by Cliff Rold
It’s a sign of a healthy division that Oleksandr Usyk could win the loaded World Boxing Super Series and still find mine fields to navigate.
While he hasn’t competed in the class since vacating the WBC title in 2016 for a move to heavyweight, Tony Bellew is still probably best suited to cruiserweight. His track record in the class says he’s no one’s gimme’ and that’s part of why this fight has become eagerly anticipated amongst fight followers (Saturday, DAZN, 1 PM EST).
Bellew never lost his belt in the ring. Can he win all four of the major titles in his class in one shot and extend his win streak to eleven? Or will Usyk pick up his third impressive win of the year on the road?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBO cruiserweight (2016-present, 5 defenses); WBC cruiserweight (2017-present, 1 defense); IBF cruiserweight (2018-present, 1stattempted defense); WBA ‘super’ cruiserweight (2018-Present, 1stattempted defense); Lineal/TBRB/Ring cruiserweight (2018-present, 1stattempted defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 198 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Kiev, Ukraine
Record: 15-0, 11 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0, 2 KO
Last Five Opponents: 118-6-1 (.948)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Krzysztof Glowacki UD12; Marco Huck TKO10; Mairis Briedis MD12; Murat Gassiev UD12
Previous Titles: WBC cruiserweight (2016-17, 1 defense)
Weight: 199 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Liverpool, Merseyside, United Kingdom
Record: 30-2-1, 20 KO, 1 KOBY
Press Rankings: #2 (Boxing Monthly), #3 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-2, 2 KO, 1 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 143-11-1 (.929)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Nathan Cleverly L12, SD12; Adonis Stevenson TKO by 6; David Haye TKO11, TKO5
The Case for Usyk: Usyk comes in off the best performance of his career. Against Gassiev, the southpaw showed he could take some big shots with the defensive chops not to take them often in succession. Usyk uses his feet well but can fight capably on the inside with a sharp uppercut. Usyk’s best offensive weapon is probably his jab and against the shorter armed Bellew it will be critical. Bellew is going to press and look to create exchanges. Usyk’s ranginess and greater offensive variety will have to be the tonic to keep Bellew from getting set and finding his chances.
The Case for Bellew: Apart from any physical aspects of the fight, Bellew can feel some mental comfort. He’d riding the wave of two victories over David Haye, hasn’t lost since his sole knockout loss to Adonis Stevenson in 2013, and is basically playing with house money. Usyk is the fighter presumed to have bigger things ahead; the greater pressure is his. Bellew’s best chances will be when he comes forward but he’s a crafty guy. He uses his jab well and is good at setting traps when he goes backwards. Bellew isn’t easy to catch clean and employs good head movement. In the moments where Usyk comes to him, it could create countering chances.
The Pick: Bellew has proven to be formidable at cruiserweight but he’s never looked as complete as Usyk did against Gassiev. That performance hinted at an elite fighter waking up to their prime. Bellew is a great story to be in this position, to upset Haye twice, but every story ends. Usyk has more weapons, better feet, and more dimensions. Bellew will finish but Usyk is the pick by decision.
Additional Weekend Picks
Mairis Briedis TKO Noel Mikaelian
Maksim Vlasov Dec. Krzysztof Glowacki
Rold Picks 2018: 51-19
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]