By Keith Idec
OXON HILL, Maryland – Aleksandr Usyk didn’t dominate Michael Hunter throughout their 12-round fight the way those wide odds suggested he would.
Usyk ultimately figured out a way to be effective enough with his left hand and body work, however, to beat Hunter by unanimous decision in their cruiserweight title fight Saturday night. Usyk had difficulty dealing with Hunter’s jab and boxing ability early in the fight, but Hunter couldn’t hurt him and Usyk eventually made him pay for his inability to do that.
Usyk buzzed Hunter several times with left hands and nearly knocked out Hunter in a 12th round Usyk spent knocking the courageous challenger all over the ring at MGM National Harbor.
Referee Bill Clancy counted a knockdown for Usyk with just over a minute left in the 12th round because he ruled the ropes held up a hurt Hunter. There seemed to be several instances in the 12th round when Clancy would’ve been justified in stopping the bout, but he allowed Hunter to make it to the final bell.
The 30-year-old Usyk won by the same score, 117-110, on all three scorecards.
Ukraine’s Usyk, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist who was a 25-1 favorite in the days leading up to this fight, improved to 12-0 and was taken the distance for just the second time in his three-year pro career. Las Vegas’ Hunter suffered his first professional defeat (12-1).
Usyk hurt Hunter with a left hand to the body and then a left hand to the head in the final minute of the 10th round. That combination left Hunter holding a frustrated Usyk.
Hunter remained competitive in the ninth round, but by then Usyk was finding his way inside Hunter’s jab with more regularity and landing hard left hands.
Usyk affected Hunter with several straight left hands in the final minute of the eighth round. Those shots knocked Hunter into the ropes, but he managed to move the fight back in the center of the ring quickly.
The seventh round was competitive, as Hunter landed a couple right uppercuts that kept Usyk honest.
Shortly after an exciting exchange in the final minute of the sixth round, Usyk connected with a left hand that backed Hunter into a neutral corner. Hunter took a couple more left hands before the sixth round ended, yet he still threw hard shots of his own toward the end of the sixth.
After having difficulty with Hunter’s jab and movement for much of the first four rounds, Usyk buzzed Hunter with a left hand right around the midway mark of the fifth round. Hunter tried to hold, only to have Usyk connect with another left hand.
Usyk also hit Hunter with a left hand that knocked Hunter toward the ropes just before the end of the fifth round. Hunter hit Usyk low at the very beginning of the fifth round, which caused a brief break in the action.
Usyk began landing some power punches in the second half of the fourth round, but Hunter took those shots well, kept coming forward and connected with several power punches of his own before the round ended.
Hunter landed a solid straight right hand with about 1:40 to go in the third round. He followed that with a right uppercut about 10 seconds later and continued to box well for much of the rest of the round.
Hunter used his jab well to help keep Usyk from getting off in the second round. Hunter just didn’t have enough snap on his power punches to hurt Usyk, who tried to steal the second round with a late flurry.
After gaining control of the fight later, Usyk made the second defense of the cruiserweight championship he won from Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki (26-1, 16 KOs) on September 17 in Gdansk, Poland. Usyk beat Glowacki by unanimous decision to win a world title in just his 10th professional fight.
The 28-year-old Hunter had won his first 12 professional fights, eight by knockout, after representing the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.