MANY roads have been travelled by Dereck Chisora, the heavyweight with a chip on his shoulder and a roaring fire in his belly. It’s been hustle all the way. From the days when he used to regularly phone the Boxing News office and demand to be put on the cover (even though he was yet to win a British title) to his rebirth as one of the most treasured personalities in the sport, Chisora has always done things the Chisora way.
“Do you know who this is?” the then-11-0 prospect asked me when I answered the phone. “I am the best heavyweight in the world.”
The losses have since piled up, there’s been nine in total, each one revealing for different reasons. He’s been disinterested, robbed, pipped, outboxed, rescued on his stool, knocked over and knocked out. But none of the defeats have been taken to heart or, better still, taken his heart away. Chisora has carried on regardless; raging mad one minute and nonchalant the next, his one constant has always been the kind of confidence that only the hardest of heads possess.
It’s a welcome nod, at least on the surface, to the days when boxers would win a few, lose a few and treat both results just the same. A fight’s a fight, after all.
A master of dusting himself off and going again, one naturally fears for his long-term future given the heavy punishment he’s taken but now, in the present day, it’s hard to deny Chisora deserves all the chances and riches he can lay his 36-year-old hands on.
Well, that’s one point of view.
The other, that Chisora has not only lost too many fights he’s broken too many rules to warrant his current pay-per-view status, will also be heard in the days leading up to this latest opportunity.
Indeed, it’s difficult to champion Chisora with a clean conscience given the rap sheet he’s accumulated over the years. From biting to table throwing, via slapping, spitting and brawling, the Finchley enigma has done well to retain his boxing licence when others may not have been so fortunate. Sometimes childlike, often impressionable and always unpredictable, Chisora’s biggest strength in the current landscape is the marketability he now guarantees in spades as a consequence of his complex personality.
Chisora, you see, is proof that though styles will always make fights when it gets to the actual business of fighting, it’s the personalities – at least in the modern day pantomime era – who generate that business in the first place. And when it comes to personality contests, there can be few better opponents out there for “Del Boy” than the effortlessly cool Ukrainian southpaw, Oleksandr Usyk.
They say opposites attract and it’s certainly easy to imagine, in another world, this pair out on the town together, knocking back beers and smoking cigars, chatting up girls and causing chaos as their mischief runs wild.
Unlike his rival, though, Usyk doesn’t consciously court attention or, more accurately, he doesn’t go out of his way to get it. The elegantly rugged Usyk can achieve as much engagement on social media by dancing all by himself in the gym as Chisora manages by whacking an opponent in the face at a weigh-in.
If Chisora is the villain, a badge he’s always claimed to wear with pride, then Usyk is the smoother than smooth hero who’s unflappable even in the most stressful of situations. And though the villain may deny it, because villains never admit to wanting to be loved, Usyk is the hero – adored for both his talents and natural charm – who Chisora wanted to be when he called up the BN office all those years ago, so desperate for kudos and attention.
Usyk, of course, never had to make such a phone call. As Chisora made his name by making himself heard, Usyk made his simply by being himself. From his days as an amateur he’s generated headlines for the manner in which he fights, so graceful and spiteful yet always in control. While Chisora’s path to this contest has been fraught with obstacles and pain, Usyk’s has been an altogether smoother ride and a ride that’s been completely of his own making.
In February 2012, when Chisora put forth a gallant but losing effort over 12 rounds against then-WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko that was quickly overshadowed by an ugly brawl with David Haye at the post-fight press conference, Usyk was quietly preparing for the heavyweight tournament at the London Olympics. Six months later, as Chisora came to terms with being knocked out by Haye in a law-bending, attention-seeking contest born of their fist-fight, Usyk went 3-0 inside the ExCel Exhibition Centre, beating Artur Beterbiev along the way, to lift the gold.
Their paths continued along respectively similar terrains. Usyk eased himself into the professional ranks until, in September 2016, he decisioned the unbeaten Krzysztof Glowacki over 12 lopsided rounds to win the WBO cruiserweight title and take his record to 10-0. It quickly became 11 in December of that year when he notched his first successful defence by halting Thabiso Mchunu in nine. Chisora, meanwhile, again proved his class with victories over Malik Scott and Edmund Gerber before being hammered in a 2014 rematch with Tyson Fury, only to return with five straight victories, lose a tight decision to Kubrat Pulev, and end 2016 on the wrong side of a perilously close encounter with Dillian Whyte.
Since then, Chisora has continued to defy critics who were all too quick to write him off, not once but three times: He rebounded from the Whyte loss with a win, from defeat to Agit Kabayel by knocking out Carlos Takam and, most recently, from a one-punch KO reverse in the Whyte sequel to blitz fringe contenders Artur Szpilka and David Price. One can point to the losses as evidence Chisora cannot possibly beat Usyk but, in doing so, one must also recognise the mind-boggling spirit he’s shown to come back from them as reasons why he can.
Usyk has never tasted defeat as a professional though he toyed with it before pushing it to the side of his plate when edging an inspired Mairis Briedis in January 2018. That semi-final of the cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series was an appetiser for the 12-round masterclass over Murat Gassiev six months later which saw Usyk become the undisputed champion and the holder of all four major sanctioning body titles. All that remained to do at cruiserweight was feast on the problems served up by Tony Bellew in November 2018, via pulverising eighth-round stoppage, and what we were left with, as Usyk stood up triumphantly, wiped his mouth and pushed his seat back under the table, was the kind of complete and utter domination of a weight class that’s oh so rare in the present day.
Since then, though, Usyk has been comparatively inactive. All that’s followed the win over Bellew is a stoppage of a past-it Chazz Witherspoon 12 months ago that told us little about Usyk’s chances of dominating at heavyweight. Just because he beat all-comers at cruiserweight does not mean he will automatically do the same when crossing the biggest divisional gap in the sport. Though the Ukrainian is the WBO heavyweight mandatory by virtue of relinquishing that belt at cruiser, further context is required: Usyk, 33, is 1-0 as a heavyweight against a veteran who even at his best was nothing more than a gatekeeper; Chisora has performed 41 times in the weight class and faced crème de la crème competitors like Fury, Klitschko, Haye, Whyte, Takam and Pulev.
In short, Chisora is exactly the opponent Usyk now needs to get to the next stage of his career. The opposite is not necessarily true, however; Chisora has already likely proved everything he possibly can. But it does speak of the Englishman’s eternal belief in himself, of his fearlessness and, above all, of that old eagerness for true recognition in a sport he adores. “I expect a real test in Dereck,” Usyk said. “He is strong, tough and resilient. He is a really big guy and he hits hard. As a cruiserweight, I reached the highest heights as undisputed champion and now I am following the same path as a heavyweight. I need to test myself against world-class heavyweights on my new road to undisputed and Dereck stands in front of me.
“Many people say that Dereck is a monster, but deep down he is a kind man. I don’t expect to see that good side of him. I know that he wants to break me, but I am water, wind and fire all together. Derek Chisora, I am coming for you.”
Though it’s perhaps pointless to go back much further than 2012 when analysing this bout, to do so would highlight more about Dereck Chisora. In 2011 he gave a young Tyson Fury one of his toughest encounters in their first bout before being launched into a seemingly unwinnable encounter with unbeaten heir apparent, Robert Helenius, in the favourite’s Helsinki homeland. In Finland, with the odds stacked against him, Del Boy displayed his underrated boxing skills, exposed the “Nordic Nightmare” and appeared from my seat at ringside to win at least eight of the 12 rounds only for criminal judging to go against him. A long time ago, yes, but another exhibit worthy of attention in the case for Chisora.
However, a lot has happened in the nine long years since that bout. Chisora is not the same fighter. He relies on his newfound one-punch power, he huffs and puffs and marches forward, more willing than ever before to take punches in the hope he’ll be able to land one to end the fight. That said, we must give his reunion with Haye, who now acts as his manager, cheerleader and gym instructor, credit for revitalising both his fortunes and his physique in recent years.
What Chisora sometimes lacked under long-time trainer Don Charles, though not the skillset, was focus. Whether Haye managed to instil that single-handedly or if the fighter himself realised that his days were numbered if he continued to act the fool is unknown, but the mid-thirties version is diligent like never before.
If that diligence can possibly be enough against the silky skills of Usyk is a matter of opinion. But should he score the upset and in turn claim the biggest win of his career, he’ll have done it the hard way, just like always. And this time, he won’t have to phone anyone to ensure he gets the credit his efforts deserve.