FOLLOWING his devastating eighth-round knockout of Tony Bellew on Saturday (November 10), all the talk is of undisputed cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk leaving behind the weight class and moving up to heavyweight.
It’s where he’ll find the big-name opponents; it’s where he’ll find the big-money fights.
Whether Usyk’s six-foot-three, 200-pound frame will suffice at heavyweight remains to be seen, but there are certainly a number of heavyweights, based both in Britain and further afield, against whom the gifted Ukrainian can have a test-run.
Eddie Hearn, promoter of Saturday’s fight between Usyk and Bellew, has already drawn up an imaginary shortlist, the top of which sits Anthony Joshua, the WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion.
“Getting to (Anthony) Joshua was one of the many reasons Usyk signed with us and agreed to fight Bellew,” Hearn said.
“Then they said they want to step up to heavyweight straight away and take on someone like Joseph Parker or Dillian Whyte before fighting Joshua. I said I can deliver all that. Joshua is their ultimate target. And AJ wants to fight him.
“Usyk is going to be very popular in the British market now. There are so many great fights for him.
“Whyte and Dereck Chisora are having their rematch in December and I’d like Usyk to be ringside for that. Then there’s Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, Jarrell Miller — all kinds of opportunities.”
On Saturday, Tony Bellew, for three or four rounds, showed the tactical nous required to make Usyk think, make him have to adjust, and edge ahead on the scorecards in their WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO world cruiserweight title encounter. The Liverpudlian’s savvy now, savvier than any British heavyweight except maybe Tyson Fury, and this savviness is what allowed him to stay competitive with Usyk, a tactical genius, for half of a fight.
The heavyweights, those mentioned by Hearn, lack this same shrewdness. Instead, they have size, strength and punch power, and these assets, above all else, could well be the ingredients needed to solve the Usyk riddle.
“Usyk will struggle at heavyweight,” Dillian Whyte told Sky Sports.
“Heavyweights are bigger and stronger guys and they will manhandle him.
“If I fought him, I wouldn’t do what Tony Bellew was doing. I’d be charging at him all around the ring. He’s not going to drop me with one punch. I would maul him all night long. I would fight him in a very uncomfortable zone for him.
“If it’s a big fight and he wants it, he can have it. I’m game. If Usyk wants it, he can have it. I’m the ‘Can Man’, like I say all the time. If you’re a top-10 fighter, you can have it.
“I can never see him shock a real heavyweight; maybe his movement, to some lazy heavyweight, but as a heavyweight, you close it down, nullify it, and beat him up, rough him up.
“You will outweigh him by two or three stones, so weigh him down, push him around.
“He didn’t like a few things Bellew did – like hitting him on the side of the head – and he was complaining. I saw a few signs there that he doesn’t like it rough.”
Oleksandr Usyk might one day lose to a bigger man at heavyweight. But, right now, it’s hard to envisage him losing to a better man.
Luis Ortiz is another heavyweight who probably wouldn’t mind testing Oleksandr Usyk’s heavyweight capabilities at some stage.
Ortiz, long considered the avoided man at heavyweight, fights Travis Kauffman on December 1, and is eager to get back into title contention following a tenth-round stoppage defeat to Deontay Wilder in March.
“I feel blessed to be on the Wilder vs. Fury card and competing on a huge night of boxing in front of a full house,” said the 39-year-old Cuban.
“In my last fight at Staples Center the fans showed me so much love and I can’t wait to be back. I know Travis Kauffman has a good record and I know he’s definitely got heart.
“If all goes as expected and Wilder puts Fury to sleep like I think he will, I want another shot at him ASAP. It will be an epic rematch between me and Wilder.”
First things first, Luis. First things first.