Ukrainian Soldier, Bare Knuckle Fighter Bovar “The Gladiator” Khanakov Opens Up about War’s Impact on Hometown of Mariupol, Tumultuous Upbringing that Lead Him to Boxing, US Debut and More

Miami, Florida – This week, BYB Extreme host and former fighter Erin Toughill sat with Bovar “The Gladiator” Khanakov, a Ukrainian soldier who fled Mariupol following the Russian Federation’s attack on the city and settled in Sacramento to pursue his combat career.  Khanakov will make his US debut on Saturday, November 19 at BYB 13: Tampa Brawl for it All at the Florida State Fairgrounds against Isaac “Puma” Freeman in a middleweight matchup.  

Khanakov opened up about the war, leaving his hometown of Mariupol after it was “destroyed by the Russian Federation,” his tumultuous upbringing that brought him to fighting, his training in Sacramento with a team that includes Urijah Faber and Viacheslav (Slava) Borshchev, what to expect in his November 19 BYB debut, and more.  Below are quotes and clips.  You can view the full episode here

On leaving war-destroyed Mariupol, Ukraine

“I came [to the US] because in my country there is war.  The Russian Federation destroyed my city…destroyed my home.  I didn’t plan to come to America, but because of the situation with my country, I came to America…My city, Mariupol, is all destroyed.  One [hundred] thousand people dead in my country.  This is very terrible.”  [CLIP]

“About 100,000 civilians died as a result of Russia’s attack on my city of Mariupol. We didn’t have Nazis and we lived well. Every day they destroy my country and continue to kill civilians from all types of missiles.” 

On training with and support of UFC stars Urijah Faber and (Slava) Borshchev at Alpha Male in Sacramento

“I have the best gym, Alpha Male. Urijah Faber helped me follow my dream. My manager called. He helped me to find the gym.  He introduced me to Urijah. Viacheslav (Slava) Borshchev supported me. Supported my family…gave me toys for my kid.  Now he’s training with me.  He is one of the best strikers in the world, a kickboxing world champion.  Urijah is allowing me to train in the gym and giving me all that I need.” [CLIP]

On his motivation to fight

“When I was 5-6 years old, my father drank a lot. He smashed my mother.  I see this when I was a little boy.  I wanted to protect my mother.  I went to the boxing gym.  My motivation – protect my mother…He is around my home and I was prepared to box him.  For 5 years, I trained very hard.  My father now he doesn’t smash my mother.  This is a part of life. So I train like a warrior. Sometimes I fight with my father at home.  This is my life.” [CLIP]

On his opponent Isaac Freeman

“I have a lot of experience in bare knuckle. Boxing and bare knuckle are two different sports.  There’s difference in preparing for this battle. My opponent is a boxer and I know he prepares like a boxer. But bare knuckle is not boxing…I don’t like to talk, I want to show you.  You’ll remember me.”  

“I am prepared.  I want to show America who are Ukrainian fighters.”

In addition to Khanakov-Freeman, BYB 13 will feature 10 hard-hitting fights including a pair of high profile title matches. BYB’s Desmond Green will take on BKB’s Scott McHugh for both the BYB Middleweight title and the Police Gazette World Diamond Belt. Tony Lopez, undefeated in the Trigon, makes his first heavyweight title defense as he takes on challenger DJ Linderman

To buy tickets, visit  The event will be broadcast live and exclusively on the Stadium App and, with prime time, multi-night replays to air on Stadium’s over the top (OTT) and over the air (OTA) platforms. To download the Stadium


Originating in South Florida with backyard legend Dada 5000, whose backyard fights gained worldwide popularity online, BYB was founded to harness the excitement of bare knuckle fighting into a more structured product for a wider, more mainstream audience. Since 2015, BYB has worked diligently to grow the reach of bare knuckle fighting on both a domestic and international level, hosting events in Wyoming, Mississippi, Florida and London, and is continuing to work with athletic commissions throughout the United States globally to expand the fanbase growing sport of bare knuckle fighting. For more information on BYB, visit and follow @bybextreme on social.