By Scott Gilfoid: Oleksander Usyk needs to start facing the top heavyweights in the division in 2019 if he wants to see himself facing IBF/WBA/WBO champion Anthony Joshua in the near future, according to his promoter Eddie Hearn.
There’s already a growing perception among Boxing fans that Usyk is shivering at the thought of getting inside the ring with the giant heavyweights in the division. Usyk created that perception in a couple of ways. With the talk of wanting to possibly stay at cruiserweight to face Andre Ward, and then failing to answer back when Matchroom heavyweight Dillian Whyte called him out. The cold reality is Usyk is a good cruiserweight, but he has the wrong body type to add size to his small frame to move up to heavyweight to mix it with the monster sized fighters in that weight class. It could be a disaster for Usyk if he packs on 30 lbs of muscle overnight to try and compete with the lions in the heavyweight division. All that muscle would slow Usyk down to the point where he would be a stationary fighter with little power. He would be easy prey for the top heavyweights in the division to bat around the ring like a Baseball.
If you look at Usyk’s frame, it’s obvious that he’s never going to be able to bulk up and be the same fighter he was at cruiserweight. As soon as Usyk adds a bunch of weight to his frame, his speed and mobility will be gone. Those are the only things that makes him any good. He’s not fast of hand, and he’s not a powerful puncher. The only reason Usyk knocked out Bellew is because the Liverpool fighter ran out of gas dealing with his mobility. Here’s the thing: if Usyk chooses to keep his weight around 208 lbs, which is what he was rumored to have weighed on the night against Bellew, he’s going to be too small to fight the giant heavyweights like Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Luis Ortiz, Jarrell Miller and Dillian Whyte. If Usyk faces ‘The Bronze Bomber’ Wilder right now, he’s going to have all kinds of problems taking the massive shots that he’ll be hitting him with.
Look at how lumped up Usyk’s face was after his fight against Bellew. Usyk was hit hard often by Bellew in the first six rounds. Those same shots would be knockout blows if Wilder was the one landing them. Hopefully for Usyk’s sake, Hearn won’t insist on feeding him to Wilder in order to earn a cash out fight against Joshua. Hearn is sometimes good at matching his fighters that he likes, but he blows it every once in a while by putting them in against guys that are a little too good.
At this point, Usyk is going to be a sitting duck if Hearn matches him against almost any of the top heavyweights in the division. If Hearn wants Usyk to stop dragging his feet about moving up to heavyweight, he just needs to coddle him like a mother hen taking care of one of her nestlings. If Hearn tells Usyk that he only needs to face journeymen level heavyweights to get a title shot against Joshua, it’s predictable that he’ll make his announcement of vacating his cruiserweight titles to move up in weight at warp speed. Fighting Joshua will give Usyk a nice retirement payday, and it doesn’t matter if he loses badly, Usyk will make a small fortune in that fight.
From Hearn’s angle, it would be better if Usyk showed that he can exist at the heavyweight level by taking a couple of scalps from Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller, Dillian Whyte, Dereck Chisora or Luis Ortiz first before he sticks him in with Joshua. That would help validate Usyk as a real threat to Joshua in the eyes of the Boxing public. If Hearn just throws Usyk in with Joshua with him coming off two wins over fodder level heavyweights from the bottom of the division, the Boxing fans are going to see through that and stay away in droves. They’ll realize it’s just a novelty fight.
When Evander Holyfield moved up to heavyweight division in 1988 after winning world titles at cruiserweight, he earned his way to a title shot by beating solid contenders like James ‘Quick’ Tillis, Michael Dokes and Alex Stewart before fighting for a world title against IBF/WBA/WBC heavyweight champion James ‘Buster’ Douglas in October 1990. Holyfield stopped Douglas in the 3rd round to win three of the four heavyweight titles. In Douglas’ previous fight, he had pulled off a huge upset in knocking out champion Mike Tyson in the 10th round in February 1990 in Tokyo, Japan. If Usyk does what Holyfield did in preparing for his title shot, he would face the likes of Dillian Whyte, Jarrell Miller and Luis Ortiz in a row before facing Joshua for his titles.
It’s a little unfair though for Hearn to continue to compare Usyk to Boxing great Evander Holyfield, considering he’s not anywhere near as dominating a fighter as he was when he was fighting at cruiserweight. Holyfield was knocking everyone out at cruiserweight, and looking sensational each time. In contrast, Usyk has had to labor in fights against Bellew, Mairis Briedis and Michael Hunter. It’s clear from those fights and many others that Usyk isn’t in the same class that Holyfield was when he fought at cruiserweight. There’s no one that compares to Holyfield in terms of talent when he was fighting in that weight class. Hearn would be better off comparing Usyk with someone like Carlos De Leon or Dwight Muhammad Qawi at cruiserweight, but definitely not Holyfield. Usyk is not that good. Usyk is continually being compared to Holyfield by Hearn for some reason. Hearn calls Holyfield a “genius” and says he made up for his lack of size at heavyweight with his heart and talent. Hearn says Usyk is going to need to follow Holyfield’s lead if he wants to do well at heavyweight against the larger heavyweights. If Usyk is as good as Holyfield was at criserweight and had his warrior mindset, then Hearn’s job would be so much easier right now. Instead of Hearn sitting and hoping that Usyk will want to fight Whyte, Chisora, Kownacki, Miller and Ortiz to help build the fight against Joshua, he would have already been told by the Ukrainian star to go out and get one of those giant heavyweights pronto. We’re not seeing that though. Now we’re hearing that Usyk might stay at cruiserweight a little longer if fights can be setup against Adonis Stevenson and Andre Ward. You’ve got to feel sorry for Hearn. He probably thought it would be effortless to match Usyk against Joshua after he signed the former Ukrainian amateur star, but it’s not looking that way now.
It was supposedly understood that Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) would move up to heavyweight after he beat WBC emeritus cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew this month on November 10, but Hearn doesn’t sound sure whether Usyk will do that. The last thing anyone wants is for Usyk to be dragged kicking and screaming into the heavyweight division by Hearn just so that he can match him against the much bigger Anthony Joshua for an in house fight. 2012 Olympic gold medalist Usyk has to want to move up to heavyweight. If Usyk doesn’t fancy his chances in that weight class, then Hearn should leave him where he’s at in the cruiserweight division. At least Usyk would be the top dog at cruiserweight for a while before someone knocks him off his hill. As slender as Usyk is, he faces an uncertain future if he moves up to heavyweight. The guys that Hearn wants Usyk to face, Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Dereck Chisora and Adam Kownacki, might all beat him. Those guys hit hard, and they’re good at pressuring smaller opponents.
Hearn wants Usyk to make up his mind whether he plans on going up to heavyweight or staying for the short term at cruiserweight. Hearn says there’s only two fights that are possible for Usyk against Adonis Stevenson or Andre Ward if he elects to stay at cruiserweight. There are obviously plenty of fights for Usyk at cruiserweight, but the only two that could make him good money right now would be against Ward and Stevenson. Hearn would like Usyk to start facing the top heavyweights like Jarrell Miller, Luis ‘King Kong’ Ortiz, Dereck Chisora and Dillian Whyte if he decides to move up in weight. Those would be the type of guys that Usyk needs to face for him to get a fight against Joshua.
“You look at the opponents for Usyk at heavyweight – Jarrell Miller, Dillian Whyte, Derek Chisora, Adam Kownacki, Luis Ortiz. There’s so many fights for him at heavyweight that he could jump straight into,” Hearn said to skysports.com.
Hearn could easily match Usyk against Miller, Whyte and Chisora, as he promotes them. Whether or not Usyk would be open to fighting those types of heavyweights to get a shot at Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) is the big question. Usyk, 31, didn’t look impressive in his win over Tony Bellew this month on November 10. That fight showed that Usyk might not be able to get passed the top heavyweights in the division. Bellew isn’t a heavyweight, but he has pop in his punches, and he clearly had Usyk looking afraid to go on the attack in the first seven rounds.
“I see Usyk being in some major heavyweight fights in 2019,” Hearn said in sounding hopeful rather than certain. “I see probably two fights – that’s Andre Ward and Adonis Stevenson. Ward is retired. Would he come out for a Usyk fight? Who knows?
Stevenson, 41, is a fight that Hearn can probably make quickly if Usyk is willing to take on the powerful light heavyweight. Stevenson would be moving up to cruiserweight to take the fight. Stevenson had mentioned previously wanting to fight Bellew in a rematch if he beat Usyk, but that obviously didn’t happen. Bellew would have probably never fought Stevenson anyway if he’d beaten Usyk. Stevenson was all wrong for Bellew when the two of them squared off in 2013. The way that Stevenson trounced Bellew in six rounds with ease was dramatically different than the headaches Usyk had against ‘The Bomber’ earlier this month. Does that mean that Stevenson is a better fighter than Usyk? You make the call. It sure looks that way. Usyk is a good fighter, but Stevenson is a special talent that you don’t see too often. Will Usyk still be fighting at a high level the way Stevenson is in 10 years when he’s 41? It’s extremely doubtful. Stevenson is special. Usyk is more of a blue collar type of champion, which makes it very difficult to see him succeeding at heavyweight when/if he moves up to that weight class. For a cruiserweight to do well at heavyweight, they need to be dominant in their weight class before moving up, and Usyk isn’t that type of guy. He barely beat Briedis, and struggled mightily against Michael Hunter and Bellew.
Hearn would like to match Usyk against WBA emeritus cruiserweight champion Denis Lebedev if he stays in that weight class. Hearn thinks it would be a good fight for Russia. Lebedev, 39, and he won last Saturday night in beating Mike Wilson by a one-sided 12 round unanimous decision on a Matchroom Boxing card at the Casino de Monte Carlo Salle Medecin, Monte Carlo, Monaco. There would be a lot of interest in a fight between Usyk and Lebedev in Russia, but that’s not a fight that would create a lot of interest elsewhere around the world. The hardcore Boxing fans mostly know if Lebedev for him losing to former Usyk victim Murat Gassiev by a 12 round decision in December 2016. Lebedev has fought only three times since then, beating Hizni Altunkaya, Mark Flanagan and Mike Wilson.