Ivan Gontsa Interview- A Small Nation’s Single Hope!
09.10.06 - By Valerij “Rudolph” Calmic and Izyaslav “Slava” Koza: One night in Paris, five years ago during my trip to Europe, I happened to turn on the TV in my hotel and catch a BBC special on the condition of the Moldovan prison system. For those who care, and for those who don’t but are reading anyway, the capital of that republic, Kishinev is where I was born.
Article posted on 10.10.2006
It goes without saying that the special did not paint a flattering picture of the country’s administration. The tuberculosis- ridden inmates, some of whom, teenagers, were no older then me, were dying and suffering mainly because the department handling the corrections facility could not gather a thousand dollars to take off rotted metal window bars, preventing fresh air from circulating inside the cells. The special concluded with the statement that Moldova was the poorest country in Europe.
The above was written as an honest reason behind my motivation in asking Valera to conduct a drawn up interview on my behalf, with the only perspective fighter from the country that brought me into existence. I doubt many fans outside of the former CIS have heard about Ivan, and coincidentally, I have my doubts as to whether some folks actually know where the country of Moldova is located or that such a country even exists.
However, for those that have seen the movie, “GhostBusters” and had, or have issues with Geography, now you know that the country, Moldova, is just as real as the fighter, in Ivan Gontsa who represents it.
What can you say by looking at Gontsa’s record? The only victory of note should be the one over then undefeated Alisultan Nadirbegov, a Russian native who in his last outing went to war with former prospect Kuvanych Toyganbayev and pulled off the upset via TKO in the 11th. Toyganbayev is a fighter that was profiled on Showtime before and did look impressive in his win over Oba Carr, but slipped off the radar and then the winning path. Coincidentally, many ringside reports have mentioned that the bout between Nadirbegov and Toyganbayev was easily the best fight of the year shown on Russian television. Spurred on by the win Nadirbegov will now and next go up against extremely talented and undefeated WBO light middleweight champ Sergiy Dzindziruk, and if Alisultan can defeat or at least limit test Dzindziruk, who defeated touted Daniel Santos for the belt, then miraculously Gontsa’s stock should and hopefully will rise.
For now, though, the lone Moldovan hopeful should fight sometime two weeks from now in Moscow against an as yet unknown opponent, still hoping someone will give him that one single chance necessary for success. The chance Winky got from Mosley, and the one given to Ivan’s friend Sergei Lyakhovich against Brewster, and the one many “names,” “legends,” pretenders and contenders have received and made or destroyed their reputation and legacy on. Without it, this interview may be the only opportunity you will ever get to find out about one of the faceless millions of warriors and the small and faceless nation he comes to represent.
ESB: Hey Ivan! Greetings from America, and thanks for your time. What do you know about your next fight and opponent?
Ivan Gontsa: The bout will most likely take place in Moscow between the 17th and 19th of October. I am in fact headed to St. Petersburg now to finish up my training and spar. I don’t know who my opponent is but I do know he is from Belarus.
ESB: Was your last fight ( against Ukrainian Maksim Velichko) a hard one or was your opponent easy to figure out?
Ivan Gontsa: It was hard psychologically, since the fight was in our native Kishinev. I just couldn’t get into the best of shapes, cause I basically train in the Ukraine not at home. Truthfully though the fight was easy. It was your typical tune up bout. In the beginning of next year, my team is planning to get a title shot against the WBO intercontinental champ.
ESB: Your last fight was the first professional bout that took place in Moldova that I had ever heard about. Were there similar evenings of boxing and do they have any potential to become more common there?
Ivan Gontsa: We did have these evenings of boxing before, but not officially, even though everything was done by the professional boxing book. For instance, we held the Ukrainian and Romanian championships. I think pro boxing has a future in Moldova.
ESB: Currently, you are the only, more or less successful Moldovan pro boxer in the world. How would you rate the guys from Moldova and are there any up and comers with potential now?
Ivan Gontsa: Yea, these guys exist, although mostly at the lighter weights. For instance, we have a strong fighter, by the name of Igor Samoilenko, who beat Ukrainian Vladimir Sidorenko at the 97 world championships, but then lost to the future amateur world champ from Cuba. Sidorenko as those who follow the sport know is now the WBA champ at his weight. Other then that, I would also mention Vyacheslav Gazhan.
One of the best Moldovan fighters, Valeri Yakunin, 3 time national champ, recently beat Andrei Semenov of Russia. However, he is extremely weighed down by both his family and constant work, which takes away a lot of his time. For many Moldovan fighters, boxing is a hobby not a profession. You can’t earn money at it. Yakunin, for example, earns a living by making and installing windows and doors with aluminum siding.
ESB: Who is your manager now and who is your promoter? What plans do they have for your future?
Ivan Gontsa: My manager is Vladimir Nikolayevich Kushnir, from St. Petersburg. In terms of promotion my interests are currently represented by the Russian promotional company “Pushka.” Regarding plans for my future, as I mentioned, my sights are set on capturing the WBO intercontinental title.
ESB: Who is the best fighter at your weight right now and why?
Ivan Gontsa: Right now? It’s hard to say. There is no one guy. Before the best was my idol Felix Trinidad. Oscar De La Hoya shares the top spot with him now.
ESB: Who is the best pound for pound fighter in the world today?
Ivan Gontsa: About p4p, again, I am not sure. However, if we are talking about Heavyweights I consider Sergei Lyakhovich from Belarus the best. He is very fast and very vicious.
ESB: How and at what age did you start boxing?
Ivan Gontsa: I went to one of the local boxing gyms in Kishinev when I was 14. By the way, my next fight will be an anniversary of sorts, because at about this time years ago I put on the gloves for the very first time. Anyway boxing wasn’t my first sport when I was a kid. I was still searching so to speak. I had tried swimming for about three years, and also some track and field.
Finally, a friend of mine took me to that gym. They had about 40 kids there, and after about a year I was the only one left. Soon after I took second place at the city championships among amateurs and was well on my way.
ESB: When you were a kid who were your idols among the Soviet stars of the time and why? Who do you think was the greatest Soviet fighter of all time? Also who did you like among the great fighters abroad?
Ivan Gontsa: Among the former Soviet guys, my idol was Kostya Tsyzu. Why? Well he basically owned the ring when he was in it. In the pros much the same way as in the amateurs. As far as naming the greatest of all time, I really can’t decide here. From the international guys, my favorite was 2 time Olympic champ Cuban Ariel Hernandez.
ESB: Who do you like among today’s current stars?
Ivan Gontsa: Can’t really say. Nobody comes to mind.
ESB: Imagine for a second that Don King or Bob Arum are offering you a contract and a fight against any top fighter in the world. They are also letting you pick the location. Who would you fight, where and why?
Ivan Gontsa: Really, I think, that decision should be made by the whole team and never just by the fighter himself. Although Kushner, my manager, had a guy named Andrei Pestrayev, who they brought in against Pernell Whitaker. The fight was very even, but they gave the victory the American at first, but then an investigation determined the result should be overturned. Officially Whitaker was accused of using drugs, but I have my own opinion regarding the result of that bout. So anyway, I would of course love to get a chance to fight for a world title.
ESB: Now imagine that Merlin, the magician gave you a time machine, so you could go back in time and fight against any boxing legend, Soviet or International. Who would you try to fight and why?
Ivan Gontsa: Never really thought about a fight with any past legends. However, it would be nice to return to my own past if possible. Five years ago, when I was boxing under Ukrainian management, I had a chance to fight for the intercontinental title in Italy. I was in excellent shape then, but they gave me the visa only on the day of the actual flight. I didn’t go to Italy and missed my chance.
ESB: Tell us about your amateur career? Where did you take first place, what was your amateur record, and which relatively famous pros did you meet up with during that time?
Ivan Gontsa: I had around 260 fights during my amateur career and won 217 of them. Among the more famous opponents I had were Suleiman Oglu, the European champ, who I lost to by one point in Turkey (laughing). My other famous opponent was a Ukrainian with a Moldovan last name, Andrey Tsurkan, who now fights in America and is very successful at it.
I was also the champion of the Balkan countries Tournament in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, in 1997. A year before that I was supposed to go to the junior world championships in Cuba, but it didn’t happen for me. Instead I went with the national team to Yugoslavia where I won that tournament at only 18. I was also awarded the “Best Boxer” cup at those games. In 1999 I reached the finals of the European Cup in L’vov, Ukraine.
ESB: Did you spar with any famous fighters? Anything to be proud about like knockdowns, or praise from their trainers?
Ivan Gontsa: I sparred with the former European champ at middle Maxim Nesterenko. Right now, I am headed to St. Petersburg, where I will have some sparring sessions against former world champ Roman Karmazin.
ESB: Are you friends with any famous guys outside the ring? If so with who and how did you meet?
Ivan Gontsa: Not anybody in particular but I am on good terms with many guys from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. For instance, in the Czech Republic I met Sergei Lyakhovich and we had a few beers together.
ESB: Now some questions about politics and Moldova. Whenever, any major local newspapers, like the New York Times, write about your neck of the woods, the impression most readers get is rather grim. The electricity doesn’t always work, poor people are traded like commodities, or flown here so some of their organs can be removed and sold on the black market. The worst is the description of certain human organs being sold on the street instead of food. On the other hand, some acquaintances and those close to me, who were there recently say that life there is ordinary, and the country is rising up from its ex Soviet knees. Can you describe the situation in the country from your point of view?
Ivan Gontsa: I often visit many other European countries, and I think that even 10 years ago Kishinev had begun turning into a European city. I love my homeland and will never leave it. We have a beautiful country, with such wonderful strawberries, such peaches! Such beautiful women wherever you go! It’s only about 180 km to the ocean. Our country is beautiful, and to prove it people are leaving Russia now and coming to live and study here. For instance, I don’t like St. Petersburg, because it seems very gray, and very depressing, and the people are almost exactly the same, and are always upset about something. Almost no hot women there.
I do also like Kiev. It’s very nice, and roomy, and the people seem very kind there as well.
ESB: From personal experience, I know that in America very few people know about Moldova. Even less probably know about the territory behind the river Dnestr, which is apparently pushing to become an independent country. What do you think about this, and do the citizens of Tiraspol’ have a right to demand independence or would you rather see one, single, united Moldova? What can you tell us about the other autonomous region called Gagauziya?
Ivan Gontsa: Honestly, politics doesn’t interest me much. Many of my friends live in Tiraspol’ and we are on excellent terms. As far as Gagauziya, we have a stereotype of sorts here that the Gagauz are evil. This is simply untrue, because I know many people from Gagauziya, and have many friends among them. Valera Yakunin was born there for instance.
ESB: A year or two ago, your president Vladimir Voronin, visited the U.S. and our president promised to help develop your country’s economy. In January of next year, Americans will no longer need visas in order to visit Moldova. Do you think this is a sign of something positive, and is he serious about helping Moldova, or are these simply empty promises?
Ivan Gontsa: I can’t really comment on things that presidents say, sorry. I am just not that interested in politics.
ESB: What sites would you suggest Americans check out if they decide to visit the country of our birth?
Ivan Gontsa: As far as sites go, I would suggest visiting our Lakeside resort Vadul-lui-Vode, which is ecologically the cleanest in all of Europe.
ESB: Would you want to see Moldova moving closer to us and the West or to Putin and Russia? Perhaps a third option would be to become one with Romania?
Ivan Gontsa: I think, the best would be moving closer to the West.
ESB: What do you like to do in your free time? What do you like to read, watch on TV or in the movies, and what kind of Music do you like? What music do you use or would use for your ring walk?
Ivan Gontsa: I don’t have a favorite type of music, and basically listen to everything they play on the radio. My favorite types of movies are Thrillers and horror flicks. In my free time, I like to go camping, and to barbeques with my friends. I rarely go to night-clubs. In the evenings, it’s much better to sit down with my friends in a quiet bar, and drink some beer or some of our Moldovan Cognac. I strongly suggest any tourists or guests to our country try “Dojna” or “Tiras,” those are my favorites brands of our Cognac.
ESB: Tell us about your family? Married? Kids?
Ivan Gontsa: I’m not married and I don’t have kids, although I want some. Right now, there is nobody to have them with cause I haven’t found the right person. I want to find the kind of girl that will stay with me forever.
ESB: Tell us about your trainer Anatoli Piika? How did you meet?
Ivan Gontsa: He is my first trainer and has remained my trainer up till now. He became and replaced my father, who had died right when I started boxing. Anatoli Piika is a very soft spoken, warm, and polite person, who never goes off and never curses. With my second trainer, I could and have, argued, but with Anatoli it’s completely different. He is special because he works with everybody equally, and unlike other trainers doesn’t pick one, or two favorites and leaves the others to do things on their own.
ESB: As far as I know, you don’t have a boxing moniker, but as many fighters have begun to realize, this is often necessary for marketing, self promotion, as well as financial success and popularity. What nickname would you pick for yourself?
Ivan Gontsa: Somebody else has to come up with one for me.
ESB: Do you think you are a famous personality at home? Do people recognize you when you are out on the street? Besides Zdub si Zdub, a Moldovan rock band, I have not heard about any Moldovan stars from the entertainment industry. Can you name some famous folks in today’s Moldova? (Like say Actors, Artists, Composers, or eccentric politicians)?
Ivan Gontsa: Once in a while, people recognize me, but I wouldn’t consider myself famous. Really many people in Kishinev recognize each other out on the street. As some say, Kishinev is just one big little town. As far as current stars, I would pick out Nataliya Gradienko, who recently represented Moldova in this year’s annual “EuroVision” contest.
ESB: In conclusion, what would you want to say to the people who will read this interview?
Ivan Gontsa: Come and visit Moldova. Many tall-tale myths will disappear right before your eyes. It’s really not as bad as they write about. With each passing day, the country looks more and more like any other part of Europe.
I would like to thank Ivan Gontsa for his time, as well as the people at “Komsomol’skaya Pravda,” for helping Valerij get in contact with him. It goes without saying that Valerij also put in a lot of his own time to get this interview so this should also be acknowledged and appreciated as he is a very busy guy. Thanks, “Rudolph”!
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