Expect Cossack kicking Oleksandr Usyk to be the messiah who makes the much maligned cruiserweight division sexy again?
The 200lb division has been bereft of a real A Star talent since Bermondsey’s David ‘Hayemaker’ Haye exited stage left for heavyweight gold and glory in early 2008.
Blessed with the finest amateur breeding, the 29 year old London 2012 heavyweight gold medallist from the Ukraine certainly looked the goods when smashing Evander Holyfield’s 30 year record by annexing a world (WBO) title in the fewest number of fights last September.
Starting for just the tenth time as a pro, commander ‘Sandr survived inquisitions of his character, stamina and chin by scalping formidable Polish southpaw Krzysztof Glowacki before a hostile 12,000 congregation at the Ergo Arena in Gdansk.
The defending champ, who entered with an unblemished 26 fight slate, had boxed three times more pro rounds than Usyk and was fresh off back-to-back wins over elite operators Marco Huck (rsc11) and Steve Cunningham (pts 12). However, he was trounced by scores of 119-109 and 117-111 (twice) on his home patch.
What distinguishes the Ukrainian pain dispenser above others in the division is that he brings a level of technical sophistication that is seldom witnessed in the ‘crash, bang, wallop’ of the sport’s higher weight categories.
Whilst Usyk’s cultivated clouts from either glove carry plenty of mustard – all nine previous pro foes perished before round nine – it’s ‘The Cat’s’ skills, balance and mobility that have brought favourable comparisons to his compatriot and close pal Vasyl Lomachenko, the two-weight WBO champion and prominent P4P contender.
A fabulously athletic 6ft 3in southpaw, Usyk exhibits a ring generalship that far exceeds the 10 fights on his pro CV. Using every square inch of the canvas, he floats around the ring at breakneck pace, dotting eyes and crossing teeth with long, snappy combos, delivered from a bewildering array of angles. Thus far, few in either code have been able to cope against him.
Usyk’s story started in the city of Simferopol – annexed by the Russian militia as part of the Crimean conflict in 2014 – and his combative instincts were initially satisfied through karate, wrestling and regular rumbles on the unforgiving local streets.
His toes first began to twinkle on the soccer field but, aged 15, he was forced to sacrifice a promising career when the cost of equipment proved prohibitive. The boxing gym served as a more affordable option.
Though he came second in his first fight, it proved one of just 15 defeats in a glorious 335 bout amateur innings that saw him top the rostrum at European, World and Olympic meets and receive anointment as AIBA’s World Boxer of the Year in 2012.
Later that year, Usyk opted to swap amateur trinkets for professional treasures, aligning with Egis Klimas who manages ‘Loma’ and Sergey Kovalev, and the Klitschko brothers’ K2 Promotions, who have successfully projected Gennady Golovkin around the planet. New Jersey coach James Ali Bashir, once an integral part of the Kronk set-up, was recruited to add the required professional polish.
Save for a profile enhancing slot on a Klitschko undercard in Oberhausen, Germany in April 2014, his apprenticeship was conducted exclusively in his birthland where he attracted huge congregations and stormed to 9-0 without suffering too much bruising. As a mark of his potential, he entered his away day with Glowacki as a 5-2 on favourite!
Already a global champion, Usyk is now primed to evolve into a global superstar. On Saturday, he debuts on both US soil and the influential HBO network when he begins the defence of his WBO belt against credible (17-2) South African southpaw Thabiso ‘The Rock’ Mchuna, as chief support to Bernard Hopkins’ swansong at the Inglewood Forum in California. BoxNation screen live in the UK.
And all the stars appear aligned for Usyk to leave an indelible mark. In addition to his obvious and apparent aptitude for fighting, this fierce Ukrainian patriot and devout Christian has the requisite background story and sports a natural charm and flamboyance. Already the wholesome father of three who married his childhood sweetheart has bagged lucrative commercial deals with Gillette Fusion and Ukraine mobile phone outlet MTC.
Whilst he has consciously gone out of his way to master English to expand his marketability, he consciously avoids any pre-fight sledging – ‘I come to fight, not talk’ – but is partial to a spot of shuffling and showboating mid-ring and has celebrated victories with a hopak folk dance. The Yanks, one senses, will fall for him, just as they have done other ex-Soviets like Golovkin, ‘Krusher’ Kovalev and ‘Loma’.
Ominously for future rivals, there is still plenty of scope for development. Amateur for a decade, he remains overtly bouncy, focuses too heavily on the top end of the target area and touches rather than tortures the body when he does venture south. Once he masters infighting and begins to plant his feet and place his entire muscular frame behind those precise and correctly delivered shots, expect stoppages to be replaced by count-outs.
His immediate goal is to establish himself cock of the walk at 200lbs. He covets quarrels with counterpart champions Tony Bellew (WBC) and unbeaten Russian puncher Murat Gassiev (IBF) sooner rather than later and is quite prepared to pack his passport to secure them. Ultimately, his Everest is breaking the heavyweight division where the biggest challenges and biggest purses lie.
Success there, and in crashing the pound-for-pound listings, appears more probable than possible.
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