There is always a tremendous sense of anticipation when a pound-for-pound great makes the step-up in weight to a new division.
In truth, there was very little else for Oleksandr Usyk to achieve at his previous cruiserweight limit, given that he was the undisputed champion and World Boxing Super Series winner in 2018.
There has been expectation and disappointment in equal measure since the Ukrainian announced his decision to step up and fight the big boys in the heavyweight division ever since dismantling Tony Bellew and effectively ending the Englishman’s career.
Plans for a debut in the top weight category were continually put on hold due to injury, and eventually Usyk was ready for his heavyweight entry against Tyrone Spong in Chicago on October 12.
But Spong tested positive for the banned substance Clomiphene in the build-up to that contest, and late replacement Chazz Witherspoon simply wasn’t up to the mark in giving the 33-year-old a viable challenge.
Usyk delivered a low-key masterclass in attacking boxing there, pounding his new opponent with lefts and rights and showcasing his phenomenal foot movement to get in close.
It wasn’t the toughest of assignments, admittedly, but there were plenty of positives that the Ukrainian’s camp could have taken into his March 28 bout with the significantly more experienced Derrick Chisora.
However, Usyk has now injured his elbow, and that scrap with the Londoner won’t take place until May at the earliest.
It’s added frustration for a man ranked the fifth best pound-for-pound boxer in the world according to the respected The Ring magazine, but surely the time will come in 2020 where he showcases his skills at the heavier weight to a new global audience.
A Weighty Issue
There’s no doubting his in-ring talents nor his punch power, but the main talking point about Usyk’s move to heavyweight is that he will be taking on guys who are significantly bigger than he is.
Standing 6ft 3in and with a reach of 78in, the southpaw is a big old unit but he pales in comparison to the other leading heavyweights in the game.
Usyk came in at 215lb for his scrap with Witherspoon, but look at how that stacks up against the likes of Anthony Joshua (248lb/6ft 6in/82in), Deontay Wilder (212lb/6ft 7in/82in) and Tyson Fury (256lb/6ft 9in/85in) – it’s clear that he will be getting significant disadvantage in either size, reach or both.
But it’s not the size of the man in the fight that’s important, more the size of the fight in the man – that’s the old cliché, anyway. But clearly, a good big man beats a good ‘little’ man more often than not.
The weight classifications in boxing give with one hand and take away with the other for fighters with the frame of Usyk.
Compare boxing to the UFC weight classes according to WSN. There is no cruiserweight division in the MMA game, which is in essence replaced by the fact that bigger guys can fight at light heavyweight up to a maximum of 205lb. In boxing, there is no upper limit at the heavyweight division, but in UFC the likes of Fury would have to keep off the carbs to meet the 265lb maximum.
In short, Usyk is taking a bold – but calculated – step in moving up to heavyweight. He knows that’s where the big fights are, in every sense of the word, and if he can overcome Chisora in May then a bout with one of the major title-holders will not be far away.