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Usyk vs Witherspoon: Staff picks and predictions

Oleksandr Usyk moves to heavyweight and Dmitry Bivol defends his light heavyweight title on Saturday.

Tomorrow night from Chicago, streaming live on DAZN, Oleksandr Usyk moves up to the heavyweight division and Dmitry Bivol defends his WBA light heavyweight title.

Our staffers make their shocking and exciting picks.

Dmitry Bivol vs Lenin Castillo

Scott Christ

Lenin Castillo’s claim to fame in the boxing world is one time he lost to Marcus Browne, but also scored a knockdown against Marcus Browne. We’ve had a rash of world title fights like this in 2019, where the challenger is some lower-tier sanctioning body “contender” who doesn’t even crack the BoxRec top 100 in the weight class, has no name value, and is basically there because a titleholder needs to fight and no better deal could get done.

Bivol is a good boxer-puncher in his prime. I think he lacks a bit of the killer instinct, but he’s a legit world class fighter. Castillo is not. The question is basically down to whether or not Bivol stops him. Castillo’s never been stopped, but he also hasn’t fought much of anyone other than Browne. I’ll take the gamble (and the hope) and say Bivol does get him out early. Bivol TKO-6

Wil Esco

In fairness, this is a pretty trash matchup — so much so that I’m not even sure why we’re bothering with staff picks for this fight. (Because it’s a big time world championship event, Wil, DUH. — Scott)

Bivol is obviously highly regarded, thought to be clearly one of the best light heavyweights in the world, so we should be seeing him in against other titleholders at this point, or at least legitimate top contenders. Instead we’ll see him in against Lenin Castillo, a little-known fighter out of the Dominican Republic who is currently rated No. 105 in the world by BoxRec. Castillo does have a No. 15 rating with the WBA though, so I supposed that’s just good enough to justify this fight?

Bottom line: the class of a fighter really matters in boxing, and in that respect this shouldn’t be much more than a showcase for Bivol. Bivol TKO-5

Patrick L. Stumberg

It’s hard not to be disappointed in Bivol’s career progression. He’s obviously enormously talented and I’d put him at least 50/50 against the rest of the division’s standouts, but we’ve been stuck with hypotheticals for way too long. You can’t even really use the “he’s young” excuse; he’s been a champion since 2017. He should have graduated from fighting the Lenin Castillos of the world about the time he knocked out Robert Berridge.

Castillo has nothing Bivol hasn’t seen before and no eye-catching trait besides a two-inch height advantage. The only question worth pondering is whether Bivol is willing to stick his neck out in pursuit of the KO. Bivol TKO-7

Lewis Watson

The one positive of the Witherspoon injection into the main event is that Bivol-Castillo now looks less of a mismatch that it did at the start of the week. Bivol has stayed under the radar in the exciting 175-pounds division, but with Gvozdyk-Beterbiev and Canelo-Kovalev in the next month, the hard-hitting Russian has a chance to piggyback on some light-heavy momentum as the division edges towards finding its rightful ruler.

Castillo is durable as an opponent and is big and strong for the weight. Workrate — as shown in his loss to Marcus Browne — is the biggest concern hanging over the challenger, with Bivol’s hand speed and shot selection likely to wear down the Dominican down facilitating a stoppage later in the fight. There is no doubt Castillo found Browne’s southpaw stance tricky to negate, so Castillo may look to show more ambition in Chicago against Bivol’s upright orthodox approach. Still, as each round passes, the levels between these two should become more evident, with Castillo struggling to fire back with any real consistency between Bivol’s pockets of pressure. Bivol will retain his title but he’ll want to send a message out before next weekend’s unification showdown. Bivol TKO-9

And the staff winner is...

Dmitry Bivol v Isaac Chilemba Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Dmitry Bivol (4-0)!


Oleksandr Usyk vs Chazz Witherspoon

Scott Christ

Remember back in the spring when Usyk was going to fight the perfectly credible veteran Carlos Takam? That was a good first heavyweight fight for Usyk. If Usyk was going to be a legit contender and danger at this weight, he should have beaten Takam pretty soundly and announced his arrival. If the transition wasn’t smooth, Takam was decent enough to maybe show the chinks in the armor. Then Usyk got hurt and had to postpone, Takam went in another direction with his career, and we lost that fight.

Then it was going to be kickboxer Tyrone Spong. If nothing else that had some goofy sideshow elements, a world class kickboxer boxing an elite level boxer. The outcome was predictable, but it might’ve been fun if nothing else. Then Spong failed a VADA test and got tossed from the fight.

Now we have Witherspoon, a 38-year-old never-quite-was who’s been operating in the shadows of boxing since a loss to Seth Mitchell seven years ago. To put that into perspective, Mitchell was unbeaten and being pushed hard by HBO at the time. Then seven months later, Mitchell got stopped by Johnathon Banks. Then 10 months after that, Chris Arreola knocked Mitchell out of the sport entirely. Banks, whom Mitchell beat in a rematch, has also long since retired.

This fight is nothing. It is an emergency situation to salvage a card and get Usyk into the ring somehow for the first time in 11 months. Usyk will put this away when Usyk feels like putting it away. Usyk TKO-4

Wil Esco

It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for Oleksandr Usyk’s heavyweight debut, as far as keeping an opponent goes. The latest is that Usyk has now been lined up to take on replacement opponent Chazz Witherspoon, after Tyrone Spong failed a pre-fight drug test. Usyk, 32, has a legitimate claim to being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport right now after clearing out a well-stocked cruiserweight division. And as he looks to transition to the heavyweight ranks, his first fight was always going to be a soft touch as he gets acclimated to the new weight. So as far as that goes, we might have another new name for Usyk, but the expected end result should be about the same.

Witherspoon, 38, has never fought an opponent the caliber of Usyk, and whenever he has stepped up in competition in the past, he’s lost (including stoppage losses to Tony Thompson and Seth Mitchell). Usyk is certainly well above both of those fighters in terms of class, so the only real angle here is whether or not the weight will be too much for Usyk to cope with. I’m going to say no, certainly not in this fight. Usyk TKO-8

Patrick L. Stumberg

Chazz Witherspoon got knocked out by Seth Mitchell seven years ago and he was a hell of a lot closer to his prime then than now. Oleksandr Usyk is going to slaughter him. Usyk TKO-2

Lewis Watson

Eesh. List of opponents I’d rather Usyk had in with him on Saturday night: Tyrone Spong, Tim Witherspoon, Reese Witherspoon, JD Wetherspoon’s (if the pubs are even based on a real person!). I guess Matchroom were left with little wiggle room after Spong was pulled from the event on fight week, so the fact that we are even seeing Usyk up at heavyweight after nearly a year out of the ring should be a small crumb of comfort.

*Opens up Chazz Witherspoon’s BoxRec* “The Gentleman” is more famous for his losses than any successes inside the ring. Falling to Chris Areola, Tony Thompson and Seth Mitchell between 2008-12 underlined his standing amoungst the heavys then — walkover jobs against guys with a combined 74 losses since that loss to Mitchell emphasise how out of his depth Witherspoon is in Chicago. I was disappointed to read that his 2005 win over Yul Witherspoon wasn’t some brother vs brother “loser retires” stipulation match.

Anyway, Usyk will be able to open up the 38-year-old as soon as the bell goes. The Ukrainian isn’t that kind of guy who will bide his time, working with the challenger for a mind-numbing six rounds just to stretch out the show. Usyk’s résumé is one of the gutsiest in the sport, but there is no doubt he has been given a pass on his heavyweight debut. Takam–Spong–Witherspoon must be one of the most rapid downgrades in boxing matchmaking! Usyk TKO-2

And the staff winner is...

Oleksandr Usyk v Tony Bellew - Cruiserweight World Title Fight Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Oleksandr Usyk (4-0)!