By Tris Dixon
TONY BELLEW. Andre Ward. Deontay Wilder. Anthony Joshua.
The list of viable foes on the wishlist of unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk might stretch around the block though the queue willing to accept the challenge of the belt-laden 200lbs king will likely to be somewhat shorter after he delivered a one-sided clinic in what was supposed to be 2018’s Fight of the Year. Instead, it was one of the performances of the year, a surgery, as he outboxed, outpunched, outhustled and outmanoeuvred Murat Gassiev over 12 wholly convincing rounds.
Gone was the happy slugger who had traded exciting bombs in his semi-final clash with game Maris Breidis. Usyk was transformed into the smooth, crisp punching machine who had forged his reputation as one of the amateur greats before claiming gold swiftly as a professional.
Everything that was said about his pedigree was on show last night. He not only lived up to the hype, he surpassed it.
He moved beyond simply being world class and placed his name alongside the cruiserweight greats while elbowing his way abruptly to the upper echelons of the pound-for-pound lists.
Some said it was a Joe Calzaghe-Jeff Lacy-type exhibition. It was not as violent or brutal as that.
We all knew Lacy would never be the same again afterwards while Gassiev, unbelievably still only 24, can lick his wounds and return. Who would not want to see him against Breidis, if he can restore some confidence in the interim?
Usyk, however, who has now had just 15 professional fights, is far from looking at rebuilding, he is looking to take over.
The first name on his lips was Bellew. It is a sign of how well the Liverpool “Bomber” has done in his career that a man at the top of the fistic world would choose to mention him. Whether it is because the Scouser is a loud mouth or he had a significant part in Creed or he’s twice beaten David Haye or he had his own run as the cruiserweight king it really doesn’t matter.
As Floyd Mayweather would say, he’s relevant. That is clear if his is the first name Usyk mentions.
And Bellew immediately tweeted that he was ready for the challenge. But how ready he will be when the maths are completed for prospective fights with returning heavyweight giant Tyson Fury and Usyk remains to be seen. The fighter in him may want Usyk. But that fighter will have to first stave off the challenge and advice from the businessman and the father who wants to provide for his family. The latter would surely prefer a Box Office smash with Fury.
Of course, Usyk will have his own financial equations to resolve, first, and they will probably more taxing than Gassiev, who on the night was sadly one-dimensional.
Could ‘Son of God’ Ward be tempted from retirement? He has not fought since stopping Sergey Kovalev in their 2017 rematch but has always fancied wearing gold in three divisions. The former light-heavyweight and super-middleweight world champion is still only 34 and could be tempted into one last heist. He is unafraid of competition, and he would surely realise he would be up against it. Had he returned against Bellew, as previous speculation has suggested, he would have opened a favourite with the bookies. Not so against Usyk who, surely at 31, still has time to grow into the heavyweight division.
He said he would eat more spaghetti to do so.
When David Haye aligned himself with the heavier weight class he fought a peripheral contender first, stopping Monte Barrett in London. Usyk might want an opponent of a similar nature.
But the outcome is likely to be similar to Haye-Barrett. And it’s not far-fetched to believe his sights could be on Joshua when you consider that he defeated two of the three men who beat Joshua in the amateurs, Magomedrasul Medzhidov and Mihai Nistor.
Usyk has also been gearing up for a heavyweight assault since turning professional. This is not anything that will be done in haste, but the result of a plan that has been in the offing for years already.
Phase one completed. Phase two begins now. Ironically, Joshua said this week he was ready for chapter two in announcing his September clash with Alexander Povetkin.
They will all be in his the unified cruiserweight champion’s sights.
Yes, as good as Usyk was Gassiev was disappointing but you have to give the Ukrainian all the credit for that. His right hand was like a swarm of bees. Sometimes it stung his blunt and direct challenger while at other times it was a pesky nuisance. Yet it always commanded Gassiev’s attention.
By the seventh it looked like Gassiev was going to have to land a sonic boom to reverse his fortunes. Not only was he running out of ideas but Usyk was going through the gears.
He often pirouetted around Gassiev, neatly firing shots before Gassiev could set himself. Usyk circled to his right, away from Gassiev’s danger hand.
This was meant to be a shootout, a hailstorm, a cruiserweight slugfest. There was meant to be a thunderstorm of leather in the ring, yet when he emerged Usyk had not a drop on him.
He was getting looser, faster and busier as the fight worse on. Gassiev was shutdown as an attacking force. Plan A didn’t work. Plan B had left the building – if it had even arrived. There was nothing he could do.
What he had done to bulldoze his way to Moscow no longer worked. Think how good Usyk is, that he made that feared dangerman from before the fight look so very ordinary.
Class was in session. Usyk was using this grand World Boxing Super Series platform to showcase his many wares.
The combinations came tumbling from his gloves, sometimes hard, and sometimes less so but often scoring.
In many ways it was a fitting finale to the WBSS cruiserweight tournament that had promised so much, yet somehow delivered even more.
A standout fighter from a standout tournament.
It probably has not happened like that since Andre Ward won the Super Six.
Post-fight, Usyk stayed classy, paying credit to him team.
“This is our victory,” he said.
But it felt like, Gassiev aside, there were plenty of other winners on the night.