A springtime ring return and the opportunity to fight for the heavyweight title.
The two are not separate goals in 2020 for Oleksandr Usyk, but very much the expectation for his next fight.
“[Usyk’s next fight] should happen either in March or in April,” Alex Krassyuk, general director of K2 Promotions-Ukraine confirmed to BoxingScene.com, reiterating his client’s intention of challenging for the heavyweight crown.
Usyk (17-0, 13KOs) is keen on becoming a two-division titlist in the new year. The 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and former World cruiserweight champion from Ukraine entered the new year armed with the status of being the World Boxing Organization (WBO) mandatory challenger in waiting for one of the many belts back in the possession of Anthony Joshua.
Such status came about through Usyk’s designation as a WBO “Super” champion, which he earned after becoming the undisputed (and lineal) cruiserweight champion. His first title win was for the WBO belt, making six successful defenses overall and collecting three more belts along the way before abandoning his reign shortly after a November 2018 knockout win over Tony Bellew.
Just one fight has followed, a 7th round stoppage of Chazz Witherspoon—a late replacement for unbeaten Tyrone Spong—last October, by which point he was inserted as the WBO’s number one heavyweight contender. Not only is he the mandatory, but also in possession of an order which calls for his title shot to arrive by no later than June 4.
The date serves as a conflict to a separate order by the while the International Boxing Federation (IBF), whose mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14KOs) is armed with a signed document stating he is due his title shot by no later than May 31. Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter (and who also co-promotes Usyk with K2 Ukraine) has called for the sanctioning bodies to sort out the ordeal. In the case of unified titlists, there exists a rotation system among the alphabet organizations.
England’s Joshua (23-1, 21KOs) claimed the WBO belt in a 12-round win over Joseph Parker in March 2018. The win followed the Brit’s 10th round stoppage of Carlos Takam in October 2017, a bout honored as an IBF mandatory as Takam was the next highest-ranked challenger available to replace an injured Pulev, who has since made his way back to the top of the IBF rankings.
Since claiming the WBO title, Joshua has only made one sanctioning body-mandated title defense, scoring a 7th round knockout win over Alexander Povetkin in a September 2018 bout ordered by the World Boxing Association (WBA). The bout also came with the blessing of the WBO, honoring a dual mandatory while also calling for his next one to take place within the next 18 months following the bout—since extended to June 4, 2020.
From there came his pair of fights with Andy Ruiz, suffering a stunning 7th round knockout loss in a massive upset last June in New York City, followed by his 12-round win in their rematch last December in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The rematch came with the conditional blessing of IBF, provided that the winner next face Pulev. Early whispers speculate that such a fight will be next for Joshua, although an existing deadline leaves the potential for the WBO to intervene and call for Usyk to be next in line.
Absent a true resolution from all parties, Joshua is pressed with the likely scenario of having to vacate one belt as he can only honor one mandatory challenge at a time.
Whatever comes of it, Usyk and his team very much expect the Ukrainian southpaw’s next fight to be for the WBO title—with or without Joshua in the opposite corner.
“If Usyk’s next fight is not Joshua most likely it would mean that he relinquished his WBO title to avoid facing Usyk,” insists Krassyuk. “And of course, Usyk would prefer to challenge the vacant WBO Heavyweight title versus the highest available opponent designated by the sanctioning body.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox