By Luke Furman
WBA, IBF cruiserweight world champion Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) of Russia has easily named Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBC, WBO world titles, as the strongest opponent of his entire career.
The fight between Gassiev and Usyk will be held on July 21 in Moscow in the Olympic Stadium.
Their contest is the final bout of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament, with the victor gaining the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Usyk, who was a top amateur and an Olympic gold medal winner, has been tabbed as the favorite to win.
But Gassiev holds the edge in punching power, and has the training services of veteran coach Abel Sanchez.
"Me and my coach, we understand that with each new fight my opponents are only going to be stronger. If I don't take the tournament into account, then Usyk was regarded as the leader of the ratings in our weight division, and his path to the tournament final proved once again the entire reasoning of the fact that he is at the head of the rankings, so I'm sure that I now have the strongest opponent of my career," Gassiev said.
"The fact that Usyk is a favorite does not put any pressure on me. I understand why he is regarded as the favorite. I know his achievements, but at the same time he is my next opponent, and for me this is the only primary fact. I coming out there to fight against an opponent, not against the favorite. This may not be a very normal situation, but I never feel any jitters when I'm going against any favorites. (Denis) Lebedev was also considered the favorite in our fight, and when I went up against (Yunier) Dorticos - I was also not given a big chance."
Luke Furman covers boxing for bokser.org.