How will the former cruiserweight champion do in the heavyweight division when boxing resumes?
By Max Warren
Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13KOs), 2012 Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed cruiserweight champion, intended on making a splash in the heavyweight division in 2019 and to eventually fight for a title in 2020.
Unfortunately, injuries and postponements stalled his campaign. Since Evander Holyfield’s move up to heavyweight after a dominant reign at cruiserweight, fight fans haven’t seen a similar ambitious journey. In an era of heavyweight behemoths, Usyk’s dimensions aren’t typical for the weight, let alone a champion in the division. He is 6’3’’ and weighs 215 pounds. So far, nothing can be evaluated regarding his position at heavyweight.
Since knocking out Tony Bellew (30-3-1, 20KOs) in the 8th back in September of 2018, Usyk has fought only once. His sole performance at heavyweight occurred last October against Chazz Witherspoon, a late-notice opponent who had no more than a week to get ready for the fight.
Witherspoon weighed in at a career-high of 242 pounds, and didn’t give Usyk trouble at any point in the match. Usyk dissected Witherspoon, hitting him at will and frustrating him with quality footwork. The Ukrainian stopped the 38-year-old Witherspoon in the 7th, but nobody came away from the fight believing that the performance was an indication of his potential in boxing’s glamor division.
Usyk was slated to face long-time heavyweight contender Dereck Chisora in May, but the fight has been pushed back to July due to the COVID-19 world pandemic. Chisora has faced several former heavyweight champions including Vitali Klitschko, David Haye, and Tyson Fury.
He poses the type of risk that fans were waiting for Usyk to face. Chisora is a big puncher, and many weren’t sure how well Usyk’s punch resistance would fare against a strong heavyweight. It’s unfortunate to see Usyk’s start at heavyweight get stalled.
At 215 pounds, Usyk is much lighter than his contemporaries in the division. From here on out, Usyk has to walk a tightrope, using defense and footwork to frustrate larger opponents. His lateral movement and combination punching will frustrate the larger and slower fighters, and he has enough power to momentarily freeze whoever he faces.
The only lingering question regarding his heavyweight potential is his punch resistance. Usyk isn’t unhittable, and he will eventually be hit by significant power punches. Other heavyweights will be frustrated by punching downward at Usyk, as the Ukrainian will present an entirely different look than what his future opponents have faced thus far.
From a skill standpoint, Usyk will have absolutely no trouble. The only thing that will matter is how he fares when hit by significantly larger men.