The glamorous World Boxing Super Series returns on July 21, as Russian pulverizer and WBA/IBF cruiserweight champion “Iron” Murat Gassiev (26-0, 14KOs) goes to war with WBC/WBO cruiserweight champion Oleksander Usyk (14-0, 11KOs).
This fight is huge– the biggest for both of them; shifting interest from Prince Mohammed bin Salman's preview of “Neom” in Jeddha, Saudi Arabia, to Vladimir Putin's modern masterpiece in Moscow amid a different type of “Russiagate” beef with Ukraine.
These kind of things matter in sports- particularly in the new international culture of confliction in boxing (as we see with the fanatical semantics of Canelo V GGG II), where different generations of hardcore fight fan bases will clash, often with dangerously different political views they'll literally go to war over. Gassiev V Usyk: check.
“Of course they're sportsmen, not soldiers… it would be a good victory,” said Ludmilla Drago in reference to her husband Ivan in Rocky IV, prior to killing Apollo Creed. The theme of the crime indicated that he'd died for his country just as Drago murdered someone for his. “I'm ready for the greatest war ever,” said Usyk, then on the mend with a wrist injury when I caught up with him at the May presser to launch Kovalev V Alvarez at the Hard Rock Cafe in NYC.
Somebody's getting nuked.
There's an aroma of Olympic Games in professional boxing now, as many promoters seem to be making fights which are more or less confrontations that pit nation against nation. Sometimes this results in a very rare Gassiev V Usyk match-up, as the two best cruiserweights in the world meet at or near the height of their powers in a way that honors tradition. A throwback euro-style in 5G.
Both men seriously earned their way to this summit overcoming a talented field. Back in February, Gassiev..
..savaged Cuban destroyer Yunier Dorticos via 12th round KO in a FOTY-like thriller from Sochi, Russia; meanwhile, road warrior Usyk journeyed to Arena Riga in Latvia, surviving an absolute firefight with a relentless Mairis Breidis to snatch a Majority Decision. As good as those two fights were, fans can expect the cruiser finale to be even better, which means boxing will give 2018 three of the hottest fights from the boys at 190. Be honest: Nobody gave a shit about cruiser until the WBSS came along.
The bigger surprise for the success of the WBSS in its first season, was its lack of regard for a U.S. cable market or large venue for revenue from a LIVE gate. I attended Gassiev's 2nd round annihilation of Krzysztof Wlodarczyk at a largely empty (but gaudy) Prudential Center in Newark last October and can tell you that Sauerland and Schaefer know how to throw a fight party. But the larger vision of annexing boxing to different corners of the world came with a price: No lucrative U.S. promotional deals or involvement with premium cable giants HBO, SHOWTIME or any network TV stations in America. Backed by some of the richest men on earth– they don't care. Nevertheless, strong word of mouth overseas stemming from drama generated at super middleweight (the George Groves V Callum Smith finale should be bananas) has created buzz for those at home wondering “Where's the fight?”
Enter DAZN, the world’s largest dedicated live sports streaming service, which will exclusively bring U.S. fight fans all 15 fight nights of World Boxing Super Series’ Season II, featuring 21 match-ups across the three tournaments promoted by COMOSA AG. Season II will begin September 2018 featuring three divisions: Bantamweight, Super-Lightweight and TBA. The three-year deal will include shoulder programming such as features on fighters and select match-ups that will be available on-demand on DAZN. DAZN will announce its official launch date and pricing this summer.
“IRON” MURAT STEALS THE CROWN
The farmer's version of Popeye disguised as Brutus, Gassiev appears in the colors of Iron-Man with the subdued approach of a back-in-the- day “Iron Mike.” In Usyk, IMG faces a svelte (but powerful), slick and sneaky fighter with nothing to prove but everything. You're not managed by Egis Klimas and basically in the camp of world #1 Vasyl Lomachenko because you're a decent fighter– Usyk can be great. A more talented physical specimen than Yunier Dorticos with a greater range of motion, he'll need to be special in order to defeat Gassiev. I don't think Usyk..
..is a more dynamic puncher than Dorticos or nearly as sudden; and if Breidis was able to strike Usyk with alarming frequency while largely unaffected by the Ukrainian's arsenal, how will he survive Gassiev's nuclear capability?
Once Abel Sanchez and the mighty Russian solve the movement, distance and punch sequence of Usyk is when the ground attack really begins. Gassiev is one of the 10 best fighters in the world and the very best body puncher in the division. Expect a methodical, icy and merciless Gassiev to freeze Usyk with punishing hooks around the ribcage before ultimately breaking him in about eight rounds to become just the fourth fighter to unify all four major titles in any division.
Only Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor and former super lightweight champion Terence Crawford have earned this distinction. For Gassiev- and in many ways Russia, being the first fighter to receive the Ali trophy will have special significance, as it was the final act of legend from “The Greatest.”