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Preview: Oleksandr Usyk takes first real heavyweight test against Derek Chisora

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The former cruiserweight king is in against a legit heavyweight on Saturday.

Oleksandr Usyk v Chazz Witherspoon Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk has mostly dominated thus far as a professional after an excellent amateur career, but Saturday on DAZN (2:00 pm ET), he’ll face his first real heavyweight test when he takes on the battle-hardened Derek Chisora in a 12-round main event from London.

Usyk (17-0, 13 KO) won gold at the 2008 European Championships as a light heavyweight, then moved up to heavyweight (201 lbs in the amateurs) for bronze at the 2009 World Championships, and gold at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

Big things were expected of him when he turned pro in late 2013, and he delivered fairly quickly on his promise. In Sept. 2016, he went on the road to Poland and convincingly took the WBO cruiserweight title from Krzysztof Glowacki by decision, and defended successfully against Thabiso Mchunu and Michael Hunter before entering the first World Boxing Super Series tournament in 2017.

With all titleholders in the division participating, the tournament was going to crown an undisputed champion, and Usyk was the odds-on favorite going in. He continued to deliver on what was expected of him, beating Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev over a 10-month period to win the tournament and unify the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO straps.

It was Briedis in the semifinal who gave Usyk his toughest test. Usyk had gone to Germany and stopped the veteran Huck in the 10th round, but the fight in Briedis’ backyard in Riga, Latvia, was a legitimately tough one, and by far the closest he’s come to date to losing as a pro, escaping via majority decision, which wasn’t controversial, but very easily could have come back even or gone the other way, particularly when you consider Usyk was the visiting fighter.

But Usyk got past Briedis — who just recently won the long-delayed second WBSS cruiserweight tournament final — and then dominated Gassiev in the final round in Moscow, once again fighting on his opponent’s turf. He would do so yet again for a money undisputed title defense against Tony Bellew in Manchester, England, in Nov. 2018.

That was another interesting fight, as Bellew definitely had some success — he was up on two cards and even on the third — before getting stopped in the eighth round. But there was no doubt left at the end about the better man, either. Yeah, Bellew won some rounds, but when Usyk turned it on, it was turned on, and Bellew couldn’t do anything to stop him.


How to Watch Usyk vs Chisora

Date: Saturday, Oct. 31 | Start Time: 2:00 pm ET
Location: The SSE Arena, Wembley, London, England
TV: Sky Box Office (UK) | Stream: DAZN
Live Online Coverage: BadLeftHook.com


Having won the undisputed championship and defended it, there really wasn’t anything left for Usyk to do at cruiserweight. Sure, he could have stayed, but without competing in another WBSS, the options would have been limited, and that’s another thing he’d already done and won.

So the move to heavyweight came, though not without some skepticism. Everyone agrees Usyk is a terrific boxer, a wonderful technician and all-around stud at cruiserweight.

But cruiserweight ain’t heavyweight. The cruiserweight division is still young in the boxing world, stretching back to 1980 when Marvin Camel beat Mate Parlov to win the newly-sanctioned WBC title. They were the first sanctioning body to recognize the division; the WBA would follow in 1982, the IBF in 1983, and the WBO crowned its first titlist at 200 pounds in 1989.

In all that time, only two men have won world titles at both cruiserweight and heavyweight: Evander Holyfield and David Haye. (James Toney appeared to have done it for a minute back in 2005, but failed a post-fight drug test after beating John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title.)

This is not a knock on the cruiserweight division or its fighters, but when you leave the limit of 200 pounds, it’s not like the guys you’re going to fight next are usually sitting at 205 or 207 or 210. Especially as the modern heavyweights have kept getting bigger, it’s often a huge leap from a 200-pound limit to the heavyweight ranks at a high level.

Usyk dipped a toe into the heavyweight pool in Oct. 2019, facing Chazz Witherspoon, a Philadelphia fighter once thought to be a prospect, whose bubble had burst years prior. Usyk stopped the lethargic Withersppon after seven rounds, but still left questions, as Witherspoon really hadn’t been in a notable fight in over seven years.

Some people didn’t like Usyk’s body, which came in at 215 pounds on the scales, thinking he looked soft and as if he simply wasn’t meant to be fighting at that weight in today’s game. Some people thought his performance, while dominant, lacked a certain zip, and that his punches against a bigger man did, too.

Regis Prograis v Josh Taylor - World Boxing Super Series Super-Lightweight Ali Trophy Final Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

The 33-year-old Usyk may or may not have to be better than he was against Usyk when he faces Derek Chisora on Saturday, but he definitely will have to be more careful.

Chisora (32-9, 23 KO) has been one of those oddly notable fighters in his era. He’s never won a world title, he’s generally come up short in his biggest fights, but he’s kept himself hanging around at the fringes of contention at the very least for a long time now.

Chisora, now 36, won the British heavyweight title with a second round stoppage of a faded Danny Williams in 2010, and unified with the Commonwealth title four months later by stopping Sam Sexton in nine. His first dual-title defense was a loss, as he dropped the belts to a young Tyson Fury in July 2011.

Chisora’s stock got a boost later that same year, when he went to Finland and really should have gotten a win over Robert Helenius, but was robbed on the cards. His next fight was no step back, though, as his effort was rewarded even in defeat as he got a shot at the WBC title held by Vitali Klitschko. After a pretty wild build-up that included Chisora being boldly disrespectful of both Klitschko brothers, he gave a big effort but was beaten pretty soundly in Germany.

From there, he immediately — like, at the post-fight press conference immediately — launched into a heated rivalry with David Haye, which led to a July 2012 fight at Upton Park in West Ham. Haye blasted Chisora out in five after a gimmicky but effective build-up. Today, Haye serves as Chisora’s manager, and the two are friends.

With four losses in five fights, Chisora needed to rebound; no matter how good you are at talking yourself or a fight up, you do have to win some fights to stay marketable, so he did that, rattling off five straight wins in 2013-14 before a late 2014 rematch with Fury, this time for the European and British titles. Fury dominated again, stopping Chisora after 10 this time.

Five more wins, these all at a pretty low level, and then a 2016 loss to Kubrat Pulev in another European title fight, this one in Germany, with Pulev taking a decision that was split but shouldn’t have been.

In 10 fights since the loss to Pulev, Chisora has gone 7-3. He’s lost twice to Dillian Whyte in 2016 and 2018, both terrific heavyweight slugfests, and dropped a majority decision to Agit Kabayel in 2017, as the European title simply continues to elude Chisora.

But now and then, Chisora just gets the right sort of win and keeps himself in the conversation. In 2018, it was an eighth round stoppage of Carlos Takam. In 2019, after sort of laboring through a decision win over Senad Gashi, he brutally knocked out Artur Szpilka and then stopped David Price in four.

It’s truly been a long, winding road for “Del Boy,” alternately known as “War” Chisora. He’s been a villain many times, but he’s now become rather well-liked overall, as his years of honest efforts in victory or defeat have made him someone the public can rely on for a good fight most of the time.

And he’s big. Actually, he’s shorter than Usyk, who is 6’3”, by at least an inch-and-a-half. And with a 74” reach, he’ll be giving away four inches there to the Ukrainian. But he’s a thick, sturdy lad, coming in anywhere from 245 to 260 most of the time, and he looks in great shape from training camp footage.

Chisora cannot box with Usyk, but if he can catch Usyk napping with his chin in the air — which does happen — he’s got the power to turn the tables at any moment. We simply do not know how Usyk will handle the power of a true heavyweight puncher; Chisora isn’t exactly Deontay Wilder or Mike Tyson or George Foreman, but he can crack for sure.

It’s a matchup where you really have a guy with a genuine “puncher’s chance” as the underdog, because it’s more than just “the punch.” He’s a naturally larger, stronger man than Usyk. Even if Usyk is getting the better of things, and Chisora has trouble landing, he may simply be able to muscle Usyk in the clinch, put his weight on him, and sap the Ukrainian’s strength and the spring in his legs over time, making him more vulnerable as the fight goes on.

Another reason to tune in: they’re both fucking weird, in good and natural ways.

Undercard

O2 Arena Boxing Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Former featherweight titleholder Lee Selby (28-2, 9 KO) and unbeaten George Kambosos Jr (18-0, 10 KO) look to take a final step toward a lightweight title shot, as the Welshman and the Aussie meet in an IBF eliminator, serving as chief support for th emain event.

Selby, 33, was once pretty boldly called “The Welsh Mayweather,” which — well, no. I mean, he’d lost his fifth pro fight back in 2009, for starters, and while he is a good fighter, he’s not Mayweather. You can’t even make a joke about him being a Welsh version of ANY Mayweather — he’s not Floyd Jr and he’s not Roger, either, but he’s certainly had a better pro career than Jeff or Floyd Sr, who weren’t bad fighters, but never came close to winning a world title, and Selby did do that back in 2015, when he beat Evgeny Gradovich for the IBF 126-pound belt.

After successful defenses against Fernando Montiel, Eric Hunter, Jonathan Barros, and Eduardo Ramirez, Selby was beaten by Josh Warrington in May 2018, and decided to move up in weight. But he skipped right over 130 to head to 135. He’s 2-0 at the weight, but he was a little shaky in both wins, which came against Omar Douglas and Ricky Burns. He can fight at this weight, but he’s probably pushing it.

Kambosos, 27, will have youth on his size, and he’s a career lightweight, has a bit naturally thicker frame. But Selby’s wins over Douglas and Burns are arguably better than anything “Ferocious” Kambosos has done to date, too; his best win came in Dec. 2019 against Mickey Bey, a split decision that he did deserve to win, but Bey, while a former titlist, never should have been a titlist, and was never exactly great. And he hadn’t had a serious fight in three-and-a-half years when he laced up against Kambosos.

This is a proving ground fight for both guys, along with being an eliminator. Selby still has some questions at lightweight, and Kambosos just has questions about his real level, period.

Vasiliy Lomachenko and Luke Campbell Public Workout - York Hall Photo by Tess Derry/PA Images via Getty Images

Undefeated former amateur standout Savannah Marshall (8-0, 6 KO) and Hannah Rankin (9-4, 2 KO) have had their vacant WBO middleweight fight rescheduled to this date. They were set to meet on Oct. 17, but Marshall’s trainer Peter Fury tested positive for COVID-19 a few days before the fight, and it had to be postponed.

Luckily, it’s a quick turnaround. The 29-year-old Marshall will be the clear favorite here. As you’ve likely heard, she was the last (and only) fighter to ever beat Claressa Shields in an organized bout, when she upset the American back at the 2012 World Championships, where Marshall went on to win gold. She lost just before she would have faced Shields at both the 2012 Olympics and 2016 World Championships, She was on track to rematch Shields in the gold medal fight at the 2016 World Championships, but lost to Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands in the semi-final. She also competed at the 2016 Olympics, once again falling in the quarter-final.

Marshall’s built a lot of her buzz on that now eight-year-old win over Shields, in all honesty. She definitely has that win and you can’t take that from her, but Shields has been the one to go on to glory, and Marshall has been good, but lagging far behind her former rival.

Rankin, a 30-year-old Scot, fought Shields for the WBC, WBA, and IBF middleweight titles back in 2018, losing all 10 rounds, and has also lost in world title fights against Alicia Napoleon Espinosa and Patricia Berghult (the latter was an interim title fight) at 168 and 154, respectively. She’s capable enough in the ring, but Marshall will be expected to win this one, and rather handily.

Carl Frampton v Horacio Garcia - SSE Arena Belfast Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images
  • Tommy McCarthy (16-2, 8 KO) will look to keep his momentum going as he faces Bilal Laggoune (25-1-2, 14 KO) for the vacant European cruiserweight title. The 29-year-old McCarthy lost to Matty Askin in 2016 and Richard Riakporhe in 2019, but his career got a big shot in the arm in Oct. 2019 when he went to Italy and upset local favorite Fabio Turchi via decision. Laggoune, a 27-year-old from Belgium, lost to Doudou Ngumbu at light heavyweight back in 2017, but after moving up has gone 5-0 against pretty limited opposition.
  • Fan favorite heavyweight Dave Allen (18-5-2, 15 KO) will return against short-notice opponent Christopher Lovejoy (19-0, 19 KO) in what may well wind up a bit of disgraceful matchmaking. Lovejoy is a 36-year-old American who has never fought outside of Tijuana, and if you know boxing well enough, you know how easy it can be to build a record smashing cans in Tijuana. Allen is a domestic level heavyweight in the UK, but a decent one, and he’s got experience against drastically better opposition than Lovejoy does. Maybe Lovejoy is a 6’5” American heavyweight who has somehow stayed hidden fighting in Tijuana bars even though he’s really good. Probably not. Most likely there was no reason to fly in Lovejoy and not just find a heavyweight in Europe willing to take the fight on a week’s notice. I’m not even suggesting someone good, really. What’s Yakup Saglam doing? Or Attila Levin? Unless I’m dead wrong and the British boxing fandom is much stupider than I believe it to be, it’s not like they’re going to sell a single extra PPV on Sky Box Office because Dave Allen is fighting “an unbeaten American!” way down the undercard. This will all look pretty bad if Lovejoy gooms Allen, admittedly.
  • 24-year-old bantamweight Kash Farooq (13-1, 6 KO) impressed a lot of people with a controversial split decision loss to Lee McGregor in Nov. 2019, and will make his Matchroom debut against Martin Tecuapetla (15-12-4, 10 KO), a 30-year-old Mexican now living in Spain.
  • 20-year-old Amy Timlin (4-0, 0 KO) will face 33-year-old Carly Skelly (3-0, 0 KO) in a 10-round bout for the vacant Commonwealth junior featherweight title. I will not pretend I know much of anything about either of them.