“Usyk!, Usyk!, Usyk!, Usyk!” This was the first moment where I felt the power of fan support sends shivers through my body. I also realized that Usyk was to become more than a four-letter last name. As you may have known then and certainly know by now, I’m speaking of non-other than one Oleksandr Usyk, 16-0 (12 KOs). But first, let me take you back to what got me to this very moment.
It was April 8, 2017, and I was at the time a writer for a different website (if we meet, I’ll tell the story). This wasn’t my first live boxing event, but this was the first event for which I was credentialed to cover a fight. HBO covered the fight and the main event was Top Rank promotion’s Vasyl Lomachenko defending his WBO Featherweight title against Jason Sosa. Usyk showed his worth in the co-main as he faced then undefeated, Michael Hunter. This was the first boxing event to take place at the new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. The place was fresh and glamorous, for those that may have seen my House Hunters episode, this was exactly the type of spot where I could vibe. #butterscotch #crocskin
As I head towards the theater in the facility, it’s apparent that there are boxing fans out in the masses. This couldn’t have been more exemplified than the number of Ukrainian flags draped around the shoulders of many. I then started to run into many familiar faces in the boxing world, at all levels. The boxing world, in a sense, is a small world. For those connected to the boxing scene, you’re connected to the culture in totality. Anyway, as we (my people) say, it was lit.
When the actual co-main kicked off, the crowd was arguably at its peak. It was Usyk taking on Michael Hunter, and Hunter brought the best of what he could offer, at least on this day. I remember vividly, “Usyk!, Usyk!, Usyk!, Usyk!” This was the sound that rang in my ear and as mentioned above, the first time I felt the power of sheer fan support send waves down my spine. Such situations must certainly drive one to a greater depth. For Usyk, regardless of Hunter’s efforts, this drove him to the next level and ultimately the victory. If he hadn’t prior to this day, Usyk most certainly “Arrived.”
On July 21, 2018, when the final rang, there stood the ‘Undisputed’ Lineal|Ring|WBC|WBA|WBO|IBF World Cruiserweight Champion, Usyk. To get to that point required him going through the best fighters between 176 – 200 pounds. This was the finale of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) and the coveted Ali Trophy was on the line. To reach the pinnacle, Usyk had to go through Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev. The aforementioned fighters had a combined record of 89-4-1 (the four losses and draw were Huck) prior to the WBSS and two of them were undefeated.
Interestingly, Usyk’s toughest match-up during the WBSS came in the semi-finals where he won a very competitive and close majority decision over Briedis. Both fighters displayed excellent fundamental skill as they refused to give an inch. Cruiserweight has often been an afterthought in the purview of the masses and these two fighters, along with the others fighter within the tournament, performed at the highest level, on the biggest stage.
WBSS provided a platform for showing the best of what the division had to offer. Additionally, we got a glimpse into the deep level of talent within the division. Ultimately, the tournament lived up to it namesake. This became evident given the fact that we’re now in season two and like the previous tournament, the Cruiserweight division is once again a staple. The face of the division, though, was Usyk.
Those fighters that go down in the history books dare to be great, at all times. There have been many stories and occasions throughout the long history of fighters leaving their “comfort zone,” an interesting word given that we’re discussing the sport of boxing. For Usyk, now is his time and his journey will see him take his talents north of 200 pounds. Make no mistake about it, the glamour division in the sport of boxing is the Heavyweight division. It always has and forever will be the case.
Over the years there have been eras where lower weight classes, generally between welterweight and middleweight, got as much star recognition in the sport as the Heavyweight division sought out the next ‘major’ star. We’re recently exiting one of those eras as the Heavyweight division is once again as competitive as it’s been since the late ’90s.
The star of the division is Anthony Joshua, a massive, 6’6, 240+ pound heavyweight in an era where Usyk at 6’3, will be viewed as a ‘small’ heavyweight. This is partly because he’s moving up from Cruiserweight, but it’s also because of the rest of the top guys at Heavyweight are around Joshua’s size or larger in several cases. This is simply where we’re at in 2019.
As the old adage goes, skills pay the bills. Usyk has a high IQ and regardless of him moving up, we know that he is inherently one of the best ‘boxers’ within the division. Additionally, his footwork and balance will be instantly translatable. Usyk has great movement for a man of his size and this too will be instantly translatable.
At Heavyweight, all it takes is a single punch. We’ve seen Usyk tested against the best Cruiserweights. That, though, doesn’t translate into taking a shot from a legitimate Heavyweight. This will prove to be a major deciding factor in Usyk’s success at this grand ole’ stage. If I were a betting man, I’d have no problem putting money on Usyk making somewhat of a splash at Heavyweight.
We’ll get our first view of what may be in tow as he faces the rugged, battle-tested veteran, Carlos Takam, 36-5-1 (28 KOs). Takam isn’t a large heavyweight by the standards of the current competition, but he’s certainly formidable. Takam has shared the ring with a number of the top guys at Heavyweight, to include Anthony Joshua.
There is one constant when it comes to Takam. When he steps up the competition to the elite level, he loses. Usyk will need to beat Takam to be even considered a legitimate threat at heavyweight. Usyk will likely be the heavy favorite come fight night, but Takam will ensure we see what Usyk can offer at this weight.
With that, the journey begins….or will begin, eventually.
To Be Continued…..
The fight was scheduled for May 25, 2019, at the MGM National Harbor, but as of now is postponed indefinitely as Usyk tore a bicep leading up to the matchup. A tweet from his manager, Egis Klimas, on May 7, 2019, detailed such.