When Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk won the WBSS Cruiserweight final against the unbeaten WBA and IBF belt holder Murat Gassiev in Moscow last year, there were those that thought they had witnessed an unstoppable force, a pure boxer that could go on to even bigger things at heavyweight. Time to find out.
On 25th May at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Usyk will face his first opponent at heavyweight in Cameroon born, Frenchman Carlos Takam.
Takam is well known to boxing fans due to his challenge for Anthony Joshua’s titles in 2017 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. He showed toughness and his ability to keep his boxing together while shipping some heavy punishment from the champion that night.
Takam was stopped in the 10th round, but came away with huge credit. He had come in as a replacement for the injured IBF No1 contender Kubrat Pulev and gave the champion some tough moments in front of a hostile crowd.
Unfortunately, when Takam made his return to the ring it didn’t end in glory for the Frenchman, as he was stopped in 8 rounds by old warhorse Derek Chisora in a fight that Takam seemed to have control of before succumbing to some huge over-hand rights from the North Londoner.
Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn saw the value in getting Takam back to winning ways, so brought him back with a lower-level opponent in Germany based Kosovan Senad Gashi. Gashi put up a brave performance but was ultimately outclassed by the 38-year-old Takam and stopped in 7 rounds.
At 6’ 4”, the 32-year-old Ukrainian is at the peak of his powers. His easy 8th round win over the ever game Tony Bellew at the Manchester Arena last November showed the gulf in class between Usyk and the rest at Cruiserweight. There is nothing left to prove, no more worthy challengers.
The big question with any Cruiserweight moving up to heavyweight is how they will handle the extra weight. Well, that is a double-edged question. Will it affect their athletic ability, their punch resistance, their stamina, their power, but also, will the heavier punches and strength of their opponents be too much after dealing with lighter opposition.
What we do know is that Usyk is intelligent inside the ropes. Much like his close friend and fellow countryman Vasiliy Lomachenko, Usyk is a master at controlling distance and tempo. He can outbox his opponent to the point of pure frustration and then produce blistering punches to end the contest in spectacular fashion.
The boxing media has been busy talking up and talking about potential bouts between the big three, Joshua, Wilder and Fury, but are we forgetting Usyk at our peril?
For the gamblers among us, Usyk might be the best bet to win all the belts and be the last man standing. The odds you will receive make it a great bet.
I believe that Fury is the man to beat right now. His boxing ability and awkwardness make him a nearly impossible man to outpoint, just ask Wilder. If you do find the shots to put him out of the contest, don’t start celebrating because he can get back up and school you for the rest of the fight, just ask Wilder.
It will take a man with superior patience and tactical awareness to trouble the giant Mancunian, Joshua and wilder are big and powerful and both will have their punchers chances, but Fury has shown twice against Klitschko and Wilder just how difficult it is to get to grips with his unique style.
Usyk could be the man with the right mix of boxing ability, speed, power and elite athletic qualities to find the answers to the Fury riddle.
Of course we cannot overlook Joshua and Wilder, both have big claims to the heavyweight throne and they will have size and power advantages over Usyk. Both would start as favourite against the former Olympic and World’s gold medallist but Joshua has already been up against a great Ukrainian heavyweight in Klitschko and found the answers, Wilder has not faced that style as of yet.
The boxing world is now at grips with the fact that Eastern European fighters are now a dominant force in the game, Lomachenko, Golovkin, all four Light-heavyweight champions and countless emerging prospects adorn the boxing landscape, but is Usyk possibly going to become the biggest story yet to emerge from the East?