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Cruise Control: What’s next for Oleksandr Usyk?

Will the Ukrainian move up to heavyweight? Or is there more to prove in the 200-pound division?

Boxing: Usyk vs Mchunu Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

If there were any doubters to the supreme talent that Oleksandr Usyk is, Saturday night’s schooling of Murat Gassiev would have dispelled this clouded judgement.

Winning the final of the cruiserweight’s World Boxing Super Series widely on all three of the judges scorecards (120-108, 119-109, 119-109), the Ukrainian cruiserweight unified the division, claimed the inaugural Muhammad Ali trophy, and was subsequently draped in the WBC, WBO, IBF and WBA belts from head to... waist.

This achievement shouldn’t be understated. Undisputed champions of a division are few and far between throughout the history of the sport, and now, with four ‘recognised’ belts much maligned as ‘alphabet titles’, it has proved even tougher of a task to be recognised as the undisputed fighter in your respective division.

If this feat sounds familiar in recent times, you’re right. Terence Crawford became the undisputed light welterweight champion last August, breaking a barren stretch of twelve years since all four belts were held in unison (Jermain Taylor in 2005).

I digress.

On paper, this is enough for Usyk to be regarded as one of boxing’s best. The mythical pound-for-pound rankings will no doubt have an Usyk shaped space filled in the upper-echelons of most analyst’s lists, alongside the aforementioned Terence Crawford, and Usyk’s friend and compatriot Vasyl Lomachenko.

On closer inspection, Usyk’s record is phenomenal. In just 15 professional fights, the ‘Cat’ has beaten the previously untouched Krzysztof Glowacki in his native Poland, unbeaten Michael Hunter away in the United States, unblemished Mairis Briedis abroad in Latvia and now, the feared (and again, unbeaten) Murat Gassiev in Russia.

Now sure, trying to lure opponents to fight in Kiev is never going to be the easiest assignment for Usyk and his promotional team, but his willingness to travel - as a Ukrainian to Russia, especially - tell you everything you need to know about the hearts, guts and balls of Usyk; his results tell us everything we need to know about his talent.

So the cruiserweight division is sewn up. Who is left to lure Usyk into another bout at the 200lbs limit?

A rematch with Mairis Briedis (24-1)

Sitting as WBC mandatory, Usyk will have to cross this bridge again if he has any hopes of clinging onto his four pieces of cruiserweight gold for longer that a week...

It’s notoriously hard to keep all sanctioning bodies happy at once; the WBC will come knocking first with an offer for Usyk to rematch Briedis after the WBSS winner beat the Latvian in the semi-final earlier in January.

In a majority decision victory, questions were posed of Usyk that we hadn’t seen before. Briedis was game and came to fight, with the Latvian fighting for every second of every round. Despite never looking in real danger, Usyk was made to work for everything, with the scores of 114-114, 115-113 and 115-113 underlining the competitive nature of this bout.

A rematch would at cruiserweight - or ever perhaps heavyweight - would make sense for both parties. Usyk can underline his dominance over the WBSS contingent, and Briedis gets another bite at the cherry. However, money talks... and where does the money lie? At heavyweight...

Tony Bellew (30-2-1)

How much does Tony Bellew really want this fight? That’s the biggest question regarding a possible Usyk-Bellew encounter in the near future.

Usyk has made his feelings known regarding a bout with the Liverpudlian at heavyweight. “At this time I have heard that Tony Bellew wants to fight the winner of the Muhammad Ali trophy. I hope he will see me talking... hey Tony Bellew, are you ready?”. Usyk would be tempted to move up to heavyweight, no doubt, relinquishing his unified titles.

After back-to-back big-money wins over the now retired David Haye, you’d have to question the ‘Bomber’s’ motive to get in the ring with such a superior technician. There would be no bad blood to rile Bellew; no Haye-Bellew-esque promo; no real reason for the general public to be sucked in to another Tony Bellew cash-out fight.

However, if the motivation is there, a return down to cruiserweight to fight for all four of Usyk’s belts would prove any doubters wrong. Regarded as an emeritus world champion by the WBC, this fight wouldn’t be hard to sanction; getting it past Eddie Hearn at this weight would be the truest sticking point.

Andre Ward (32-0)

Come with me on this one.

After retiring unbeaten following back-to-back wins over Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward has continually been found amongst the conversation regarding a possible return to the 200lbs division. Could the ‘Son of God’ be tempted to return against a live and active ‘pound-for-pound’ fighter in Usyk?

At 34-years, Ward still has plenty of time for a comeback. Staying in shape outside of the ring, Ward will be continually reminded of the level he knows his body can still fight at; would a last-hurrah against Usyk be worth risking his undefeated record?

Anyone at heavyweight...?

”I will eat more spaghetti” was the response to thoughts of a possible move up to the heavyweight division for Oleksandr Usyk. At 6’3”, Usyk would be no means be out of the place amongst the giants of the sport.

Fluid movement, a southpaw stance, throwing over 1000 punches in a fight, gas tank, perfect footwork: all of these traits would make Usyk a nightmare for a plethora of the highest ranked heavyweights.

This ‘golden generation’ of heavyweights is a myth; anyone outside of Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and a fully-fit Tyson Fury would have concerns about getting in the ring with the cruiserweight king. Even the aforementioned ‘big three’ could struggle, for differing reasons.

Imagine how a plodder like Carlos Takam would struggle to negate the movement and skill of Usyk. His power would be the only concern, however, in boxing, there are more than one ways to skin a cat. Something the ‘Cat’ knows all too well.

With time and rounds on his side, Oleksandr Usyk’s next step will be big news in the boxing world. The WBSS has allowed the Ukrainian to step out of the shadows and into the limited club of ‘elite’ fighters. He’s passed every assignment with flying colours; let’s hope his legacy isn’t tainted in the muddy and confused waters of the heavyweight division.

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