There’s one man who works with more fighters in the current wave of Eastern European boxing champions than any other. That’s Anatoliy Lomachenko, and because of who those fighters are, what they did in 2018 and the role his steady hand and creative mind played in their respective rises, he’s Sports Illustrated’s Trainer of the Year.
In training camp, they call the father of perhaps the best fighter in the world “Papachenko.” He’s well known enough that boxers seek his counsel but also likes to fade into the background. For years, most have even misspelled his first name, dropping the “I.” He only recently started to correct them. “He’s very, very low key,” says Egis Klimas, the manager who works most closely with Anatoliy. “He’s not trying to go into the public eye. But that man always has a strategy. That man always knows exactly what he wants. I believe that boxing for him is just, like, his life.”
Anatoliy charted the success of his son, Loma, since birth. He pushed the boy into Ukranian dance to hone his footwork, made him a southpaw, turned him into the best amateur boxer perhaps of all-time (396 victories), helped him win two gold medals and continued to expand his son’s team when Loma turned pro, like by adding a sports psychologist. His father’s face is even tattooed on Loma’s stomach. “He dedicates all to his father,” Klimas says. “He says, my career, all the history, it’s not for me; it’s for both of us.”
In 2018, Loma moved up in weight class to take on Jorge Linares at super lightweight, winning by TKO, then most recently fought Jose Pedraza, winning in the neighborhood of 10 rounds to take a unanimous decision. The Pedraza fight, shown on ESPN, was the second-highest-rated boxing match on cable this year. It says something about Loma’s skillset and ring prowess—not to mention his pound-for-pound ranking—that Klimas feels it necessary to defend a flawless year with two victories, because the second one was not a knockout. “Look, he fought a bigger guy,” Klimas says. “This was his second fight in that weight class, second fight being smaller. He won 10 rounds. He dropped the guy two times. What the f--- is the difference from his previous fights?”
Agree. And in addition to his son, Anatoliy works with Oleksandr Usyk, SI’s fighter of the year and one of the most dominant young forces in boxing. This year, Usyk won three cruiserweight bouts, the last by knocking out Tony Bellew, and the World Boxing Super Series. He became the first undisputed champion at cruiserweight, the first in his division to unify since 2006. All after he started working with Papachenko more regularly, it should be noted.
Tutoring those two fighters would be enough in most years to snag Anatoliy the crown. But he also works some with Oleksandr Gvozdyk, the light heavyweight who stopped Adonis Stevenson this month. (Stevenson required emergency brain surgery afterward; our prayers are with him and his family.)
Anatoliy also mentors the national team back in the Ukraine, mining future talent. The three boxers above all fought for the Ukraine at the Olympics in 2012. Since turning pro within six months of each other in 2013-14, the trio won 30-plus fights, with 25 stoppages combined. Egis doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that so many top fighters come from Eastern Europe. They’re hungry, sure, but also focused on athletic performance when they work with Papachenko. “Boxing didn’t see that before,” Klimas says. “It’s like when everybody had flip phones and then the iPhone came out. Now, everybody has one.”
Lomachenko did tear the rotator cuff in his right shoulder against Linares, an opponent who looked much larger in the ring. Who did he look to? Papachenko, of course. They cut back on the most wearing of his workouts, strengthening the shoulder that held up against Pedraza. Even the MMA star Khabib Nurmagomedov said he wanted to train with Anatoliy if he could get Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the ring. He might have to wait in line. Our trainer of the year might be too busy.