THE wildcard in the heavyweight division is Oleksandr Usyk. The excellent Ukrainian became the undisputed cruiserweight champion before stopping Tony Bellew in Manchester and then stepping up to heavyweight. He’s only had one pro fight as a heavyweight, retiring Chazz Witherspoon, but he had been due to box Dereck Chisora this year, facing the Londoner in March in the last boxing press conference to take place in the UK before the coronavirus lockdown. Those plans have been put on hold for the time being.
But Usyk has been keeping himself active in isolation. “I am doing ok, just making sure that I try to stay busy and keep myself in control, but every day it’s becoming more and more difficult. I want to box. Now,” he tells Boxing News.
(For anyone curious as to what Oleksandr Usyk is like in isolation he says he’s “been spending a lot of time reading and I have even began gardening a bit. I am doing all kinds of work around the house.”)
However whenever he is outside of the gym he always is keen to get back to camp and back to competition. “I live a very normal life, spending quality time with my family and friends. Even in those times though, I get bored very quickly and want go back to training and boxing,” Usyk said.
While he is adapting to heavyweight, Chisora would be an intriguing fight to see how Usyk handles the larger division. “I have a professional nutritionist, and it his job to make sure that I am putting on the weight properly,” he points out. “I have been preparing for this since the amateurs. The success I have had at cruiserweight is exactly what I plan to achieve now at heavyweight.”
He has indeed taken a strategic approach to his career. He did not turn professional immediately after winning his Olympic gold medal at 91kgs. Instead he did a season in the World Series of Boxing at super-heavyweight. The WSB is the quasi-pro league that pits elite amateurs against one another with smaller gloves, no vests and over five rounds. It was a testing ground for him but Usyk was still the series’ leading super-heavy, going 6-0 that season and beating the likes of Magomedrasul Majidov, an amateur World champion, strong Romanian Mihai Nistor and London’s own future Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce. Usyk beat Joyce in an active five rounds on a raucous night at York Hall in Bethnal Green. “I have good memories of that fight and one that I often review. It was very intense. I like fighting and beating bigger guys. It’s fun for me,” he said. “I managed to perform well in amateur boxing thanks to the performance of a strong team led by Anatoly Lomachenko.”
Boxing in the UK also holds special memories for him. His success at London 2012 was pivotal for him. “After the Olympics my life changed forever. I was in a much better place financially and I became very popular in my country. For me, it is hands down the best thing that has ever happened to me in my sports career. Winning gold at the Olympics, it was an absolute dream come true,” Usyk said.
Chisora could be the test for the next step in his development as a professional heavyweight. Usyk however remains focused on himself. “The most difficult opponent is myself,” he says. “I don’t think about him [Chisora]. It is my coaches job to analyse and come up with a game plan. It is my job to execute it and come out victorious.”
That fight could still be rearranged for this year but in the long run, while Usyk remains the mandatory challenger for the WBO heavyweight championship, he will be pushing for his shot at that title, especially while it’s held by Britain’s Anthony Joshua. The WBO, IBF and WBA titlist is very much in Usyk’s sights. The Ukrainian has thought about how he would fight Joshua, though declines to reveal his hand at present. “I can’t disclose all the secrets about Anthony Joshua because I should fight with him soon,” he said.
Usyk has already been obliged to accommodate Kubrat Pulev’s shot at Joshua as the IBF’s mandatory challenger. He’s not going to want to wait too long for his own chance. That makes him a stumbling block on the road to the much-discussed and much-anticipated Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury clash, potentially for the undisputed heavyweight championship. But Usyk is hardly going to bow out. Expect him to insert himself into the narrative. He could end up fighting for a vacant WBO title, he could challenge Joshua. He could ultimately find his way to a fight with Tyson Fury too. It’s something the Ukrainian has certainly considered. “Tyson is not very conventional,” Usyk admits. “He has a lot of tools, as do I. You will see everthing in the fight, if I am going to fight with him.
“For the rest of the boxers [in the heavyweight division]: I cannot assess their strengths and weaknesses. They are good athletes and do their job well.”
Usyk though has been exceptional. His plan from the Olympic Games through the World Series to the professional cruiserweight division has worked to perfection, so far. The obstacles for him at heavyweight will be even more challenging. But Usyk himself appears to have every intention of seeing his vision through.