The news that Tyrone Spong has tested positive for a banned substance in a VADA test just days before his scheduled 10 round bout with former undisputed and unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk appears to put the Ukrainian's heavyweight debut in doubt for a second time. Last time out he was scheduled to meet former heavyweight title challenger Carlos Takam only to suffer a shoulder injury in training. Usyk has recovered and the match with Spong was made after Takam signed a co-promotional contract with Joe DeGuardia's Star Boxing and Top Rank that took the Frenchman in a different direction.
Now, promoter Eddie Hearn will have a tough time finding a replacement opponent that both paymaster DAZN and the boxing fans find acceptable. Hearn has announced David Price as the opponent for Dereck Chisora's 26th October outing at the O2 Arena in London, so finding heavyweights in shape and ready to fight must have taken up much of his time recently.
As soon as Usyk hears the first bell of his debut in boxing's blue-ribbon division he will automatically be ranked No1 by the WBO due to a quirky rule that says that any champion moving up a division will be ranked top contender in the higher weight class. So, Usyk will in effect be No1 to champion Andy Ruiz Jr or possibly Anthony Joshua after their December 2nd rematch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. So how will Usyk fare as a heavyweight?
There are plenty of fans on social media commenting that Usyk will be too small, but at 6ft 4 In he is actually an inch taller than Andy Ruiz Jr, so they can't mean height-wise. Even if the Ukrainian comes in at 210lbs he will weigh more than Deontay Wilder did against Tyson Fury, so while we have become used to 6ft 7In plus, and 250lb heavyweights, they actually come in all shapes and sizes.
Usyk's main weapon is his unique boxing style. Much like close friend Vasiliy Lomachenko, Usyk cleverly changes angle and height to land fast, hard shots that his opponents don't see coming. In the heavyweight division it is unlikely that his opposition will be able to move as fast as the cruiserweights he is used to facing, so this will be a big advantage. The other advantage he has is that he rarely gets tagged with flush shots. He is a master at eluding big punches.
If we assume that Usyk's October 12th opponent is not going to be a top ten guy, given that we are only a few days away from fight time, who would test him in his second heavyweight outing? How would he fare against the likes of Michael Hunter, Alexander Povetkin, or Dereck Chisora? These are all names that Matchroom could easily setup fights against the Ukrainian with. Usyk has already given Hunter a beating when they met for the WBO cruiserweight title and what would have changed since then? Hunter is now more experienced than Usyk at fighting heavyweights. His last win against Russian Sergey Kuzmin was possibly his best showing as a pro, but Kuzmin looked pedestrian compared to the lightning-fast Usyk.
Povetkin looked back to his best when he clearly outscored Hughie Fury at the O2 Arena on 31st August. In fact, outside of Wilder, Fury, Ruiz Jr, and Joshua, Povetkin could be argued to be the next best heavyweight in the world. It is when Usyk gets pitted against a genuine and very skilled heavyweight like this that the questions start to pile up in my mind.
The Russian knows how to set traps, so, at some stage, Usyk will get hit with Povetkin's big left hook or overhand right, both punches that have accounted for some big-name opponents in the past. Will the Ukrainian be able to withstand that sort of punch?
Worse still, he faces Wilder, the biggest puncher on the planet. Truth is, anyone that gets hit flush by Wilder goes over and only one has ever got up to finish the fight. But Usyk is capable of frustrating top-level opponents over 12 rounds, so why not Wilder?
Oddly enough, I see Ruiz Jr as possibly the toughest opponent for Usyk. His speed of foot and hand could be dangerous if he can figure out Usyk's movement. As an International amateur heavyweight Ruiz Jr probably has more experience of this style than any of the other champions.
Oleksandr Usyk could possibly be the most talented heavyweight out there. He is fighting in an era that sees the heavyweight division wide open after Joshua vs Ruiz Jr and Wilder vs Fury. In real terms, all four are in front of him in the eyes of the fans and media, but it will be interesting to watch him when he eventually goes in the ring against them.
Shame the Takam contest never took place because that would have been a good debut fight.