By Tris Dixon
TOP cruiserweights Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev will meet in the final to determine who is the world’s leading 200-pounder.
Both came through rugged and entertaining battles, Gassiev’s was last night against previously unbeaten Cuban Yunier Dorticos while Usyk had survived an excellent recent challenge from Mairis Briedis.
It has left the world with a clear number one and two, though it remains to be seen whether Gassiev will perform better against Ukrainian southpaw Usyk than Briedis did.
Gassiev-Dorticos delivered everything, on all fronts. An even fight with momentum shifts, top drawer action, an emphatic climax, a courageous loser and a humble winner with mutual respect shown by both post-fight, though it is easier to be a gracious victor and put your arms around another man than it is to be a gallant runner-up and be consoled.
Best of all, there was no controversy though perhaps you could have made a case for stopping the fight after Dorticos was down for the second time in the decisive round.
There is always the possibility of pitfalls with tournaments in boxing but you cannot knock the reasoning behind them. In a sport when the best are either kept from one another or habitually avoid each other, this format leaves nowhere to hide. Everything is on the line every time.
It is a painstakingly obvious yet apparently a convoluted process (TV networks, promoters, managers), annoyingly simple yet almost impossible to conduct.
Pick eight of the very best fighters in each division and have them eliminate one another until only one man remains at the top of the ladder.
It is a format the old-timers would have approved of and has consequently produced the type of fights that stops those yearning for yesteryear saying, ‘Things ain’t the way they used to be,’ because last night in Sochi was an old school night with new school bells and whistles.
Meanwhile, in London at the O2 it was revealed, somewhat unsurprisingly, that cruiserweight prospect Lawrence ‘Sauce’ Okolie needs more seasoning as he and local rival Isaac Chamberlain shared 10 scrappy rounds. Yet it is all too easy to knock the snoozefest, putting it down to two novices undeserving of the hype that came for a fight of hopefuls with less than 20 pro contests between them. But not many were dreading the fight beforehand and not many predicted the bore that it turned out to be. You cannot accurately prophesise what will happen in a fight at any level providing the boxers are evenly matched. Not every bout can be a Barrera-Morales, a Ward-Gatti or contain highlight reel action. Sometimes two fighters early in their pro careers can produce an almighty war while contests between two of the best in their division can be a real drag.
It is not always as easy as pairing two evenly matched fighters or even pitting the best two in their division against one another while sitting back with some popcorn to watch the fireworks. Sometimes a promoter’s best laid plans go up in smoke with a fighter’s strategy, or maybe as was the case in London, Chamberlain felt Okolie’s power early on and became less adventurous than he had planned to be while still doing enough to make Okolie look crude and clumsy.
This is not a defence of that bore, clearly the heart was in the right place trying to make the match between unbeaten and ambitious prospects. You cannot knock the intention of getting the fight done. Yet there is such a lingering feeling of disappointment when a contest you think will bring great excitement not only fails to catch fire but doesn’t even create a spark.
That, however, has not been the case in the World Boxing Super Series, which has so far produced home run after home run in its bid to determine the world’s leading super-middleweights and the planet’s top cruisers.
Sure, you can not guarantee the spectacular when you pit the best against the best, but what you can do, by including a bunch of the top fighters in the world in each division, is work out who the top dog is. There is a chance – though it seems faint – that Usyk-Gassiev will not deliver on lofty expectations, with the prospect of number one facing number two and with the bar being set so high by the two semi-finals. But even if it does not, providing all things are even, we should know who the best in the world is at the weight. And that goes a long way to fixing one of the primary problems in the sport.