By John J. Raspanti
Predicted as a 50-50 fight, Oleksandr Usyk pitched a near shutout in winning a 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Murat Gassiev at the Olympic Arena in Moscow, Russia Saturday night.
The scores were 120-108,119-109 and 119-109.
As well as being crowned the cruiserweight champion of the World Boxing Super Series tournament, Usyk went home with the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
The late Ali would have been proud of Usyk’s performance as he outfoxed, outmaneuvered, and outfought the heavy-handed Gassiev.
As expected, Usyk, a southpaw, began and ended the fight popping his long jab. Gassiev stalked and looked to counter-while Usyk moved and punched.
Gassiev came out firing more punches in round two. He landed a couple of solid lefts to the body. Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs) kept sticking his long right jab in Gassiev’s face. His plan was obvious - keep Gassiev off balance with angles and activity. The heavy-handed Gassiev moved forward but couldn’t find the slippery Usyk’s chin.
In rounds three and four, Usyk,31, moved side-to-side. Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs) concentrated on the body. Usyk jabbed up and down. Gassiev, a native of Russia, found Usyk’s ribs but ate a combination in return. Usyk picked while Gassiev probed. Usyk connected with a beautiful right uppercut. Gassiev cracked Usyk with a solid right at the bell. The Ukrainians body dipped ever so slightly.
Gassiev,24, kept working Usyk’s body in round five. His hope was that the shots would slow Usyk down. Usyk connected with a number of quick combinations. After pep talk from trainer Abel Sanchez before round six commenced, Gasssiev came out punching. He landed another wicked body shot, but Usyk continued to move and box well.
Usyk was playing “now you see me, now you don’t” while Gassiev was a slugger who couldn’t time the curve ball. Usyk was boxing well and banking rounds.
He started to dominate in round seven. His volume and foot and hand speed were too much for the Russian. After Gassiev landed two thudding shots to the body, Usyk threw seven straight punches before Gassiev could fire one in return. Gassiev finally caught Usyk with a good shot to the chin, but no damage was done.
Gassiev upped the ante in round eight, but the quicker and more athletic Usyk stayed out of danger and beat Gassiev to the punch. Usyk connected with a quick combination that left Gassiev shaking his head.
With three rounds to go in the bout, Usyk was way ahead on my scorecard. He continued to fire punches in bunches. Most of the shots were landing. Gassiev tried to duck but looked like a man caught in a storm. He punched back, but Usyk constantly made him pay for his impertance. Usyk landed a solid left uppercut and a cracking right.
It was apparent that Gassiev would need to knock Usyk out to win. He tried, but Usyk used his active offense to keep Gassiev on the defensive. He did land a solid shot, but Usyk only grinned.
In the 12th and final round, Usyk remained the busier fighter. Gassiev had stalked Usyk for almost 12 rounds - being tattooed with numerous punches. He swung a few more time for the fences, and missed.
“I give credit to my team,” said the victorious Usyk. “My team made me look good in the ring. I heard Tony Bellow was looking for a fight, hey Tony Bellow, I’m ready.”
“I want to congratulate Oleksandr Usyk,” said the gracious Gassiev. “Great job.”