The world of heavyweight boxing has been dominated by the same superstars for the past few years. Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury have led British boxing by example, while across the pond Deontay Wilder is ever vocal about his standing. Yet, there will always be many waiting in the wing to try and steal a march. One such fighter who could grab his opportunity in a new division by the horns is Oleksandr Usyk.
Though originally a cruiserweight fighter, Usyk made the transition to the heavyweight division just over a year ago. His record, though short, is perfect thus far; originally billed to fight Carlos Takam, he breezed past Chazz Witherspoon last October. His rise continued this year with a bout against Derek Chisora organised for May. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, their clash took place on Halloween, a fight which Usyk won by unanimous decision to make his record 18-0.
On the night, Usyk’s crafty footwork and quick thinking was too much for Chisora. It was this swiftness in his style that saw the Ukrainian become the unified cruiserweight champion. This was his first real test as a heavyweight, one which he passed with flying colours, though Chisora’s resolve was admittedly weak. Usyk landed 50 more punches than his opponent, the majority of which were more calculated and precise.
It must be said about Usyk that he oozes an aura of calm about his performances. ‘Del Boy’ showed signs of aggression early doors and took the centre of the ring in the first round. But the former cruiserweight champion’s speed was unwavering as he continued to dance around the canvas.
Where Chisora swung big and missed, Usyk continually peppered his opponent with lighter jabs. Much has been said about the Ukrainian’s ability to compete with the biggest hitters in heavyweight boxing, given a perceived lack of heavy artillery. Deontay Wilder has been famed for his ability to lay opponents on the canvas, and Alexander Povetkin showcased his own deadly firepower against Dillian Whyte.
Yet, therein lies reason for optimism for Usyk. Wilder, despite knocking out every opponent he has beaten, can struggle to fully impose himself. Tyson Fury boxed him out the stadium in his last fight, and he laboured to a seventh-round knockout against an aging Luis Ortiz. Usyk will have reason to believe, if he can last the full 12 rounds, he can tire his bigger foes.
Many pundits have already written off Usyk due to his slight figure comparatively. He weighed seven pounds fewer than David Haye when the British boxer made a similar step-up in divisions, and a whole 10 kilograms lighter than Chisora. Indeed, Usyk will be in good company if he does manage to beat Anthony Joshua, his mandatory challenge; only Evander Holyfield and Haye have won heavyweight titles after unifying at cruiserweight level.
While it is true that Uysk will need a greater punching power to beat the best, that’s not the only way to win a boxing match. Outfighting, rather than outpunching, opponents can still get the job done; if he can last the 12 rounds, while maintaining his form and picking the right punches, he has every chance. Anthony Joshua, for all his size and undeniable power remains a very defensive boxer, and isn’t one to knock opponents out. His first bout with Andy Ruiz Jr. showed that he can tend towards putting up a shell when he’s sought out. Usyk, likewise, will hope to take the fight to the WBO Champion.
For me, the only fighter who seems untouchable to Usyk would be Tyson Fury. His fight against Wilder in February demonstrated that the ‘Gypsy King’ has the perfect blend of power and speed. He was far too much for Wilder to cope with, and even proved in their first duel that he can withstand a powerful punch, quickly rising from the dead. For this reason, Fury stands out as the only one who has too much for Usyk at this point in time.
After the bout against Chisora, Usyk rather modestly only gave himself a three out of 10 for his performance. There is a belief that he can challenge the very best, and with a mandatory challenge against Anthony Joshua on the horizon, he will have the chance to showcase his talent on the biggest stage.
Image: Andriy Makukha via Wikimedia Commons