Oleksandr Usyk has his sights squarely fixed on fighting for a heavyweight title in his next fight.
With that in mind, he’s not quite sure how an opponent not directly in line to contend for said prize can be considered as his next opponent.
Much has been made about the 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and former World cruiserweight champion heading into a springtime showdown versus veteran contender Derek Chisora. The pairing has been suggested as a consolation prize of sorts, while Ukraine’s Usyk (17-0, 13KOs) awaits his crack at unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21KOs).
Usyk is one of two mandatory challengers in waiting for England’s Joshua, serving as the top contender for the World Boxing Organization (WBO). Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14KOs) is the International Boxing Federation (IBF) mandatory, and rumored to be heading towards an April title fight.
While there is truth to the Ukrainian southpaw eyeing a ring return in March or April, it’s not for a stay-busy affair.
“If Usyk’s next fight is not Joshua most likely it would mean that he relinquished his WBO title to avoid facing Usyk,” Alex Krassyuk, group director for K2 Promotions Ukraine [Usyk’s co-promoter along with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing] told BoxingScene.com. “And of course, Usyk would prefer to challenge the vacant WBO Heavyweight title versus the highest available opponent designated by the sanctioning body.”
Should the title become vacant once time Joshua’s next fight is announced—assuming it’s Pulev and not Usyk who lands the assignment–a bout with England’s Chisora (32-9, 23KOs) would be a longshot under such circumstances. The 36-year old London-based heavyweight is currently ranked number nine by the WBO, which means the seven contenders between Usyk and him would all have to decline the opportunity to challenge for the title.
Former titlist Joseph Parker (26-2, 20KOs) is the next highest-rated contender, and is tentatively slated to appear on the February 29 DAZN show in the greater Dallas area. However, he's yet to secure an opponent and has repeatedly expressed interest in once again fighting for the WBO title, particularly in a vacant title fight versus Usyk.
Unbeaten number-three ranked contender Adam Kownaci (20-0, 15KOs) is currently scheduled to face Finland’s Robert Helenius atop a March 7 Fox-televised card in Brooklyn, New York. Former unified titlist Andy Ruiz (33-2, 22KOs)–who knocked out Joshua in seven rounds to win the titles last June before returning to sender via landslide decision in their December rematch—is number four, followed by unbeaten rising contenders Daniel Dubois (14-0, 13KOs) and Junior Fa (19-0, 10KOs) at five and six, respectively. American heavyweight Michael Hunter (18-1-1, 12KOs) and Russia’s Evgeny Romanov (14-0, 10KOs) round out the list of contenders who would all have to decline the opportunity to fight for the title in order for Chisora to land in the mix.
“WBO keeps its rules very strictly,” points out Krassyuk in the reasoning for being dismissive of such a fight at this time. “[F]acing [the] #9 ranked [contender] for the vacant title would mean that seven higher ranked heavyweights are either committed to fight anyone else or are unavailable for some reasons which does not look realistic.”
According to the WBO, Usyk is due a mandatory title shot by no later than June 4, 2020. Pulev is due his IBF-ordered title fight by no later than May 31, 2020, as per the terms of his being forced to step aside to allow the December 7 rematch between Joshua and Ruiz, which Joshua won by 12-round decision to reclaim the titles he lost in a stunning 7th round knockout loss six months prior.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox