By Keith Idec
One of the most important things Abel Sanchez stressed to Murat Gassiev throughout training camp is that he cannot afford to give away rounds to Oleksandr Usyk.
The unbeaten Ukrainian is a skilled, smart boxer. If he begins building a lead against Gassiev in their 12-round cruiserweight title unification fight Saturday night, Sanchez suspects it’ll be difficult for the undefeated fighter he trains to catch up on the scorecards.
“I don’t doubt it could be a distance fight, so we have to be very careful on our activity,” Sanchez told BoxingScene.com. “That’s a point that I’ll continue to discuss with Murat. We cannot take too many rounds off because this guy can pile on the rounds, and then we may end up on the short end.”
Russia’s Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs), the IBF/WBA champ, and Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs), the WBC/WBO champ, will square off in the championship match of the World Boxing Super Series’ cruiserweight tournament Saturday night at Olympic Stadium in Moscow.
The 24-year-old Gassiev withstood Yunier Dorticos’ power in the semifinals and stopped the hard-hitting Cuban in the 12th round February 3 at Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia. Uysk edged Mairis Briedis (23-1, 18 KOs) by majority decision in their 12-round semifinal match January 27 at Riga Arena in Riga, Latvia, Briedis’ hometown.
“[Gassiev] didn’t show that he could be the attacker against Dorticos, and be as relaxed and as consistent in the beginning of a fight,” Sanchez said. “Against Usyk, he’s gonna have to do that. He cannot do what he did against Dorticos, obviously, because we’ll lose half the fight. It’d be too much catch-up after that.
“Usyk is gonna win some rounds because he’s an experienced fighter. But if Usyk fights the kind of fight he fought against Briedis, he gets knocked out early. If he’s smart and fights the type of fight that he has fought in the past, and mixes it with the way he fought Briedis, then we’re gonna have a great fight.”
Sanchez understands it’ll be difficult to out-box Usyk over 12 rounds. He is hopeful, though, that Gassiev will wear down Usyk and stop him late, similar to the way he defeated Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs).
“I still think Gassiev gets to him toward the end, like he did against Dorticos,” Sanchez said. “Against Dorticos, he looked so strong at the end of the fight that there’s no way Usyk would be as strong as Dorticos and keep him off, and muscle him and hit him like Dorticos did. Dorticos hit him with some shots, too, and he was very strong and muscled him. I don’t think Usyk can do that to him.”
Sanchez expects Usyk to approach Gassiev carefully because the 31-year-old southpaw will realize trading with Gassiev isn’t wise.
“If it’s a stoppage [for Gassiev], it’s in the later rounds,” Sanchez said. “Usyk is an exceptional fighter. I don’t think he’ll get caught stupid. I think it would be by the time [Gassiev] wears him down and by the time he makes a mistake and Gassiev can capitalize on it.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.