The term “cruiserweight star” is practically an oxymoron–at least in the United States. But Oleksandr Usyk just might be a fighter who can catch fire in North America, even while fighting in the over-looked 200-pound division.
Usyk fought back-to-back fights in the United States in December 2016 and April 2017 and hardcore American fans certainly took note. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist from the Ukraine could perhaps be described as a 200-pound version of his countryman, Vasyl Lomachenko. He has uncanny athleticism and technique for a man his size.
Now 13-0 with 11 KOs, Usyk has defeated some of the division’s biggest names. He claimed the WBO strap by battering Krzysztof Glowacki en route to a run away unanimous decision in September 2016 and stopped Thabiso Mchunu three months later. He stopped Marco Huck, the biggest cruiserweight star of this century, in 10 Rounds last September.
Usyk stands 6’3″ with a 78″ reach, so he has the frame of a legitimate heavyweight. In today’s world, 205 to 210 pounds is a smallish heavyweight. But he’d be no smaller than Evander Holyfield was when he knocked out a 6’4″, 256-pound James Douglas, or battled tooth-and-nail with a 6’5″, 240-pound Riddick Bowe.
All that is in the future, of course. This weekend Usyk will be in Eastern Europe, to fight fellow unbeaten Mairis Briedis, in Briedis’ hometown of Riga, Latvia.
Briedis represents a true test–possibly the biggest Usyk has had to date. He also defeated Huck last year, and by wide margins on the cards. He followed that win with a decision over former heavyweight contender Mike Perez.
The Transnational Boxing Board ranks Briedis No. 6 at cruiserweight. The Ring has him at three, which I am more inclined to agree with.
Everybody has Usyk ranked first in the division. And there is unanimous agreement on who stands right behind him in line–Russia’s Murat Gassiev. Gassiev faces a very tough, undefeated Cuban contender in Yunier Dorticos on February 3.
If Usyk and Gassiev both win in the next two weeks, they should line up perfectly to meet later in the year. That would establish a true World Champion in the division, the first one since Tomasz Adamek moved up to heavyweight in 2009.