Hey remember Igor Vovchanchyn? You probably do. He was the guy you saw knocked out by a Mirko Cro Cop head kick in any highlight montage. But did you know he was a good fighter? He was actually probably one of the most dominating heavyweights ever. You'd never know it though because of that damn highlight. Igor was a killer in the days of NHB competition. Let's begin at the beginning though to talk about how this 5'8" Ukrainian kickboxer was the scariest HEAVYWEIGHT on the planet from 1996 to 2000 and went 32 fights in that period without a loss.
Igor Vovchanchyn was a kickboxer before transitioning to MMA. How good was he at kickboxing you ask? Well, he had 63 official fights, of which he won 61. That's ridiculous. So he enters MMA as a pure kick boxer and goes on a tear. And it's not a case of a kick boxer having a ground game but preferring to stand. He legitimately is a 100% pure stand up fighter. This is during the era when anyone with even the most basic knowledge of grappling could over come knockout power and win the ever popular one day tournaments. So this guy Igor starts entering such tournaments Eastern Europe and wins. And we're talking brutally. In the IAFC tournament in Moscow he fights a Gracie Black belt in the first fight. He soccer kicks the shit out of Adilson Lima, a training partner of Ryan "Cheekin" Gracie to a TKO victory. But this is at the time when Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the best style, so Ryan complains saying such tactics are unfair and that Adilson should have an immediate rematch. Yes, immediate like DING DING, lets keep fighting. The second fight is over in under two minutes via Broken Nose. Now, Igor has fought a total of 2:47 then finishes a Russian cat via TKO by way of broken arm. That's ridiculous. He takes home his first trophy.
If you think that above story is wild, well, Igor did it again. Not once more, but FIVE more times. Many will argue he was mainly fighting tomato cans during this run of domination and that is true to a certain extent. But one day Igor received a call from PRIDE fighting championship to take on Arm Wrestling Phenom Gary Goodrich, best known for being the scary black dude elbowing Paul Herrera in the side of the head super violently. Goodrich, who didn't have any wrestling background was still able to take Igor to the ground and was up on points, when he was knocked out with two violent left hooks after Igor was able to get back to his feet. Pride FC rewarded the Ukranian with a fight with Akira Shoji, who was coming off a win against Wallid Ismail. While Shoji's career isn't the most impressive with with wins, he was a skilled opponent who was able to take Renzo Gracie to a draw. Shoji was able to last with Igor the full time but lost a decision. The next most important fight in Igor's career was against Mark Kerr, in a fight to decide who was the best heavyweight fighter alive. Of course this wasn't officially the billing of the fight, but anyone who followed the sport recognized that these two were the best fighters at the time.
Mark Kerr was most well rounded fighter at the time. He was a NCAA National wrestling Champion, a winner of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Grappling tournament, and was training standup with Bas Rutten. He was the prototype for the new martial artist, a fighter with all the tools to win. At the time of the fight, he was 11-0 and a 2x UFC Heavyweight Tournament winner. Only one of those fights went to decision, a 30 minute long fight with Fabio Gurgel, which Kerry punched, kicked, and head butted his way to the WVC 3 tournament win. Looking back on Kerr's record, it's hard to explain how he was one of the most dominant heavyweights ever as there aren't any names in those first 11 fights that really stick out, but when you saw him fight, he was terrifying. He was violent incarnate and the fight with Igor would settle who the "Baddest Man on the Planet" truly was.
The fight was as exciting as it was billed to be, as Mark Kerr was securing the take downs but unable to pass Igor's guard (oh yeah, somewhere along the way, Igor figured out how to have a pretty good guard) for two rounds. Now exhausted, Kerr wasn't able to utilize his power double he was best known for and Igor was able to sprawl. A couple knees later and Kerr was unable to continue. After the fight, Kerr filed a complaint as knees to the head of a grounded opponent were illegal and the fight was changed from a Vovchancyn win to a no contest. Kerr's corner was Mark Coleman and Kerr's girlfriend (WHAT?!) and there were concerns that this was the fight that ruined Mark Kerr's heart. Below is the fight.
The next fight for Igor saw him have his best highlight reel knockout at this point in his career. He took on Francisco Bueno, a BJJ fighter, and knocked him out in under a minute and a half. It was extremely violent with Bueno unconscious before event hitting the ground. That win secured Igor's spot in PRIDE's first Open Weight Grand Prix. The GP was the first of its kind and was a who's who of PRIDE's best fighters. After a tough fight against the durable Alexander Otsuka, Igor would fight against at the Grand Prix finals, a night where the winner would have to be victorious three times at one event. The event is best known for the epic Sakuraba/Royce Gracie fight, but due to the unique rules of the fight, the rest of the competitors were unable to properly warm up as the fight could legitimately go on forever. The fight lasted SIX 15 MINUTE ROUNDS!!! with Royce Gracie forced to throw in the towel as his legs were battered by the Japanese wrestler.
Igor would face Gary Goodrich in a rematch of their fight from two years prior. This time Vovchanchyn would decisively beat the arm wrestler by TKO at 10minutes in the first round. His next fight would be against Sakuraba, who despite being exhausted from his 90 minute bout with Royce Gracie, was able to hold his own with Igor Vovchanchyn. The fight ended when Sakuraba's corner threw in the towel at the end of the first allowing Igor to move onto the finals. A the same time, Mark Coleman was able to move on when Kazuyuki Fujita threw in the towel two seconds into their fight. This gave Coleman an extreme advantage going into the finals.
The final fight unfortunately did not go Igor's way. Coleman who was the noticeably fresher fighter was able to take down Vovchanchyn and grapple with him for the first round. In the second, Igor was mounted by Coleman and after knees to the head, was forced to verbally submit. While Igor lost the fight, the PRIDE ring ropes were able to provide some solace to the Ukrainian fighter. Please see the GIF below to see what I'm talking about.
Coleman was so excited about his win that he ran around the ring like he got a Nintendo for Christmas only to try and jump the ropes. Unfortunately, Spike Lee was correct and it is true that white man can't jump. In perhaps the greatest embarrassing moment in post fight celebration history, Coleman is unable to leap over the top rope and instead bounces off to hilariously fall on his head. The Japanese crowd was unsure how to react to a gigantic white man and awkwardly applauded him on his Grand Prix Victory.
Igor Vovchanchyn showed that an undersized Heavyweight can be dominant if he has devastating knockout power. He was the best Heavyweight fighter in the world from 1996 to 2000 and ended the reign of dominance of Mark Kerr. He most likely would have been victorious in the Grand Prix final had Coleman not had a freebee against Fujita, but that is just speculation. The new breed of fighter entering PRIDE unfortunately was too athletic for Vovchanchyn and he was unable to compete with the top fighters in the Heavyweight and Middleweight (Light Heavyweight) divisions. Below is a 10minute highlight of Igor's career, the best heavyweight fighter before Fedor and Big Nog ruled the world.