SATURDAY (July 21) sees the culmination of the popular and ground-breaking World Boxing Super Series. The long-awaited, much-anticipated Oleksandr Usyk vs Murat Gassiev final will see one-man crowned winner of the Muhammad Ali trophy and undisputed cruiserweight world champion. We are preparing for potentially the best match-up in boxing this year. The whole world awaits.
Oleksandr Usyk of the Ukraine has cultivated a cult-like following thus far in his professional career. A southpaw with dazzling skills, fantastic speed for a big man, power in both hands and an insatiable lust for war, he has collected both the WBO and WBC titles which he will put on the line.
The tournament started for Usyk with a trip to Germany in the quarterfinals. His punch-perfect performance saw him stop Marco Huck. This contest gave us a different look at Usyk, a man who is often lauded for his boxing skills much like his former amateur teammate Vasyl Lomachenko. He was able to show a more ruthless, aggressive and powerful side to his ever-impressive arsenal. Usyk then strode into the semi final where he once again turned unlikely road warrior. He travelled into Latvia to take on Latvian WBC champion Mairis Breidis. A scintillating battle which elevated both men saw Usyk leave Latvia with Breidis’ WBC title to add to his haul by way of majority decision. Once again Usyk gave us a further look into his tool box as he displayed the engine, stamina and grit to tough out a 12-round battle of attrition.
This brings us to the final. Once again, presumably much to his dismay, Usyk finds himself travelling into hostile territory, behind enemy lines to fight Gassiev in his home country of Russia. Make no mistake, come fight time, Usyk will be unwavering in his pursuit of the trophy. The location will merely be an afterthought.
Murat Gassiev has stormed to the final of the World Boxing Super Series. The power-punching, seek-and-destroy Russian has been steadily growing in both reputation and esteem with fans for a long time. Stablemates with a recognisable Kazakh wrecking machine, Gassiev has taken the boxing world by storm and emerged from the shadows. Kicking off his tournament with an emphatic third round knockout of former champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, he set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Cuban power punching dynamo Yunier Dorticos. The semi-final did not disappoint. Toe-to-toe, brutal, barbaric, just some of the words used to describe the action we were privileged to witness. Gassiev entered the 12th and final round of a terrific fight with the slenderest of leads, not content to try and box his way to a decision. He did what all great champions do, he closed the show. Three knockdowns in the final stanza, the final one leaving Dorticos separated from his senses and unable to continue saw the Russian add the WBA title to his IBF. It also brought us to this moment. The final, Usyk vs Gassiev, for all four major belts, all the marbles. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
The final is, on paper, one of the most evenly matched fights of recent times. Further analysis of both fighter’s styles, strengths and weaknesses does nothing but make picking a winner even more difficult. Does Usyk have the speed, footwork and counter-punching ability to lead and sting Gassiev when he inevitably tries to return fire? Or will Gassiev’s tremendous ring generalship, cutting off the ring and body punching render the Ukrainians footwork obsolete and force him to stand? One would normally say that either scenario would benefit the opposite man, however these are two truly elite fighters who can adapt and adjust game plans on the fly and still have great success. Usyk proved against Breidis he could gut out a 12-round battle of attrition just as Gassiev proved with a previous fight with Denis Lebedev he can adjust to a moving counter-punching southpaw. I find myself firmly on the fence with this one. The splinters are almost painful. I will, like the rest of the world, be tuning in on Saturday July 21 in anticipation of a fight that will go down in cruiserweight history. Sitting on the fence has never seemed so exciting. Enjoy!