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Is Oleksandr Usyk the Real Deal at Heavyweight?

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  • Is Oleksandr Usyk the Real Deal at Heavyweight?

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    By Kelsey McCarson

    Oleksandr Usyk will make his long-awaited heavyweight debut on May 25 against former title challenger Carlos Takam at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. It will be Usyk’s third bout in the United States but his first since 2017 when he defeated Michael Hunter by unanimous decision at the same venue.

    “At cruiserweight, I did it all and became the undisputed champion, and that is my goal now in the (heavyweight division),” said Usyk in a press release distributed by Matchroom Boxing. “This is the ultimate challenge, and it begins on May 25 against Carlos Takam. It’s a tough first fight, but I need to test myself against world class opposition on my new road to undisputed.”

    While Takam probably isn’t quite as elite as Usyk states, the 38-year-old is at least a relevant heavyweight who has gone rounds with some of the very best fighters in the world. Though not quite championship material, Takam is a rugged gatekeeper capable of helping determine whether Usyk will be, or at least has the potential to become, the real deal as a heavyweight contender.

    Usyk, 32, of Ukraine, was more than a contender at the 200-pound limit. Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) defeated Murat Gassiev in July 2018 in Moscow to win the inaugural World Boxing Super Series tournament to become just the third undisputed cruiserweight champion in history. Evander Holyfield did it first in 1988, and O’Neil Bell followed in 2006. Of the two, Usyk is hoping to be more like Holyfield than Bell.

    Bell immediately lost his next fight and was out of boxing within four years. Sadly, the fighter also lost his life in 2015 when he was shot and killed during a robbery in Atlanta.

    After cleaning out the cruiserweight division at the age of 25, Holyfield went on to achieve legendary status among the heavyweight greats. He knocked out James “Buster” Douglas in 1990 and spent the rest of the next two decades battling the likes of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe during a total of four heavyweight title reigns.

    And while Holyfield might be considered by historians to be the best cruiserweight ever, he’s most certainly remembered today for those amazing heavyweight exploits.

    Usyk seems to compare nicely with Holyfield. Both were Olympic medal winners. Usyk won gold in 2012 at heavyweight while Holyfield took home the bronze at light heavyweight in 1984. Usyk is 6 foot 3 inches tall with a 78-inch reach. Holyfield was half an inch shorter with the same reach.

    Neither would be considered a one-punch knockout artist but both carry enough pop in their fists, and, more importantly, skills in their impressive arsenals, to outbox their opponents with clean, effective counterpunches.

    While there’s probably no single win on Usyk’s ledger as epic as Holyfield's two wins over Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Usyk’s road to cruiserweight glory was by no means an easy task. In fact, Usyk took on a Murderer’s Row of 200-pound stalwarts, the majority of which took place in front of his opponents’ home crowd fans.

    It began in 2016 when he seized the WBO title from Krzysztof Glowacki in Poland. It continued the next year when he decisioned Hunter on American soil and stopped Marco Huck in Germany. In 2018, Usyk outboxed Mairis Briedis for the WBC title in Latvia and took care of Gassiev in Russia for the other two alphabet titles. At the end of the year, Usyk knocked out Tony Bellew in England for good measure.

    Might he do something as grand at heavyweight?

    In facing Takam, Usyk is facing a similar opponent to the one Holyfield faced when he moved up against James “Quick” Tillis, who was 38-13-1 at the time. Takam’s better days are behind him, as was true of the 31-year-old Tillis in 1988, but Takam is still dangerous enough to defeat any heavyweight below the current standard of divisional relevancy.

    By matching him against Takam, Usyk’s promoter is taking a calculated gamble.

    “This pound-for-pound star had dominated the cruiserweight division becoming undisputed champion after just 15 fights,” said Eddie Hearn. “Now he takes the daring leap to the land of the giants as he attempts to repeat his achievements in the heavyweight division.”

    That’s faster than anyone. It took Holyfield 18 fights to nab all three of the belts required for undisputed status back then, though it should be noted that the fighter (or at least his handlers) didn’t have the luxury of a tournament like the WBSS.

    From there, Holyfield competed in a total of six heavyweight bouts over the next two years before finally getting his title shot in 1990. While Usyk might have a faster path to such things in that his promoter, Hearn, also promotes unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, it might make some sense for Usyk to get at least a few fights at the weight before attempting to accomplish the same.

    Where Holyfield would one day go toe-to-toe with larger super-freak athletes like Lewis, there was nobody in the division during Holyfield’s first run at the heavyweight title who would carry as large of a height or as big of a weight advantage over him the way Joshua, WBC champion Deontay Wilder or lineal champ Tyson Fury would versus Usyk.

    While the heavyweight division of the 1990s is considered one of the deepest rosters in the history of the sport, Holyfield’s path to that first heavyweight championship went through fighters he was either taller than or very near in terms of size and weight..

    Usyk could use some time to develop into whatever kind of heavyweight he can be. Takam (36-5-1, 28 KOs) is a career heavyweight and a logical first test. After that, Usyk could reasonably be matched against the likes of Alexander Povetkin, or perhaps another fighter who has only lost to legitimate world champions.

    A couple of wins here and there, and who knows?

    After witnessing what he did at cruiserweight, against both who he fought and where he did it, and judging simply on how very elite the fighter already looks, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to think that Usyk might be on his way to a really special career.

    Maybe even by the end of it, Usyk turns out to be the realest deal of all, surpassing the original “Real Deal” Holyfield to become the new standard by which all cruiserweights who dare such moves are measured.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    I said this a month ago: "The thinking here is that he should debut as a heavyweight with a sure win and then move up in caliber — and that means the winner of the January 18 fight between Bryant Jennings (24-2) and Oscar Rivas (25-0) more than it does Alexander Povetkin or Luis Ortiz." Takam is prefect because he provides a basis for comparisons. After he dispatches Carlos, he should then step up and fight Povetkin---and that fight will answer the question posed by the tile of this fine article.

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    • #3
      He'd beat Wilder thus that fight will never happen.

      AJ is way too big/strong for him, Joshua wins by KO.

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