Former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk made his long-awaited and highly-anticipated move to heavyweight on Saturday night, beating late substitute opponent Chazz Witherspoon pretty handily, forcing Witherspoon to give it up after seven rounds and little success.
Reactions to Usyk’s performance have been mixed, both from logical standpoints and from those who perhaps expected more than was realistic.
So now we have to wonder, what’s next for the Ukrainian, a former Olympic gold medalist who cleaned house at cruiserweight?
A title fight
Usyk is 32 years old and he and his team have been clear that he’s not looking to spend a lot of time “tuning up” in the heavyweight division. He’s also already the mandatory challenger for the WBO heavyweight title, currently one of three belts held by Andy Ruiz Jr, who will rematch Anthony Joshua on Dec. 7 in Saudi Arabia.
The result and then fallout of the Ruiz-Joshua fight could make things a little more clear for Usyk — or maybe not.
One possibility is that Joshua wins, which could set up a pretty easy fight to make, as both are with Matchroom. That fight has been talked about plenty, mostly before Joshua was upset by Ruiz in June, and it’s one Usyk would like to do. There’s a lot to market there.
Another possibility is that Ruiz wins, and as a PBC fighter, Ruiz-Usyk could be tough to make. PBC would have the opportunity at that point, in theory, to make a full-on, totally in-house undisputed heavyweight championship fight between Ruiz and Deontay Wilder in 2020.
The third thing to keep in mind is that if Ruiz and Joshua have another barnburner, this time with Joshua winning, there could be a lot of reason for them to make it a trilogy and strike while the iron’s hot, doing it back-to-back-to-back. This doesn’t seem likely, but it’s not out of the question, and could leave Usyk on the outside looking in with this WBO position.
The last thing to consider is that no matter who wins on Dec. 7, the WBO belt might well go vacant in short order. Holding multiple title belts in any division is hard, because the titleholder has the various mandatory challengers to deal with, or risk being stripped of the belt. If Ruiz or Joshua were to win but give up the WBO title, Usyk could find himself fighting for a vacant belt.
Who would he fight in that case? Well, Usyk is the WBO’s No. 1 ranked contender currently, followed by Tyson Fury, Joshua, and Joseph Parker. Fury doesn’t really care much about belts — at least in that he doesn’t seek them out — is a Top Rank/Frank Warren fighter, and is currently slated to face Wilder in a Feb. 2020 rematch, so probably count him out. Joshua, obviously, would either be the guy vacating or coming off a second straight loss to Andy Ruiz.
Parker, however, could nicely fit the bill. Usyk-Parker for the vacant WBO title would be a legit fight for the former cruiserweight king. Parker is also a Matchroom guy, so the fight would be easy enough to make without having to jump through any big political hoops.
For what it’s worth, Usyk has said he wants to fight Deontay Wilder, who holds the WBC belt, but Wilder is a PBC guy and pretty busy at the moment. He rematches Luis Ortiz on Nov. 23, and assuming he gets through that OK, likely will rematch Tyson Fury in February, as mentioned.
A non-title fight
If Usyk doesn’t fight for the WBO belt against Ruiz, Joshua, or someone else, then he’ll certainly look to step up the competition from Chazz Witherspoon and take on a more credible name in the division next.
Some have mentioned Carlos Takam, Usyk’s originally-planned heavyweight debut opponent back in May, before Usyk was injured and the fight canceled. Takam, though, has gone in a different direction, signing with Star Boxing, and then linking up with Top Rank. Takam is now more in the Tyson Fury bubble of the division, not the Matchroom pool.
The good news is Matchroom have a solid roster of heavyweights available. There’s the aforementioned Joseph Parker, who would be an attractive opponent with or without a vacant belt on the line. There’s Dereck Chisora, whom Parker was meant to fight on Oct. 26. Chisora will now face David Price, and the winner of that bout against Usyk would be useful as a next test.
Alexander Povetkin’s last three fights have come on Matchroom cards, and that’s a fight that has been rumored before. It’s another good matchup. Povetkin is past his prime, but still a contender and a credible heavyweight.
Hughie Fury, just recently defeated by Povetkin, is in the Matchroom stable, but at this point probably tough to sell, as he’s been repeatedly exposed at top level.
Matchroom also have Dillian Whyte, a top contender, but his sights remain set on a WBC title shot that the WBC have moved heaven and earth to avoid granting him, while stringing Whyte and Eddie Hearn along with the idea the sanctioning body might could change their mind at any time — a vague promise here, a vague promise there, and Whyte remains single-minded about the green belt.
Matchroom have Michael Hunter, too, and Hunter has looked good since his own move from cruiser to heavy. Hunter’s only pro loss, you’ll recall, came to Usyk at cruiserweight in 2017, after which Hunter made the move up. He’s gone 6-0 since.
In short, there are plenty of solid ideas easily available to Usyk and Matchroom, whether or not a title fight is to actually come in his next outing. If he doesn’t lose first, expect him to fight for some title at some point in 2020. He’s in-prime, but not a spring chicken and not looking to spend a lot of time dipping his toes into the water.