by Cliff Rold
Going on the road to defeat three quality opponents in your division in the same calendar year would be commendable in any generation.
Let’s get that out of the way first.
It’s been done before, and seeing something like that may been more common back when, but it was never something to take for granted. Boxing on the road is tough. Oleksandr Usyk is making a career of it. In seven major title fights, he has fought in six countries.
That’s being a world champion in a way that isn’t common for any era. It’s the sort of travel we once saw from the great Carlos Monzon and Muhammad Ali. For fight fans, Usyk is sort of a dream come true. He checks every box fans say they want to see. He fights the fights he should, he’s matched fearlessly, and he wins.
At 16-0, now with 12 stops after Saturday’s knockout of Tony Bellew, one can assume he still hasn’t fully peaked. When he does, it will likely come in the heavyweight division. There might be some debate about where Usyk belongs right now in some mythical pound-for-pound lists.
It doesn’t really matter.
He’s ready to move up and, given his skill set and natural size, is live against every heavyweight in the world. That’s the whole enchilada: the heavyweight championship.
Sooner than later, Oleksandr Usyk will likely have the chance to prove he is literally the best fighter in the world.
Let’s get into it.
The Future for Usyk: Usyk could have moved up earlier this year, after unifying all four cruiserweight titles. That he stuck around for a defense is commendable and polishes his resume at 200 lbs. What he’s done in the division is up for debate compared with the great Evander Holyfield. Usyk may not have a win as good as Holyfield’s pair against Dwight Muhammad Qawi. 2018’s reigning cruiserweight champion and likely Fighter of the Year has a deeper cross section of foes. He defeated five current or former titlists in his seven title fights, handed three of those men and four opponents overall their first loss, and on Saturday ended a ten fight win streak dating back five years for Bellew. The way he did it spoke to how good he is. Bellew came with a great game plan and won several rounds in the first half of the fight. Usyk stayed patient, kept his jab going, found the hole and when opportunity was present he ended matters concussively. If he sticks around at cruiserweight, he can fight the winner of the second WBSS he’s faced half of that field’s semi-finals already. It’s time for his move. Can he handle the speed and power of a Deontay Wilder who doesn’t weigh much more than him now? Can he take tackle mass, speed, and power of Joshua? Is his skill enough to offset the skill and awkwardness of Tyson Fury? Outside of those three, is there a heavyweight Usyk wouldn’t be favored against right now? Usyk instantly makes a good division better, deeper, and is a threat to be its leader. That’s the future for Usyk. Whether he reaches the pinnacle of the sport or not remains to be seen. He’s in the hunt.
The Future for Bellew: Bellew was already talking about retirement before the fight. He was talking about it before his two upsets of David Haye. He didn’t fight in any of those contests like a man with a foot out the door. Saturday he gave it everything he had and made Usyk work for it. In the first half of the fight, his head movement took away the jab of Usyk for long stretches and kept the Ukrainian from getting the rest of his offense going. Bellew landed some hard right hands, the sort of shots that had won him fights during his long winning streak. Usyk took them and Bellew had no answer for the champion’s next gear. Bellew went out on his shield and, after a hard left and devastating one-two was still trying to beat the count. If that’s how he goes out, Bellew deserves a hell of a round of applause. Bellew overcame defeats to Nathan Cleverly and Adonis Stevenson to become a real force at cruiserweight, got himself a role in Creed, and landed in the big money in his last three fights. He did while being a class sportsman and has been a credit to the sport.
The Mairis Briedis win on Saturday is the first real scoring controversy in five WBSS tournaments so far. Compared to the rest of boxing, that ain’t so bad. Briedis was assumed a favorite this time around. Saturday made the semi-finals less predictable…Got the upset pick wrong but it was a good fight and good win for Krzysztof Glowacki over Maksim Vladov. Glowacki and Briedis each have only a single loss to Usyk. This is a real toss-up scrap…The other semi-final is set at Yunier Dorticos-Andrew Tabiti…If Usyk vacates before those two fights, how many belts can we expect to be up for grabs?
Rold Picks 2018: 53-20
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]