‘I fled the war in Ukraine – now I’m a British bare-knuckle boxing champion’

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    Ukraine’s proud history of boxing champions has a new inductee – step forward Danylo Hrebeniuk.

    He is not a name that rolls off the tongue like Klitschko, Usyk or Lomachenko but his backstory is no less fascinating as he looks to become a major player in combat sport. Not in traditional gloved boxing but in the burgeoning art of bare-knuckle fighting, where he has become a British champion.

    Hrebeniuk captured the vacant super-welterweight strap at BKB 34 at The O2 earlier this month. On his debut for the BKB promotion, the 28-year-old stunningly knocked out Matty Moore in the third round.

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    Hrebeniuk is no bare-knuckle newbie. Having been a successful kickboxer, he took up the sport in his homeland prior to Russia’s invasion.

    “Back home, before the war started, people thought I was crazy for doing bare-knuckle. They thought it was dangerous,” he tells Daily Star Sport. “Now, compared to the guys in the war, it’s nothing, everything has changed. Huge respect for the real fighters back home. Compared to guys right there, the troops, it is not tough at all, it is nothing.”

    Who is your favourite Ukrainian fighter of all time? Tell us in the comments section below

    Hrebeniuk, originally from Dnipro before moving to Kyiv, was loving life back home before Putin’s invasion turned his and countrymen and women’s lives upside down.

    “Before the war, I had a good life,” he recalls in virtually flawless English. “I was living in the place I wanted to live. I had everything sorted. I had people around. I was busy, I had seven fights in one year.”

    He moved to England in May last year as part of a refugee programme. Before resuming his fighting career though, he had to find work first. He adds: “I had lovely sponsors here who helped me settle. It was a Ukrainian scheme for the refugees. Pretty quickly I found a job. I was working as a waiter, then became the manager in a restaurant.

    “I then moved closer to London. It felt like building my life again but I have my sports, my goals and my fighting experience, which helped me in a big way mentally. There are lots of positives in this country.

    “A year and a half ago, I was thinking about how to make my fights international but then the war started and now I’m here at The O2 Arena. I didn’t plan this. I hope to stay busy with this company and hope we bring benefits to each other.

    “I was very inspired when bare-knuckle started because we are living in the time of a new sport in our age. It’s very exciting for me and feels good.”

    Judging by his BKB debut, Hrebeniuk could become a figurehead of the bare-knuckle fight game if he wants to. He insists clinching the British belt is just a start for him.

    “There are always levels. Even if you like Floyd Mayweather, there are levels,” he explains while clutching the title belt. “I have reasons for joy for the next couple of days but I don’t have any reasons to be proud.

    “I made mistakes in this fight and there are still fighters who are doing it better than me. It’s just another brick in this huge building I’m doing. The company knows I’m open to being busy and fighting as much as possible.”

    Hrebeniuk prepared for his BKB debut by taking part in unlicensed gloved boxing and sparring with former world light-heavyweight title challenger Anthony Yarde.

    “It [sparring with Yarde] was surprisingly good, I didn’t think I could fight on such levels,” he says. “It wasn’t like that I win him but it was decent sparring.

    “He had lots of stamina. He’s a professional, I was like in between shifts. I needed to go faster because my shift was starting! I now want to move to being a full-time athlete because I think I have the potential. I’m 28 so I still some time. Not too much, but some time. This is what I want to do.”

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