• 29 September, 2022
  • 10 minutes

Pavlo Nakonechnyy – A Genuine World’s Strongest Man Contender?

Highland games champion Scott Rider asks if the young-gun from Ukraine can really mix it with the best at World's Strongest Man 2023.

At the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff last month, Ukraine’s Pavlo Nakonechnyy heralded his arrival on the international strongman scene in the most direct fashion; by winning his first Giants Live contest at just his second attempt.

Many had tipped his compatriot, Oleksii Novikov, who had been in imperious form both at The Strongman Classic and Europe’s Strongest Man, to take the World Open title. Graham Hicks had also been well-fancied for the win, especially after his 440kg/970lb deadlift double rep had hit social media. The events seemed a good fit for the 2019 Britain’s Strongest Man winner, with deadlift and log press both on the bill.

In fact, much of the pre-show speculation was centred around whether Georgia’s Ivan Makarov would succeed with his 505kg/1,113lb deadlift world record attempt and if Canada’s Mitchell Hooper could match him and continue to live up to the huge promise he had shown at World’s Strongest Man and The Strongman Classic earlier in the year.

In truth, not many would have tipped the twenty-five-year-old former powerlifter to take the win, following his enforced break from the sport caused by the conflict in his home nation. But Nakonechnyy had come to Wales in fantastic condition, looking leaner and densely muscled, with victory clearly in mind. He closed out a 1.5-point victory over “The Moose” (Hooper), winning both the Atlas Stones and the Medley, with joint second places in the Deadlift and Log Lift and a fourth in the front hold. He and Hooper were well clear of the rest of the field, with a fatigued-looking Novikov taking third some 9.5 points adrift of his countryman.

A Promising Debut

Pavlo had made his Giants Live debut a year earlier at the World Deadlift Championships and World Open in Manchester. Going into the contest there was much expectation over what he might deadlift; his 470kg/1,036lb training lift, in preparation for the show, had looked smooth and hinted that there was more in the tank. His 1,000lb (453.5kg) effort on the night was overshadowed by five other men equalling the lift and Makarov’s 475kg/1,047lb winning lift. Nakonchenyy attempted 505kg/1,113lb, but his effort looked unconvincing compared to Makarov’s narrow failure. In the rest of the contest, he performed solidly, placing 4th overall, but the limelight was very much stolen by a rampant Evan Singleton battling with Adam Bishop and Okeksii Novikov, who was ten points clear of Pavlo.

That there were glimpses of Nakonchnyy’s massive potential is undeniable. A 1,000lb deadlift is a truly remarkable feat and this was the first time he had achieved it under the spotlight of full competition. Other than a disappointing front hold, Pavlo had performed solidly across the remaining events, taking second in the stones, and looking fast and explosive in the carry and drag, despite some mistakes. His 4th place finish was highly creditable for a debutante to top-level international strongman and his natural ability was there for all to see. And yet, few were prepared for the performance he unleashed in Cardiff on the 6th of August.


This is partly due to the enforced break from competition Nakonechnyy was faced with, just as his strongman career was taking off, as a consequence of Russia’s invasion of his homeland. Not only was he unable to leave the country to compete, but his social media output also ceased – quite understandably. As a result, the former world champion powerlifter was largely forgotten about, as his rivals continued to train and compete in the public eye. Pavlo had, in fact, volunteered to distribute humanitarian aid but was eventually offered a special dispensation to resume international competition, just like Novikov and many other top-flight Ukrainian sportsmen and women.

It is hard to fully appreciate how athletes like Nakonechnyy, Novikov and Pavlo Kordiyaka must have been affected by the war. Aside from the practical difficulties of training amid an invasion with the need to support the war effort, how must it alter an athlete’s perspective on their sport? In an interview for Giants Live ahead of Europe’s Strongest Man, Oleksii Novikov, the 2020 World’s Strongest Man, spoke of the boost to national morale of Ukrainian athletes competing and excelling on the global scene. To what extent has this idea focused Novikov’s resolve, considering his tremendous form this year? It may also partly explain his countryman Nakonechnyy’s outstanding display at the World Open.

Nakonechnyy vs The Moose

After the World Deadlift Championships had concluded, the rest of the contest boiled down to a two-horse race between Nakonechnyy and Hooper who had both deadlifted 1,000lb/453.5kg, with the Ukrainian, if anything, looking slightly more within himself. In the second event, the medley, Pavlo blitzed the course, producing a winning time and exhibiting astonishing speed on the return sprints and pick-ups. In the 150kg/331lb log for repetitions he produced seven good lifts, one short of Hooper’s total, but enough for equal 2nd with Graham Hicks. This event was made slightly more awkward due to there being just a single pad for the logs to land on after lock-out. This impeded the athletes somewhat as they had to plant their legs much wider than normal.

After his disastrous 27 second front hold from 2021, Nakonechnyy further highlighted his improvement with a 47.38 second, 3rd place finish. Hooper took another event win meaning that he held a 1.5-point advantage over the Ukrainian going into the stones. This fact was not lost on Nakonechnyy who proceeded to put together one of the fastest stone runs ever seen at Giants Live, placing all five orbs onto their plinths in just 17.65 seconds. Hooper could only manage 4th, handing victory to a jubilant Nakonechnyy.

Pavlo’s performance in Cardiff was so impressive because it was so lacking in the kind of errors you might expect of a man who has only taken part in a handful of strongman competitions; he was faultless from start to finish. His deadlifting prowess has long been well-established, as has his static strength, but in this contest he demonstrated his versatility and technical skill as well as his competitiveness and ability to perform under pressure – all crucial abilities for a future World’s Strongest Man contender. He had decided before the contest that he would not be attempting the world record and would instead be focusing on the World Open title. His composure throughout the whole five events was highly impressive as was his magnanimity towards Hooper and Novikov; his show of solidarity with his fellow Ukrainian during the podium ceremony was especially good to see, following their altercation the previous year.

Powerlifting Past

Although the World Open title is Nakonechnyy’s first major win in strongman, he is no stranger to international success and is well-known by those who follow powerlifting as a former world champion and owner of one of the best raw totals of all-time. His powerlifting career was notable for his rivalry with Britain’s Luke Richardson in the IPF and EPF junior division.

The pair clashed on numerous occasions with Richardson besting him at the 2017 European Classic and most famously in 2018 when both men tied on 1,010.5kg/2,228lb. However, Pavlo reigned supreme at the 2017 IPF Junior World Championships and in 2019 established a 1,070kg/2,359lb total (using knee wraps in the squat) to take the World Raw Powerlifting Federation world title, despite tearing his biceps attempting a 415kg/915lb deadlift on his final attempt. By the time he hung up his powerlifting shoes he was just twenty-two and a career in strongman was beckoning.

Breaking into Strongman

Early successes in strongman included a victory at the Arnold Amateur European Championships, in which he took a clean sweep of all the events. He was unable to take his place at the Arnold Amateur World’s due to the biceps injury he had sustained at the WRPF World Championships. However, he took second place behind Novikov at the 2019 Ultimate Strongman Junior World Championships and finished 4th at the Best Nordic Strongman contest in the same year.

Nakonechnyy’s development in strongman has faced multiple setbacks not of his own making, the first of which was the global pandemic. Competitive opportunities stagnated and around this time he stated his intention to begin training to break the strongman world record in deadlift. He was not alone in this pursuit and many athletes kept their competitiveness alive through the online Feats of Strength series.

In 2021 Pavlo returned to competition at the Middle East’s Strongest Man contest. His 6th place finish hardly did his talent justice and he made costly errors. Following his 2021 World Open appearance, competitive opportunities were once again thwarted by the war in Ukraine. But at last, it seems that Nakonechnyy is on the right track. He will be appearing at the Giants Live World Tour Finals in Glasgow’s OVO Hydro Arena on October 8th and his win in Cardiff has guaranteed him a qualification spot for the 2023 World’s Strongest Man Finals.

A Future World’s Strongest Man?

Can he really be considered a genuine contender for the sport’s greatest prize? Both Nakonechnyy, and indeed Mitchell Hooper, who recently won the Arnold UK event in Birmingham, are young and highly gifted strongmen who are clearly capable of rising to the very top of their sport. Nakonechnyy possesses all the raw materials necessary; at 6’ 4”/1.94m tall and over 170kg/374lb of lean muscle, he has the frame. His static strength is phenomenal and will likely improve and he has exhibited great speed and athleticism.

These abilities alone may not necessarily guarantee success; experience, the ability to stay injury-free and to be able to cope with the drawn-out format of World’s with its heats and two-day final, will ultimately be the deciding factors. Overcoming the established champion, Tom Stoltman, is an enormous task. His victory at WSM in 2021 was the kind of performance that augurs a spell of dominance such as has been seen by previous multi-title winners, like Savickas, Shaw and Pudzianowski. As a two-time winner, Stoltman seems to be enjoying the luxury of prolonged periods of rest and recovery. He is not over-competing, but rather selecting his contests carefully and prioritising his own long-term health and development.

There are also other contenders with credible chances that must be overcome; Trey Mitchell of the USA is now a two-time Shaw Classic winner, Britain’s Luke Stoltman has reached the finals on multiple occasions and will be looking to reach the podium, at least, next year. Oleksii Novikov is a former champion and actually won half the events in last year’s final. He is a fierce competitor who is always ready to produce his best on the big stage. Brian Shaw, the four-time champion is always in the mix and Canada’s Maxime Boudreault, the 2021 bronze medallist, has a proven track record at WSM.

Whether Nakonechnyy can overcome these men and become the third ever Ukrainian World’s Strongest Man winner, after Novikov and Vasyl Virustyuk, will have to be seen. As always, much will depend on the events and the luck of the draw. One thing is for certain; the sport of strongman has gained an exciting and unbelievably talented new star.