Oleksandr Usyk and Tony Bellew meet on Saturday in Manchester in a rare matchup in boxing: a true championship fight, for the undisputed, unquestioned crown at cruiserweight, where Usyk holds all four titles and the Ring Magazine belt.
Usyk (15-0, 11 KO) was an elite amateur for Ukraine before turning pro, where he’s done nothing but live up to the hype and his amateur glory. He won gold as a heavyweight at London 2012, and it was clear then that, at worst, he was going to be a serious contender as a professional cruiserweight and potentially down the road a pro heavyweight.
We’re still waiting to see on that heavyweight thing as a professional, but we may not be waiting much longer. A lot of the talk in the UK media has been that Usyk and his team have their eyes on an Anthony Joshua fight in 2019, but first Usyk will have to finish out his run at cruiser, where he’s been wildly successful.
Usyk, 31, is coming off of a World Boxing Super Series tournament win where he defeated Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev. Briedis was the only one who gave him much of a challenge, and even still, it wasn’t controversial or anything. Coming into the tournament, there was still at least a little question as to how Usyk would handle other top cruisers in that format, and he proved out nicely against Briedis and Gassiev, dominating Gassiev in the final.
But next up is a new sort of challenge in Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KO), one of those confident, determined fighters who has made his star the hard way in the sport.
Bellew is a former light heavyweight contender who looked like he was going to top out at challenger in those days, losing world title bids to Nathan Cleverly and Adonis Stevenson in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
But since moving up in weight, “The Bomber” is 7-0 as a cruiserweight and 3-0 in fights fought in the heavyweight division, including his last two outings, a pair of stoppage wins over David Haye, which have made him a bigger name than ever.
Once Usyk was done collecting the four belts, Bellew called him out for a fight. It was thought maybe it would be at heavyweight, but Tony didn’t want that — if he’s going to fight this guy, he figured, he might as well do it for the championships and make it as meaningful as possible, even if it meant boiling off that extra weight for the first time in a while. There’s a lot to respect about that.
Matchup Grade: B+. I am high on this fight because of what it represents, but I don’t know how much of a great competition I’m expecting. Usyk’s skill level is pound-for-pound elite stuff, and Bellew just isn’t that kind of fighter. But Tony can bang, and he is not afraid to take risks, so even if it winds up a blowout, I expect it to be one of those where the challenger goes out on his shield. And, hey, you never know; Bellew’s just one of those fighters. Maybe this is all destiny or whatever. Maybe he’s the guy to knock off the guy. One of the fights that got me into boxing heavily, took me from being a young casual fan to paying much closer attention, was Ricardo Mayorga wiping out Vernon Forrest. By all rights, that never should have happened. It did, though. I like Usyk to win here, but I can’t count Tony out completely.