparred with someone closer to his size in Rosalindo Morales, a 3-0 super lightweight. “It was a really good session, I was getting ready for a fight as well”, said Morales. “I thank Mike and Oleg for the opportunity.”

Pinchuk has a unique opportunity to spar with former two-time IBF Cruiserweight Champion Steve “USS” Cunningham. “We’ve been very lucky to have him as a sparring partner and a friend”, said McSorley. “They spar well against each other, but they don’t take it easy on each other.”

Rosalindo Morales (Left) and Oleg Dovhun (Right) sparring at the Conn-Greb Boxing Gym. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Cunningham met McSorley through Facebook. He was here with his family in Pittsburgh because his daughter needed a heart transplant. He asked if anyone had a gym for him and his kids to train in and McSorley obliged inviting him out to Conn-Greb Boxing Club. “We went to his gym, me and my boys got a nice workout in, we’ve become good friends,” said Cunningham.

When he asked Cunningham if he wanted to work with Pinchuk, he saw it as a chance to be a mentor to a younger fighter, like three-time heavyweight champion Chris Byrd mentored him.  “I learned so much from a more skilled veteran, just from sparring with him”, said Cunningham. “It feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing, helping this young man reach his goals”.

Lyubomyr Pinchuk (Right) sparring with two-time IBF Cruiserweight Champion Steve “USS” Cunningham (Left). Photo by Michael McSorley.

Pinchuk said he’s thankful to spar with an experienced fighter. “Every time we ask him to spar, he never says no,” said Pinchuk. “He’s a two-time champion, a great fighter and he teaches me a lot.

The motto for McSorley’s duo is “Onward and Upward!” What keeps them focused is always having a goal; it’s what they talk about on long drives to out of town fights or sparring sessions about their intentions. “I feel without any goals you’re like a boat at sea without a rudder,” said McSorley.

Their goals are to continue upping the competition and get into the top-10 world rankings in their divisions. On Boxrec, an online boxing directory, Dovhun is the number one Ukrainian super bantamweight. On the road to becoming the number one boxer in the world, he’s thinking big. “I want more chances at titles,” said Dovhun. “I want to be a world champion in the next two years.”

Another goal the two share is stepping up the length of their bouts. On June 7, Pinchuk will be in his first 10-round fight against Taylor Duerr in Detroit. “I hope I can do more and get to a higher level,” said Pinchuk. “I want to follow this dream.”

Pinchuk and Dovhun are scheduled to defend their titles in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Library of Homestead on July 13th.