Andriy Kotelnik: where the Big Money Is, Justice Ends. Former world boxing champion talked about how his difficult childhood spurred him to become a boxing star
The life of Lviv boxer Andriy Kotelnik may become the basis for the script of a Hollywood blockbuster: a boy from a troubled family sold ice cream on the street, washed cars, and at the same time boxed. Sports was the only way for him to escape from poverty.
Despite persistent problems with food and shelter, Andriy became a Ukrainian sports star. In 2000, he won a silver medal in the Sydney Olympics, and later moved to the professionals, which started a new chapter in his life. Andriy’s path to win the WBA light-welterweight title was very difficult. Three times he was a victim of biased refereeing, but nevertheless he was able to achieve it. And the ending was just fantastic – in the final 26 seconds of the fight with the Welsh boxer Gavin Rees the Galician beat his opponent in a knockout.
Then there was a fight, organized by the famous Don King, in America against Devon Alexander. The Galician was better than the opponent, and this was even recognized by HBO analysts. However, the judges again were not on Kotelnik’s side and gave the victory to Alexander. This was the Lvivian’s last major fight. Not long ago, in his hometown he said goodbye to boxing, winning against the Georgian Alexander Benidze.
Specially for Bulba NEWS, Kotelnik remembered his path to success. Below is the champion’s account.
His difficult childhood
They say success in sports is often reached by people from poor countries or from disadvantaged families. For them, sports is one of the only opportunities to secure a decent living. In general, I agree with this. Children from disadvantaged families have a strong incentive to prove that they’re not like their family or friends who do who knows what on the streets. I also had a hard life. But one does not chose his parents or relatives, so I don’t regret anything. After all, if things were different, then perhaps Lviv wouldn’t have its own champion in professional boxing. I loved sports since childhood, watched television reports, played football and boxed. From childhood I had a dream – to become famous and powerful. Because I had a purpose in life, and I actually managed to make something of myself and not get lost in the streets.
Until the 1990s, І wouldn’t say my family was poor. My dad worked as the head of the Polaron production plant, where he earned a good living. My mother worked in a kindergarten. We had a normal family. What happened next, I don’t want to remember. Let me just say that alcohol destroys all: my mom and dad divorced, and I lost my family. Various suspicious characters began to visit our apartment. One night a bleak individual with a knife came and told me: “I want to sleep here.” We had to put up with it. We had to sleep in the basement, in a factory, or wherever we could find.
I spent a lot of time on the street, because no one looked after me. Sometimes I lived with my brother, I spent some time in coach Dmytro Sosnovsky’s house, there was a time when I was even given to an unknown family.
So fate had it that as a child I had to take care of myself. I had to go through a lot… Older pupils of Dmytro Sosnovsky gave me jeans, someone gave me a coat, and when I received a pair of Adidas boxing shorts, I felt I was in seventh heaven. I rejoiced even when I received a jumping rope. Now one cannot impress kids with such things. When I was 16, I was presented with brand-name “blinchyky” (bag gloves). I was afraid to train in them, I wore them only at home when I did shadowboxing.
At first I could not be entirely devoted to boxing. I needed first of all to survive, that is, make a living. I made money by cleaning cars, selling ice cream. At about age 12-13 I started boxing more seriously. However, I did not always go to the gym; there was even a break from training for a year or two. Because of constant malnutrition I could not gain the desired weight. Eventually I was moved into the category of the older juniors (15-16 years), where the lowest weight category is 105 lbs. Then I weighed about 77 lbs. So I was not accepted. I returned to boxing when I weighed 112 lbs and could train with the older juniors.
First earnings in boxing
As a child, I didn’t think I could make money from boxing. I liked the sport, the trips to the competitions, where we were provided with meals. It was pleasant, as I was able to lead a normal life. I boxed for the traveling, victories, and medals. At that time the system was different…
Today you cannot win children over with medals and traveling. They want something more, because the media often publishes the amounts that famous athletes make: one a million dollars, another even more. So children even before achieving anything want to make money. No one thinks about the fact that an athlete becomes a champion not in one day, one month, or one year. To be the best, one must train hard for many years. But hard work remains behind the scenes. The public sees only the performance – the audience is not interested in anything else. In fact, it is very difficult psychologically and physically. Sometimes I think I should work until I’m too tired, then leave boxing. But I always have some goal, and I will never quit until I reach it. And then there are new aims. And so it continues: I always say to myself that you need a little more patience…
You may not believe me, but the first time I felt that I had enough money was when I had the first fight for the world title against Souleymane M’baye. The award, for me, was solid. For the championship fight against Gavin Rizal I got half of what I got for the fight against the Frenchman. But I entered the ring not for money but for the title. Incidentally, the Olympic silver medal in Sydney in 2000 brought me a smaller financial award than the championship title fights in the professionals. Although, before the Games I had money only for food, but I returned from Australia a rich and famous person. At least at the time I thought I was rich. I got two apartments, 30,000 dollars.
The beginning of a career in the pros
After the Olympics in Sydney I moved to the professionals and joined the German company Universum Box-Promotions. When I signed the agreement and saw the numbers in the contract, I was very pleased. But when I was faced with life in Germany, with their taxes, rent, insurance (all of which I paid out of my own pocket), I looked at life differently. It turned out that I went to Germany not to earn money, but only to exist. Again, only when I became a world champion was I was able to put money into my own business. Until then I don’t believe I was earning big money. In Germany I had enough for food and some other minor things.
If I had received German citizenship, the awards would be slightly larger. But it takes almost 10 years to become a German citizen. Besides, I didn’t join the amateurs of this country, because I moved there in adulthood, not at age 15. After all, I would never have agreed to it. I am a patriot of my hometown, my country. No matter what my homeland is like, I always want to come back here.
About an impossible dream
Of course, I would like to be the undisputed world champion. But I would need to go to America, for in Europe it is difficult to become one. Except if your manager is the British man Frank Warren. He works directly with American TV. Thank God that I became a WBA world champion. And I got used to seeing things realistically. Unification fights are very hard to arrange.
Іn the professional ring I have four defeats. But those who understand boxing and saw my fights know that I was not defeated by anyone but the judges. It was not I who lost, but my promoters. Where the big money is, justice ends. But God sees everything. On the third attempt I became a world champion and took what rightfully belongs to me.
I love varenyky and borshch. Varenyky are the number one dish. I really like the ones with meat. And with potatoes as well. In Germany I loved Turkish cuisine. I also like sushi. In the West this dish is more popular and cheaper than in Ukraine. And once at the King Cup in Thailand I tried “snake” soup. I was so hot that I thought I would burn from inside. Other Thai dishes such as fried grasshoppers, frogs, spiders I did not want to try. During the tournament I ate a lot of fruit.
Andriy Kotelnik was born December 29, 1977, in Lviv. He was trained by the famous Ukrainian coach Dmytro Sosnovsky. In the amateur ring he had 150 fights, of which he won 135. Silver medalist of the 2000 Olympics (Sydney, Australia). Winner of the European Cup 1999 (Lviv, Ukraine). Winner of the Junior European Championship 1995 (Siofok, Hungary). Five-time champion of Ukraine. On November 15, 2000, he signed his first professional contract with the German club Universum Box-Promotions (Hamburg), coach Michael Timm. He made his debut in professional boxing on December 16, 2000, in Essen. Overall he had 36 fights, won 31, suffered four defeats, and one draw. Andriy Kotelnik six times defended the WBA Intercontinental title and two times the WBO Asia Pacific title. He is also a former WBA light welterweight champion.