Quirky Usyk sets forth to enter heavyweight waters
Oleksandr Usyk (16-0 12KOs) comes off like someone from another dimension. His skill set and movement is above all of those at cruiserweight and more than likely heavyweight. His struggles with the English language have come off charming as his “…I am very feel” quote is as iconic as any in-ring performance for Usyk – and yet as he sets forth to debut at heavyweight this Saturday, October 12th, at the Wintrust Arena, things are muted a bit more than one might expect.
Usyk is one of the good ones in the sport, a pure boxer with power, whose biggest enemy is that sometimes he makes bouts look too easy at the world-class level. That being said, only diehard boxing fans watch the cruiserweight division and despite unifying a tough division having his bouts air on KloudTV and other bizarre outlets, have not been all that helpful in the development of Usyk’s ability being shown to the populous.
So who is Usyk?
Usyk is a highly decorated amateur, who had an amateur record of 335-15. Usyk originally competed at the world level at middleweight, but losses to Shawn Porter and Matt Korobov seemingly as well as a growth spurt saw him explore the light heavyweight division in 2008.
In 2008, Usyk made it to the finals of each light heavyweight world level amateur tournament with the exception of the 2008 Bejing Olympics in which he lost in the quarter-finals to Clemente Russo of Italy.
Usyk would avenge his loss to Russo in the 2012 London Olympic games defeating him in the finals to win a gold medal in the heavyweight division.
During the remainder of Usyk’s amateur run, he defeated current IBF light heavyweight world champion Artur Beterbiev, Junior Fa as well as Joe Joyce, to name a few. Essentially, Usyk beat most of the notable fights in the amateurs, already.
Usyk became a consensus top-1o pound-for-pound fighter, when he became one of only a few in recent memory to unify his division, cruiserweight, joining the likes of Terence Crawford, who did it at junior welterweight, and Bernard Hopkins, to name a few. Usyk was also named last year’s (2018) fighter of the year, based on his appearance in the World Boxing Super Series, a tournament-based cruiserweight tournament that saw all four world champions involved. Usyk beat Krzysztof Glowacki, Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, Murat Gassiev to unify the major four world titles and get his profile massively boasted.
Usyk followed this with a successful U.K. debut against Tony Bellew, in a bout that Usyk didn’t look great in, but scored a spectacular knockout as well as helped his wallet with the large grossing fight. After that bout, the injury bug bit him and he has been dormant.
That fight was essentially a year ago. Usyk has been in the press a bit, but the massive year that turned him into a star, now is in need of a jumpstart as his entry into the heavyweight division has been cooled off a bit by the emergence of the likable, underdog Andy Ruiz Jr., who knocked out Anthony Joshua, and has become the lovable story of 2019, as well as the new heavyweight name of note. The oddball antics of Usyk are fun, but Ruiz seemingly came in the meantime and now is occupying the space, Usyk might have once envisioned himself in.
Originally we had paragraphs about Usyk’s originally opponent here, but after a Monday night tweet by the promoter, Eddie Hearn, stating that Tyrone Spong had an adverse finding in his drug test, Tyrone Spong was pulled from the fight on Saturday. The drug Spong tested positive for is clomiphene.
Let’s look at Usyk’s last-minute replacement opponent, Chazz Witherspoon (38-3 29KOs). Witherspoon was a prospect on the verge of being a contender in 2008 in that year he lost via disqualification to Chris Arreola, who at the time was a surging contender and known KO artist in the heavyweight division. Witherspoon would rebuild only to be knocked out by Tony Thompson. The last time most saw Witherspoon on television would’ve been in April 2012, when Seth Mitchell knocked him out in a back-and-forth slugfest in three rounds on HBO.
Since July of 2014, Witherspoon has won eight fights in a row, all against regional opposition. In short, every time Witherspoon has stepped up in competition, it hasn’t gone well.
Usyk now has to live up to his billing as the fleet of foot cruiserweight turned heavyweight will need to do what most consider the logical outcome for this bout, Usyk dominating Witherspoon and more than likely stopping him.
So, if the fight seems so cut and dry, why watch?
The answer is simple, Usyk appears to be special, and despite a bout that doesn’t bring much excitement, the talent of Usyk, is worth a watch for those who enjoy the craftsmanship of the sport.
If Usyk were to win names like Michael Hunter, Dereck Chisora or Joseph Parker, could meet him next.
The big thing this weekend with an overmatched opponent, Usyk can’t fight down to his level of competition in order for people to have any sort of excitement going forward.
You can watch this bout on DAZN on Saturday night, check listings for the exact time.