REMEMBER when we naively thought Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev would rock up in Saudi Arabia of all places and settle the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) cruiserweight final on May 11? Lo and behold, Usyk got injured, the fight was scrapped, Saudi Arabia was a no-go, the whole thing seemed ridiculous, and we told ourselves, ‘Why did we believe it to be true in the first place?’
All seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it?
Anyway, here’s some good news: the latest on Usyk and Gassiev and this elusive final is that the organisers are now apparently looking at a date of July 21 at Moscow’s Olympic Stadium. Whether true or not, it certainly sounds more feasible than the pair colliding somewhere in Saudi Arabia.
“The Super Series final will take place in Moscow on July 21,” said Umar Kremlev, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation. “This will be the start of the International Boxing Day.”
With no date or venue announced, the fear was that Usyk vs. Gassiev, a thrilling final on paper, would fall by the wayside and be consigned to the pages of what-might-have-been boxing history. There was even talk, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, that Usyk, 14-0 (11), was unwilling to fight Russia’s Gassiev, 26-0 (19), in Russia and that, as a result, he might pull out of the final altogether, thus leaving with the WBO and WBC portions of a four-belt cruiserweight cake.
Had that happened, it would have been disastrous, not only for us, the bloodthirsty, those eager to see Usyk and Gassiev stand toe-to-toe, but also for the integrity of the tournament, one that has so far, up to this point, been nothing short of a revelation.
Which is why whispers of a new date and location will be greeted by a collective sigh of relief on the part of anyone who knows anything about either man and their body of work.
It’s being billed as Carl Frampton’s homecoming – and for good reason – but Frank Warren’s August 18 event at Belfast’s Windsor Park could very well turn out to be a coronation night for Paddy Barnes, Frampton’s countryman, who fights WBC flyweight champion Cristofer Rosales in his first stab at world title glory.
Barnes, though a decorated amateur, is just 5-0 (1) as a professional, has gone the 10-round distance only once, and is nowhere to be seen in the WBC top 15. Rosales, meanwhile, is an improving Nicaraguan who looked better than ever when knocking out Japan’s Daigo Higa in nine rounds in April. Indeed, it was that upset win in Japan which landed Rosales the WBC title and suddenly made him a wanted man in the 112-pound division. It’s why Barnes has rolled the dice and taken the risk.
“He’s on a knockout streak so I know he can punch but he’s also a very good boxer,” said Barnes. “I think our styles will gel perfectly and the fans are in for a real war.
“The atmosphere on the night will be absolutely incredible. Belfast as a city is full of knowledgeable boxing fans and they’ll get behind me against a very good world champion.
“I’ve fought all around the world in massive arenas and I loved it every time. This one will be extra special as it’s in my home city. I won’t be fazed by it – it will inspire me.”
Though he has won his last four fights, Rosales, 27-3 (18), is known to British fight fans for losing fights in Sheffield and Cardiff. He lost an eight-round decision against Kal Yafai in 2015 and then, two years later, lost a 12-rounder against Andrew Selby, despite dropping the Welshman in round one.
“He’s only lost three times to high-class opponents like Kal Yafai and Andrew Selby,” said Barnes. “Yafai outmuscled him and Selby outboxed him. I’m hoping I can do a bit of both.”
It’s this kind of form that will have Barnes and his team licking their lips in anticipation, and the crowd expectant on the night. Yet it should also be noted that Rosales is still only 23, so clearly a work in progress, and that since losing to Selby he has twice ventured overseas – first to Italy and then to Japan – and claimed the scalps of unbeaten home favourites (the aforementioned Higa in Japan and Mohammed Obbadi in Italy).
He’s WBC champion for a reason.