Over the next few weeks, Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte and Kubrat Pulev will see heavyweight action.
It might have taken a while for the big guns to get going in a world frozen by coronavirus this year but they’re finishing 2020 strong and the run-in starts with Oleksandr Usyk staking his claim for recognition as a top big man when he meets Dereck Chisora in London.
It’s an interesting clash and there’s no reason why it should not deliver unless Usyk is a heavyweight champion in making and the next ‘big’ thing or Chisora gets old overnight. That’s not trying to use a cliché for cliché’s sake, but at this point of Chisora’s career, having taken bombs from Vitali Klitschko, David Haye, Tyson Fury, David Price, Dillian Whyte and Carlos Takam – not to mention many others from years of sparring in which we are told he often didn’t win rounds – there could come a point where he comes unglued by a shot he doesn’t see from an angle he’s not expecting.
Fury handily outboxed him in their rematch fighting as a southpaw, which is Usyk’s natural stance. He toiled against another left hander, Senad Gashi, just a couple of fights ago.
The thing is, Dereck is in a mindset to walk through whatever comes his way.
He’s often thrived in his role as an underdog.
The pressure is not on him here, although the crowd chants of ‘Wooooaaa Dereck Chisora will not be ringing around the arena to spur him on this time, as they did against the likes of Takam and Whyte.
The Englishman has transformed from villain to anti-hero to hero in the hearts and minds of the British public over the last few years, following multiple displays of courage, a stream of thrilling fights and a dose of highlight reel knockouts.
But as with Chisora out of the ring, you never know what you’re going to get with him in the ring.
His manager and friend (and former rival and foe) David Haye has been vocal about how he anticipates his charge to come out fast and not let up until Usyk can no longer handle the pace. The idea is for 36-year-old Chisora to march through Hells Gates, absorb the inevitable early damage as he gets pinged on the way in, and to keep marching. Haye wants Chisora to only stop the maniacal pace of punching anything and everything in front of him when Usyk stops.
And you can see the sense in the strategy. Usyk, 33, accepted war a couple of times as a cruiserweight and he didn’t dazzle in his maiden heavyweight outing against Chazz Witherspoon in his most recent bout around 54 weeks ago. And that fight was nearly a year on from when Usyk fought and beat Chisora’s friend, Tony Bellew.
Chisora hasn’t fought in little over a year, since he stopped David Price.
Perhaps they could both have done with the break they’ve had. Certainly, it’s given Usyk more time to move into his new weight class. But it’s easy to forget that just because Chisora has been around longer as a pro, he’s not the only one in there with a high mileage. Usyk fought the likes of Artur Beterbiev, Clemente Russo, Badou Jack, Sergey Derevyanchenko, Joe Joyce, Shawn Porter and Matvey Korobov among what some sources say were 350 amateur contests; amateur or pro or sparring, that’s a lot of wear and tear. There is a chance he’s left his run at boxing’s pinnacle too late.
Of course, conventional wisdom stacks the deck in favour of the Ukrainian star. He’s a huge favourite and the belief behind that is that Chisora struggles with lefties and isn’t fleet-footed enough to compete in a battle of wits and smarts with the former amateur star. The part where Haye reckons Chisora gets peppered on the way in is where this contest starts and ends for many, with Chisora soaking up the punishment as long as he can and as best as he can before the wheels tumble off and the fight is mercifully stopped.
There’s a good chance that the bout falls somewhere in between both sets of expectations, with Chisora enjoying pockets of success while pursuing the favourite but paying for those triumphs by taking sickening straight shots down the middle.
Chisora was leaner than he’s been in years at today’s weigh in but he still had a 40lbs weight advantage.
“Either we knock him out or he’ll quit on his stool,” said Chisora after hitting the scales.
And while Chisora has clearly had a focus on fitness through camp in order to implement the violent game plan sometimes fitness isn’t enough. Usyk said he’s happy with his shape and condition.
“No worries,” he said, when asked about the weight difference.
“Saturday night I’m going to make my statement at heavyweight.”
Yet while it is easy to say once the bell rings everything will revert to normal for these two, it won’t. Dereck won’t be roared on by 20,000 boozed up Londoners. He will be able to hear his own deep breathing as he’s plunders further and further into his oxygen reserves. Some may say whether its behind closed doors or not, it doesn’t make a difference. In conversation with Chisora this week, he thinks it will.
Haye is convinced his man will walk through the fire. Usyk’s team have hired Chisora as a gatekeeper. Get passed him and the bigger nights with the bigger names will be right there.
Perhaps it’s a fight where the outcome will be obvious after the event; Chisora was too shop-worn, Uysk too flighty and accurate or maybe Chisora was incorrigibly physical and Usyk never a true heavyweight.
Perhaps it’s Chisora’s last hurrah or perhaps it’s the start of a new chapter of a more than century old story.
But, of course, the best possible outcome for boxing is another fight of the year contender.