By Thomas Gerbasi
For anyone else, it might be a traumatic experience. For Oleksandr Usyk, going 12 rounds for the first time in just his 10th professional fight after winning each of his previous nine by knockout was just another night at the office.
But what was the morning after like for the newly crowned WBO cruiserweight champion.
“I was very happy,” he said through manager / translator Egis Klimas.
That’s it, not sleeping extra late or having to take a couple days off to recover?
“I was getting tested for drugs, so I didn’t get back to the hotel until four in the morning,” he explains. “My lovely wife was waiting for me, so I didn’t get to sleep until early in the morning.”
Suffice to say, Usyk passed his first major test with flying colors, beating an unbeaten champion in Krzysztof Glowacki who was coming off two huge wins over Marco Huck and Steve Cunningham. But Usyk, like his teammate on the 2012 Ukrainian Olympic team, Vasyl Lomachenko, isn’t your average fighter, and if you knew that going in, his 119-109, 117-111 (twice) victory shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Yet once it happened, the next step was inevitable. Oleksandr Usyk, Olympic gold medalist and cruiserweight world champion, is coming to America. Right on time, the way he sees it.
“Of course, I can fight anywhere, that’s not a problem for me, but it’s time for me to fight in the United States and get more fans from this region and show the public my good skills,” he said.
On Saturday night at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Usyk makes his U.S. debut and his first title defense against South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu. The hope from the Usyk team is that he dazzles in his HBO debut on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins’ final fight against Joe Smith and then goes on to have the Stateside success enjoyed by other Eastern European standouts like Lomachenko, Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev. It’s something Usyk has been focused on for a long time.
“I was watching them closely,” he said. “I watch most of the fights in the United States and I always wanted to box here in the States, even since I was still in the amateurs.”
It was during that amateur career that Usyk built the skills that have seen him win a world title in the pros in just 10 fights. But to take things to the next level, he has to have that special toughness and the intangibles his aforementioned peers have, and that’s not something you learn in the gym. That’s in the blood.
“I think all of us come in very hungry,” he said when asked about the growing success of Eastern European boxers in the United States over the last few years. “They have a huge desire and they want to be boxing stars, and that’s why they are getting to that position.”
And back home in Ukraine, the call has gone out for Usyk to join those peers in the U.S.
“As far as I know, all my friends and all my people that I am in touch with, everybody is happy, and with everything I’m reading on the internet, most of the fans are saying the same thing, that it’s a good thing for me to go and fight outside of Ukraine and to become more recognizable in the world of boxing,” he said. “Everybody is saying, ‘You did a good thing, you went to the United States to Vasyl Lomachenko and you’re taking over boxing.’”
Which means taking over cruiserweight probably won’t be enough for Mr. Usyk, who is regularly asked about an inevitable move to battle with the big boys. Don’t rush him though; there’s business to be taken care of first.
“I would like to unify a few of the titles, if not all of them,” he said. “And I think that by 2018 I’m going to be ready to go fight as a heavyweight.”
Just don’t ask him to fight until 51 years old like Bernard Hopkins.
“I would like to live to that age,” Usyk laughs. “I would ask God and let’s hope I’m gonna be in good health at that age and I can fight, but I don’t know.”