By Jake Donovan
In a year where he became the undisputed World cruiserweight champion and was universally hailed as 2018 Fighter of the Year, Oleksandr Usyk’s greatest upcoming challenge may very well be providing an encore that satisfies public demand.
From the moment he laid out former cruiserweight titlist Tony Bellew in front of hostile, sold-out crowd in Manchester, England last November, speculation immediately ran rampant of a heavyweight bid in the Ukrainian southpaw’s future. It’s the next normal progression step for any cruiserweight with a belt, never mind owning all of the relevant hardware.
Fans will ultimately want to see Usyk (16-0, 12KOs) in the ring with unbeaten, unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua, if not next on the list. A more likely next step would be recent Joshua victim and former secondary titlist Alexander Povetkin.
That’s if Usyk—who turns 31 this month—decides to even travel north of 200 pounds for his next ring adventure.
For now, the 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and reigning cruiserweight king continues to join his downtime. A hectic 2018 that saw him snatch belts and “0”s from both Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev, along with his celebrated, highlight reel knockout of Bellew meant a lot of time away from his family, with whom he has remained through the holidays.
Of course, a next step in his career has to emerge at some point—which is in fact his team’s first task of 2019.
“(Usyk) continues to enjoy time with his family, and there is nothing really worth (discussing) in his career at this time,” a spokesman for K2 Promotions Ukraine told BoxingScene.com on Monday. “Alex (Krassyuk, general director of K2 Ukraine) has scheduled a meeting with Eddie Hearn this week regarding plans for his next fight.”
Usyk and K2 signed a co-promotional pact with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing last fall. The move came on the heels of his winning the World Boxing Super Series, scoring road wins over Marco Huck (Sept. ’17) in Germany, Briedis in Latvia and Gassiev in Russia to emerge atop the cruiserweight bracket and with all of the division’s hardware in tow.
His lone fight under Hearn’s co-promotional banner thus far was his aforementioned knockout of Bellew, which aired live on Sky Sports Pay-Per-View in the UK and on sports streaming app DAZN USA in the United States. Such platforms will be the home for his future fights, although at what weight the next one will take place is expected to be determined in the next week or two.
The one enticing option to keep him at cruiserweight would be a showdown with Russia’s Denis Lebedev. The 39-year old former cruiserweight titlist ended a 14-month inactive period with a tune-up win last September in Chelyabinsk, Russia. He was quickly brought back, resurfacing two months later on a show in Monte Carlo promoted by Hearn.