By Jake Donovan
After having spent the last year cleaning out the cruiserweight division, Oleksandr Usyk is now prepared to leave it behind for good.
The undisputed cruiserweight king and BoxingScene.com 2018 Fighter of the Year will make his heavyweight debut this coming May in the United States. The move is not at all uncommon among past cruiserweight champions, although the plan for Usyk has lofty goals—and an accelerated timetable—for his move up the scale.
“Usyk’s plan is to become the king of the heavyweights,” Alexander Krassyuk, Usyk’s career-long promoter told BoxingScene.com of what appears to a complete abandonment of the cruiserweight division. “If it happens within one year, that would be great.
“If not we will move further along until he gets his chance to beat all of the heavyweight champions to unify the belts. But before that we have to launch his heavyweight career.”
Usyk (16-0, 12KOs) suggested shortly after his 8th round knockout of Tony Bellew last November in England that a move to heavyweight was imminent, although not his guaranteed next step. The feat capped an incredible 2018 campaign that saw him score three road wins, including having outpointed fellow unbeaten titlists Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev in their respective home countries of Latvia and Russia.
His near-shutout win over Gassiev earned the 32-year old Usyk the undisputed cruiserweight championship, along with top honors in the cruiserweight portion of the World Boxing Super Series tournament. To date, he is just the fifth boxer in history—joining Bernard Hopkins, Jermain. Taylor, Terence Crawford and Cecilia Braekhus—to simultaneously own all four major titles in a weight class.
For a few weeks after his knockout win over Bellew, there existed the possibility of his perhaps remaining at cruiserweight for one more fight. Rumors of possible clashes with Russia’s Denis Lebedev and former two-division champ (and still retired) Andre Ward were floated, but ultimately squashed upon the declaration that the next move is up—in weight.
“(Recently), we had a meeting in New York with Eddie (Hearn, Usyk’s co-promoter) and Egis (Klimas, Usyk’s longtime manager) to plan the next steps for Usyk,” Krassyuk explained to BoxingScene.com. “At this moment it looks likely that Oleksandr will step into the ring in the mid May in the US."
Opponents are still being reviewed, although those who can be ruled out are the top three choices for any boxer weighing above 200 pounds these days—the trio of unbeaten heavyweights in unified titlist Anthony Joshua, single-belt claimant Deontay Wilder and former lineal champ Tyson Fury.
Wilder and Fury are currently deep in negotiations for a rematch to their 12-round draw last December, while Joshua and Hearn continue to go back and forth between next defending in London on April 13 or the Brit making his U.S. debut in June. At some point, a fight between Joshua and Usyk figures to be easy to make, being both are now aligned with Hearn and centerpiece attractions for sports streaming service DAZN. Such an event would have to build up into a superfight, though, nor would anyone expect Usyk to gun for such a fight immediately into his heavyweight campaign.
That said, the choice for his first dance partner of 2019 won't slide too far down the contender scale—not when the goal is to reign as the heavyweight king by this time next year.
“His opponent has not been defined yet but we are considering best options among the prominent heavyweights," promises Krassyuk. "His heavyweight division debut will show how confident he is at the new weight and the final decision about (his future) will be taken (afterward).”