The curtain will come down on an outstanding boxing career Saturday night as the remarkable Bernard Hopkins gloves up for the final time at The Forum, Inglewood, California. As the book closes on Hopkins, another fighter appearing on the west coast card will be looking to write the introduction to what could turn out to be the most important and profitable period of his professional ring campaign.
Oleksandr Usyk (10-0-0, 9Kos) boxes on American soil for the first time as a pro as he makes his first defence of the WBO Cruiserweight title he won in September.
The southpaw, former amateur standout from Ukraine, captured the gold medal in the Heavyweight division at the London Olympics in 2012. Usyk made his professional debut in November 2013 and has progressed swiftly since then to where he is today.
Despite only having ten professional fights under his belt Usyk is already ranked as the best in the world in his weight division by The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
He has already spoken of his desire to face the other title holders at 200lbs – Murat Gassiev (IBF), Tony Bellew (WBC) and Denis Lebedev (WBA). Add in the names of other Cruiser contenders like Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis and Yunier Dorticos and you can appreciate that being regarded as the best of this bunch speaks volumes as to how impressive Usyk has looked thus far.
Before fights against any of these boxers can be made, Usyk will be looking to win impressively on Saturday. In the opposite corner at The Forum will be South African challenger Thabiso Mchunu.
Mchunu (17-2-0, 11Kos) comes into this encounter looking to cause a major upset. Also a southpaw, Mchunu may be remembered by some fans in America for his unanimous decision win over Eddie Chambers in Connecticut in 2013. Sadly for Mchunu the task awaiting him on Saturday is far more daunting. When the opening bell rings he will find himself up against a man who is taller and in possession of a six inch reach advantage along with some of the best footwork in the sport today.
Despite these obstacles Mchunu is backing himself to spring the surprise come fight night. “I'm going to be the one who is going to control the fight” he told IOL Sport. The South African continued, “I see myself dominating him and he's going to respond to that, every time he tries to respond I'm going to counter punch him.”
Fighting talk but the reality is that when the fight starts Usyk will establish his accurate jab early in the proceedings and once this tone has been set I expect him to show glimpses of his world class movement before forcing the stoppage round about the midway point in the bout.
Such is the expectation for Usyk to win, he has been fielding questions regarding stepping up to Heavyweight and facing Anthony Joshua in the not too distant future. “I think that would be a very, very interesting bout” he responded to an enquiry from RingTV.com. In the same conversation Usyk made it clear he is not looking beyond the encounter with Mchunu, “It is very important for me to show good boxing, to show all my skills to people at the HBO network.”
This statement shows Usyk is aware of how important a good showing is tomorrow and perhaps hints at how he will be maneuvered as his team look to build a strong fan base in America.
Promoted by K2 Promotions it is not much of a stretch to predict that Usyk's US appearances will be managed similarly to those of fellow K2 boxer Gennady Golovkin. Golovkin was showcased in large media markets on both coasts of the United States and he now sells out the best venues in America whenever he fights there. Having Usyk follow this blueprint, as long as he thrills viewers like Golovkin did, will ensure he does big business when the time comes for him to headline in the USA.
So leaving a Cruiserweight legacy, demonstrating he can transition into a top Heavyweight and building a following among American boxing fans are all currently on the agenda for Usyk and his handlers. First and foremost a convincing and exciting win against Mchunu that leaves observers wanting to see more is called for. I fully expect Usyk to start ticking these boxes on Saturday night.
Based on the promotional releases I have seen it looks like Usyk vs. Mchunu will be opening the televised portion of the card; HBO (USA) and BoxNation (UK) the places to watch for those of us not attending in person.
While most of the attention during the buildup to this card has rightly been on Hopkins' swansong, the post fight discussions may well be dominated by debate as to just how much Usyk will go on to achieve in the sport. Whether travelling to The Forum or watching on TV make sure you take your seat on time to witness the start of what is sure to be an exciting and explosive journey towards boxing greatness for Oleksandr Usyk.