By Keith Idec
Oleksandr Usyk took Murat Gassiev to school Saturday night.
The intelligent, skillful southpaw masterfully out-boxed the hard-hitting Gassiev in their 12-round cruiserweight title unification fight at Olympic Stadium in Moscow. Ukraine’s Usyk used his stiff jab throughout their fight, landed occasional combinations, defended himself well against Gassiev’s right hand and won a unanimous decision to become their division’s undisputed champion.
Each of the three judges – Americans Mauro Di Fiore (119-109) and Robin Taylor (120-108) and Belgium’s Philippe Verbeke (119-109) – credited Usyk with a decisive victory in the final of the World Boxing Super Series’ cruiserweight tournament. The 31-year-old Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs) defended his WBC and WBO cruiserweight titles and took the IBF and WBA crowns from Russia’s Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs).
As the World Boxing Super Series’ cruiserweight champion, Usyk also won the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Usyk, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, fought at too fast of a pace for Gassiev, who rarely was able to hit Usyk with clean punches. At times toward the end of their fight, Gassiev looked dejected and resigned to losing a decision.
The elusive Usyk spent the last two rounds peppering Gassiev with his jab, connecting with right hooks and keeping away from Gassiev’s right hand.
Usyk’s left uppercut-right hook combination connected about a minute into the 10th round. Usyk also backed up Gassiev with a right hook just after the halfway point of the 10th.
Usyk continued to out-box Gassiev in the ninth round, when he worked off his jab and threw occasional combinations that kept Gassiev from letting his hands go.
Usyk’s skill won him the eighth round, as he consistently pumped his jab and moved out of Gassiev’s punching range. Usyk’s four-punch combination backed up Gassiev and was the highlight of the eighth round.
Referee Celestino Ruiz warned Gassiev for a low blow in a third straight round when Gassiev landed a punch below Usyk’s belt in the seventh round. Gassiev just missed with a hard right hand later in the seventh, during which Usyk continued to box and defend himself well.
Gassiev landed a left hook soon after the midway point of the sixth round, but Usyk fired back with a left-right combination that landed. Ruiz warned Gassiev for a low blow in the sixth, the second straight round he warned Gassiev.
Gassiev’s hard right hand shook up Usyk at the end of the fourth round, but he began the fifth round on strong legs and got back to pumping his jab and moving away from Gassiev’s dominant hand. Ruiz warned Gassiev for a low blow with around 30 seconds left in the fifth round.
Gassiev’s hard overhand right hand caught Usyk flush on the jaw and caused him to hold just before the fourth round ended.
Usyk’s stiff jab snapped back Gassiev’s head with about two minutes remaining in the fourth round. Approximately a minute later, Usyk moved away and made Gassiev miss wildly with a right hand.
A counter left hook by Gassiev grazed the side of Usyk’s head and was his best punch of the third round.
Gassiev landed a solid left hook to the body with just over two minutes to go in the second round. Gassiev connected with another left to the body late in the second round.
Usyk didn’t land anything heavy in the first round, but he controlled it with his jab and activity. Usyk also moved in the opposite direction of Gassiev’s dangerous right hand throughout the first round.
Gassiev advanced to the final by knocking out Cuba’s Yunier Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs) in the 12th round of their semifinal February 3 in Sochi, Russia. Usyk reached the final by beating Mairis Briedis (24-1, 18 KOs) by majority decision in their semifinal January 27 in Riga, Latvia, Briedis’ hometown.
Gassiev and Usyk were supposed to meet in the WBSS final May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Usyk suffered an elbow injury in training, though, and it was postponed until Saturday and moved to Moscow.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.