He hasn’t fought since 2005 but when people ask me who my favourite fighter is, I say Igor Vovchanchyn without pause, without hesitation.
I discovered Igor pretty early on I guess. I saw my first UFC (UFC 1) in 1997 I think and then UFC 2 and 3 soon after. I was immediately hooked. From then on that was my thing (wasn’t quite a sport at this point) and I tracked down as much as I could find. I used to buy VHS tapes from a shop I found in an ad in the back of Martial Arts Illustrated magazine. Early UFC and Pride, World Vale Tudo Championships and the Absolute Fighting Championship and anything else.
With one order I got a free ‘Igor Vovchanchyns greatest fights’ video. I think I’d heard the name before but when I saw the video I was blown away.
Not sure exactly what was on the tape but I’m pretty sure had the tournament with Fred Floyd, Varelans and Dixon. If you ain’t seen it, try to find it. Vovchanchyn was smaller than any of them but he went through them like a chainsaw. Fred Floyd I’d seen before in the World Vale Tudo and although he didn’t look physically impressive he was a big man and he was game. He tried to put up a fight but it soon became clear he was outgunned, he quickly gassed and Igor pounded him till he quit. Got to mention the way Igor threw punches, thunderous with deadly intent and don’t think anyone was prepared for it when they felt it. Next up was Paul Varelans who had already fought in the UFC at this point. Varelans had been in the cage with Tank and Marco Ruas and Dan Severn but again he had absolutely no answer to Vovchanchyns striking. He was basically a punch bag till he decided to lie on the ground and hope for it to be over. Igor was then in the final against John Dixon. Dixon decided pretty quickly that he didn’t want to be there and quit on his feet after getting his nose broken. Igor won the tournament, one of nine he won during his career, more than any other man. I loved him immediately.
Remember also, this was back when mma was still more of less dominated by grapplers. If you knew Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you strutted around like you were The Fucking Man, if you were also Brazilian, who seem to have that extra macho swagger anyway; you seemed to walk around like you were Superman. That was one of my favourite things about watching Igor fight a Brazilian JJ guy. Once they realised they couldn’t get him down or keep him down, the demeanour changed and the confidence seemed to melt away. Then they knew what was coming. A great example of this is the fight against Edson Carvalho or the classic fight (fights?) with Adilson Lima.
Lima was a Renzo Gracie guy who Igor fought at the Absolute Championships in 1995, typically Brazilian full of confidence…..for a little while. Anyway not long into the fight Igor knocks him down then knocks him out with a few head kicks, Renzo throws in the towel. Then for some fucking reason the Brazilians start complaining, no kicks on the ground allowed apparently. Yes these are the Gracie’s we are talking about, same people who complain about too many rules but also want to add those that favour them. So they let Adilson shake off the cobwebs I guess then lead him back out to restart the fight….after being knocked unconscious. I love Renzo but he was wrong here. Don’t want to spoil it but a link to fight is below.
My favourite Igor Vovchanchyn fight though is the first one against Nick Nutter. Nutter was a big All American wrestler and a protege of Mark ‘The Hammer’ Coleman and had a very similar style, ground and pound all the way. He had been very impressive in the tournament this far and was now in the final against Vovchanchyn. The fight started as planned for Nutter, get the takedown and go to work. Igor was pinned with his head against the cage with nowhere to go against the strong wrestler and Nutter started to land headbuts, punches and lots of knees. It looked really bad for Igor. If you hear Nick Nutter tell it, he say Igor tapped but the referee never stopped it but you can’t really tell from the video. Anyway I guess he lost heart a bit, can happen when you hit someone with every thing you have and you can’t get rid of him. And also Igor started hitting back punches from the bottom, headbuts from the bottom getting more and more effective the more tired they both became. In the end Nutter had enough and tapped out to strikes from a guy who was under him. What I love about this fight is not a knock out or great technique, it’s the amazing show of heart and what can happen if you don’t quit.
Vovchanchyn vs Nutter https://youtu.be/CJ62yxC8oSQ
They had a rematch, it didn’t last long
Vovchanchyn vs Nutter 2 https://youtu.be/392W_62kivQ
The Pride years
Eventually all the great fighters went to where the great fighters go. The choice for the elite was either the UFC in the USA or Pride FC in Japan. Igor was actually supposed to fight in UFC 11 I think but visa issues stopped it an he ended up signing withh Pride. Debuting at Pride 4 where he KOd Gary Goodridge.
MMA was starting to change, more money and more at stake meant more professionalism. Teams were coming together more and more. The best were training together and sharing experience. Igor more or less kept himself to himself, trained how he always trained. I guess you could say he didn’t evolve. His submission defence improved and his wrestling got better but compared to the rest of the best he was standing still. He was still putting in good performances and getting good results but just didn’t seem quite as dominant as before.
He was still the first man to beat Mark Kerr, there was the iconic knockout of Francisco Bueno. In fact he was considered favourite going into the first Pride Grandprix and he proved that by fighting his way to the final where he would face Mark Coleman. This always pissed me off, in the semi final Igor fought Sakuraba for 15 minutes while Coleman basically got a bye. An injured Fujita got in the ring tried a half assed shot then quit. So fresh Coleman vs spent Igor. The wrestler got the takedown, advanced to north/south position and rained down knees till Igor quit. Can’t say I blame him. That one still bugs me though.
After the GP the next notable fight was against Enson Inoue at Pride 10. Igor brutalised Enson for 10 minutes to the point that Inoue had to be carried to his corner after the round. Thank god they stopped it, could have been bad. As it was Enson had a broken jaw, broken finger, perforated eardrum, injured spleen and his brain swole up. Like I said it could have been bad.
Although Vovchanchyn was still successful, by the early 2000s things had kinda changed, the old guard was moving on and the new breed of fighters were coming up. The likes of Rampage Jackson, Crocop and the Chute Boxe boys were making their mark. And although he could still pick up wins, there were also a lot more losses. He seemed to struggle with injuries, motivation and weight issues. His last fight was a loss to Kazuhiro Nakamura in 2005, a disappointing way to end it.
For a man to do what he had done was amazing, remember this was a 5’7 guy who spent the vast majority of his career fighting at heavyweight. His final record was 70 fights, 59 wins and 10 losses (1 no contest). He should be remembered as an absolute legend of the sport. And personally if I hadn’t discovered him, I don’t know that I would have got into MMA so much.
So salute to Igor Vovchanchyn, my first MMA hero.