WHAT was widely expected to be a comfortable victory for Oleksandr Usyk over Dereck Chisora turned out to be exactly that as the Ukrainian, in his first real test at heavyweight, won unanimously on the cards after 12 absorbing rounds inside Wembley Arena.
But when used in the context of an elite boxing match, particularly at heavyweight with Dereck Chisora in the opposite corner, the word ‘comfortable’ is something of a contradiction. Usyk couldn’t exactly switch off and put his feet up. Instead, those feet worked tirelessly to engineer the openings that crafted this triumph against a 36-year-old veteran who displayed all the ambition of a fighter on the way up. Chisora deserves nothing but praise for the effort he put forth.
Some ringsiders in the “Del Boy” business, like manager David Haye and long-time friend Tony Bellew who both talked up Chisora’s chances beforehand, believed the Englishman deserved better than the 10th career defeat he endured. Even some in the Usyk camp, namely Egis Klimas, felt Chisora had done enough to win in the immediate aftermath. One wonders if they’ll still feel that way after they watch the fight again.
Another viewpoint, and one shared by Boxing News, was that the cards favouring Usyk – particularly the two which read 115-113 (Jan Christensen and Yury Kopstev) – were not kind enough. Bob Williams’ tally of 117-112 was more in line with BN’s, which had the former cruiserweight king up by 10 rounds to two.
What this wasn’t, though, was an exhibition that proved beyond doubt Usyk will be able to reproduce the same dominance at heavyweight he enjoyed in the division below. He himself only gave his performance three out of 10. It was a harsh appraisal but one that no doubt speaks of how difficult life can be as a heavyweight.
“It is a real test at heavyweight, it is testing,” Usyk observed. “Chisora is a big guy, a hard guy. I fought his fight, I was expecting that, even a tougher fight.”
Questions will remain as those tougher fights inevitably follow. They’re the same questions that accompanied the last undisputed cruiserweight champion’s journey into the land of the giants. Back in 1988, Evander Holyfield stepped into the banner division, then ruled by Mike Tyson, amid concerns he simply wasn’t big enough. Though he had already twice won and lost versions of the heavyweight title by the time he defeated Tyson in 1996, he had to wait until he toppled “Iron” Mike before he was truly accepted.
Approaching 34 years old, Usyk will have to move quicker. As the number one contender in the World Boxing Organisation ratings, he’s indicated he intends to challenge for that title in his next bout. Whether that comes against the current WBO belt-holder Anthony Joshua, who was ringside cheering on Chisora, remains to be seen. Joshua must first deal with Kubrat Pulev in December before we’re told he will engage in two mouth-watering clashes with Tyson Fury in 2021.
That Joshua will be forced to relinquish his WBO title to face Fury underlines the impossibility of keeping all four sanctioning bodies simultaneously on side. What it doesn’t do, however, is change the fact that whomever wins that rivalry must be regarded as the true king. Should Usyk continue to make progress in the meantime then he will become the leading contender.
It’s worth remembering that Daniel Dubois is the WBO’s No. 2 with his November 28 opponent, Joe Joyce, at No. 10; Usyk, then, won’t have to wait long for the chance to truly impress in a weight class in its best shape since those days of Holyfield and Tyson.
It is also a division where promises are broken and twists and turns are commonplace. A Fury-Joshua contest, particularly in a world fighting against a pandemic, is a long way from being finalised. Furthermore, Team Joshua may opt to take on Usyk before he’s had any more time to acclimatise to the division. Though it’s tempting to disregard Usyk’s chances against Joshua, to point to his size and his perceived lack of punching power in the weight class, it’s just as easy to predict the Ukrainian’s speed of body and mind will be too much for “AJ”. One only has to look back at Joshua’s loss to Andy Ruiz Jnr as evidence. Shorter by some distance, the Mexican-American employed fast hands and feet to have success last year. The excess weight around Ruiz’s midriff, I’d argue, had less to do with his stunning victory.
Yet the manner in which Chisora clouted Usyk to make this bout reasonably competitive will encourage Joshua and his fans. The right hand in particular regularly breached Usyk’s defences, both to body and head.
“I think I won, 100 per cent, I was pushing the pace,” Chisora said. “Yes I gave a couple of rounds away, but the judges saw it different. Pressure was landing. My body shots were landing. I am just disappointed. You have to take shots, it is a fight game, he did very well.
“I am disappointed with the result, basically gutted. I am just gutted. I am p**sed off, I worked hard for this fight.”
That was an understatement. Chisora put forth arguably the best showing of his entire career, both in the fight itself and beforehand in the gym. As expected, he started quickly, winging in wide clumps that unsettled Usyk and unquestionably won the opening round. Indeed, that right hand of Chisora countered Usyk with such force it’s feasible it dissuaded the Ukrainian from going all out for a stoppage when his rival was visibly exhausted later in the bout.
The second session was another decent one for Chisora yet by the time the bell sounded there were signs that the southpaw had gathered all the information he needed. By the third, Usyk – if not quite in vintage form – was not wasting anything. More than once, there was evidence that Chisora was not doing the same. He loaded up on everything, sometimes missing wildly as the weight of wayward hooks dragged him round in unbecoming circles.
In the fifth, Chisora – visibly tiring – turned southpaw. It did little to deter Usyk, who continued to move gracefully and pepper his opponent with his right jab and left cross. Though the underdog remained dangerous, Usyk upped the pressure in the seventh. His movement was a problem for Chisora, suddenly he couldn’t see the shots coming as Usyk artfully positioned and repositioned himself to attack. It was like Chisora was suddenly surrounded; whichever way he turned there was no escape.
A stoppage looked likely and had this been a less fit version of Dereck, a version we’ve seen before, the fight may have ended there. But he pluckily regained his composure in the eighth and fired back. Chisora rallied but it was clear the greater accuracy came from Usyk, who continued to change direction and ping blows off his always advancing opponent.
In the end, the Phil Edwards-officiated fight was won and lost by Usyk’s superior boxing brain and skillset. Chisora’s own will to win played it’s part – particularly in a stirring 11th when he cracked Usyk’s body up close – yet there can be no argument he deserved more than he got.
Chisora understandably plans to fight on. But as the division’s best and toughest stepping stone, his hard head has already been trampled on enough. He’s nothing left to prove. The same cannot be said of Usyk, at least not as a heavyweight with serious ambitions of greatness. This victory only signalled the start of his quest.
On the undercard was a standout performance from Savannah Marshall who pummelled the brave but outclassed Hannah Rankin into submission at 1-59 of the seventh round to win the vacant WBO middleweight strap.
This bout had been postponed for a fortnight after Marshall’s trainer, Peter Fury, tested positive for coronavirus. It was a welcome addition to this pay-per-view card. Without it, the undercard would have been largely forgettable.
Rankin had a decent enough opening round, as her jab probed Marshall’s head and body, but it wasn’t long before the gifted Savannah was in full flow.
The Hartlepool woman, who in 2012 defeated Claressa Shields on route to winning the amateur World championships, displayed perfect footwork as she steadily broke the resistance of Rankin. By the fourth, the Glaswegian was looking ragged and perplexed by the varied attacks coming her way.
The difference in the two fighters, both in terms of class and education, became increasingly apparent. In the fifth, Marshall stepped back from her opponent and fired a wicked shot to the body that was followed by a left hook upstairs. To her great credit, and under a mask of blood and bruises, Rankin never stopped trying to find a breakthrough but that forward motion only hastened her downfall.
She dropped to one knee, in act of escape from the sustained pressure, before referee Mr Edwards at last stopped the bout. Rankin went to hospital in the aftermath but insists she will rebuild in the lower divisions. Marshall, meanwhile, looks set for a professional showdown with Shields and, on this evidence, even the American would struggle to beat her.
The career of Lee Selby is in the balance after he was beaten via split decision by George Kambosos Jnr. The former IBF featherweight titlist was hoping to secure a shot at lightweight king Teofimo Lopez but, in truth, both he and Kambosos Jnr looked a long way below that level.
Selby, now 33, showed flashes of class but the industry of his outspoken Australian opponent was favoured by two of the three judges. Kambosos Jnr landed the best punches of the fight while Selby’s flashy movement too often came without any substance. Mr Edwards’ card of 115-114 in Selby’s favour was trumped by scores of a generous 118-110 (Mr Kopstev) and a more realistic 116-112 (Daniel Van de Wiele). The eighth round only lasted two minutes but had no bearing on the outcome. Mr Williams was the referee.
At cruiserweight, Belfast-based Tommy McCarthy did well to repel a spirited effort from Belgian Bilal Laggoune to win the vacant European cruiserweight title over 12 rounds in a gruelling affair.
McCarthy started brightly behind his jab and firing his right through the middle. He also had success when aiming at his opponent’s body yet he seemed to tire down the stretch. The 11th was the best round of the fight as McCarthy was forced off his toes and into the trenches. Both fighters gave it everything but the decision in McCarthy’s favour was fair. The scores of 116-112 (Mr Christensen) and 116-113 (Mark Lyson) overruled Mr Van de Wiele’s 114-114.
McCarthy hopes to challenge for a world belt next year.
The judges couldn’t split Southam’s Amy Timlin and Liverpool’s Carly Skelly in their bout for the Commonwealth super-bantamweight title.
Skelly started as the aggressor and appeared to build a lead before some intelligent counters from Timlin in the second half closed the gap. The scores were 95-95 (Mr Lyson), 96-95 for Timlin (Mr Williams) and 97-96 for Skelly (Mr Edwards). Victor Loughlin was the referee.
Ramla Ali, from Somalia but based in London, won her debut over six rounds, displaying fluid skill along the way. But it wasn’t a pleasant spectacle; Germany’s plucky Eva Hubmayer was woefully out of her depth. She survived the six-round course before losing 60-54 on referee Mr Williams’ scorecard.
THE VERDICT Classy Usyk bosses courageous Chisora to signal his arrival as a legitimate heavyweight force.
Oleksandr Usyk (217 1/4lbs), 18-0 (13), w pts 12 Dereck Chisora (255 1/2lbs), 32-10 (23); Savannah Marshall (159 1/4lbs), 9-0 (7), w rsf 7 Hannah Rankin (158 1/4lbs), 9-5 (2); George Kambosos Jnr (134 3/4lbs), 19-0 (10), w pts 12 Lee Selby (134 3/4lbs), 28-3 (9); Tommy McCarthy (199 1/2lbs), 17-2 (8), w pts 12 Bilal Laggoune (199 1/2lbs), 25-2-2 (14); Amy Timlin (120 1/2lbs), 4-0-1, d pts 10 Carly Skelly (119 1/2lbs), 3-0-1; Ramla Ali (124 3/4lbs), 1-0, w pts 6 Eva Hubmayer (18 1/2lbs), 1-1.