WBC: Oleksandr Usyk
WBA Super: Murat Gassiev
WBO: Oleksandr Usyk
IBF: Murat Gassiev
European (EBU): Yves Ngabu
British: Matty Askin
Commonwealth: Lawrence Okolie
The oft maligned 14st 4lb Cruiserweight class is no longer derided as the bastard child of our sport.
As a direct result of this season’s WBSS tourney, fighters at 200lbs are profiting from a Golden Age in terms of interest, exposure and quality of entrant.
The super-slick, PPV screened elimination tournament recruited eight of the planet’s premier fighters at the poundage – including all four reigning belt holders - and pitched them in an innovative knockout format which, later this month, will deliver the Holy Grail of an undisputed monarch.
This Saturday, two-weight World Champ Beibut Shumenov returns to action as he aims to get back into the Cruiserweight mix.
Two weeks later at Moscow’s Olympic Stadium, home hero Murat Gassiev, custodian of the IBF and WBA Super gongs, confronts 2012 Olympic Champion and reigning WBC and WBO emperor Oleksandr Usyk for all the marbles plus the Muhammad Ali Trophy. Russia v Ukraine. It doesn’t get more spicy.
Thoroughbred Usyk, known as ‘The Cat’, was the amateur code’s World Boxer of the Year in 2012 and, in time, has the arsenal to replicate that P4P standing as a professional. A beautifully balanced, supremely athletic 6ft 3in southpaw, Commander ‘Sandr triumphed in 320 of his 335 singlet bouts and has stormed to 14 successive wins since joining the pros. Five were in World Titles, three against rival World Champions.
Poland’s previously unbeaten WBO boss Krzysztof Glowacki was tamed in Gdansk, iconic German Marco ‘Kap’n’ Huck was smashed in Berlin (RSC10) and Latvia’s Mairis Briedis – the defending WBC champ - was edged out in a sizzling WBSS semi in Riga.
The Ukrainian pain dispenser – 11 stoppage wins – a fierce patriot coveted for his celebratory Cossack kicking and funky hair-dos, will have no apprehension about his pending Russian rumble.
[Image credit: Getty Images for Roc Nation Sports]
The 26-0 Gassiev has significantly less breeding – just 25 amateur starts - but the acquisition of home court has significantly tightened the odds. The 24-year-old enters at 11/8.
Hailing from spartan Vladikavkaz by the Caucasus Mountains – ‘we eat three times a day, fight three times a day! – the ‘Iron’ man joined the pros as a green 17-year-old but, since 2014, has been masterfully moulded by ‘Triple G’ mentor Abel Sanchez in Big Bear, California.
Gassiev explodes measured, precise combinations and is a crippling body puncher. Industrial tough Denis Lebedev was decked from one downstairs when he acquired the IBF strap in 2016 while ex IBF and WBC chief Krzysztof Wlodarczyk was wiped out with a single left hook in the ribs in his WBSS opener.
Nineteen have failed to finish and, in a gripping semi, Gassiev proved he carries his power late. Cuban ‘KO Doctor’ Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 quick) received a dose of his own medicine; levelled three times in the last round and halted with just eight seconds remaining.
The rugged Russian’s pending quarrel with Usyk reeks of a classic and whoever triumphs will be elevated alongside the likes of Holyfield and Haye as the division’s greatest ever Champion.
When the WBSS victor - both 6ft 3in tall and long-levered - inevitably takes the hike north to chase the eight figure bounties that await in a resurgent Heavyweight class, expect the mother of all scrambles for custody of the four relinquished belts.
In addition to the WBSS runner-up, a number of recently vanquished belt holders shall be hellbent on reclaiming what once was theirs.
Following surgery to correct a damaged cornea, deposed sheriff Shumenov rocks back into town this weekend, seeking to reclaim the WBA ‘regular’ belt he once wore before resigning as undefeated Champion.
The Kazakh bruiser, still only 34, meets Turkey’s Hizni Altunkaya in his homeland and has the strength and savvy to test anybody. BoxNation screen live.
If Lebedev and Wlodarczyk, 38 and 36 respectively, are now too shop soiled to reign again, southpaw Glowacki, bettered just once in 31 and still only in his 32nd year, has the skill set to feature prominently. Conquered semi-finalists Briedis and Dorticos were both magnificent in defeat and it would be more of a surprise if they failed to reclaim old gold, than if they succeeded.
Fighters hailing from the old Eastern Bloc have dominated the division in recent decades and analysis of the shooting stars suggests that trend is likely to continue into the 2020s. Russians Yury Kashinsky 15-0 (14!) and Alexey Zubov 17-1 (9) are rated by three of the main sanctioning organisations and worth a follow. However, both have turned 30 and sport CVs bereft of any notable names.
Chicago’s Andrew ‘Beast’ Tabiti (undefeated in 16 with 13 quick finishes) and white South African southpaw Kevin Lerena (21-1) help add a cosmopolitan flavour to future contenders but, as yet, are largely unproven.
Blackpool’s reigning British boss Matty ‘The Assassin’ Askin, still improving at 29, has recently cracked the WBC and WBO seedings and could yet add to a UK haul of six world Cruiser Champions.
Ditto current Commonwealth king Lawrence Okolie from Hackney. However, the heavy-handed Rio Olympian, 25, has boxed just 28 pro rounds and needs at least another 18 months to season. EBU emperor Yves Ngabu, 19-0 (14) but yet to venture out of his native Belgium would provide the Brits with a more plausible route to a meaningful international belt.