Written by Tré Berry III | 09/21/2021
What is greatness it can be defined in a multitude of ways… heavily nuanced on intangibles, circumstances, consistency, guile, and brazen stubbornness to never accept anything less. An underrated component to greatness when it comes to boxing is when a fighter not only takes it to the road for his big fights, but makes a habit of it, and Oleksandr Usyk (18-0-0, 13KO) not only thrives on those occasions – he dominates and sets a new standard in his foes backyard, as an undeniable force amongst the big men, defeating the top contingent at Cruiserweight, and further taking his exploits up against the likes of Heavyweight giants
Giving credit to Azumah Nelson for the nickname that he brought up to standard with the greatness that he had achieved on the road on his journey, Oleksandr Usyk is more than worthy of carrying that namesake in the new era, and given that he doesn’t have a nickname, I’d say it is apropos for him to use if he ever wanted to use it.
As for Usyk, he fought most of his early bouts locally on Ukrainian soil, but once the grand opportunity came for the ambitious ◯◯◯◯◯2012 Olympic Gold-Medalist to put himself on the grand stage for his first world title fight, he took on the task of going on assignment to Poland, to face respected then-WBO Cruiserweight world titlist Krzysztof Glowacki, who came into the contest unbeaten, and brimming with confidence.
Usyk held his own in the early going, then came on down the stretch to defeat the Polish warrior soundly on the scorecards to escape the bout unscathed, maintaining his perfect record, and obtaining his first world title belt as a professional, that being the burgundy strap. It was from here that he was forced to be put on the radar of boxing insiders as perhaps the most talented fighter of the 200 lb. bunch. That wasn’t enough for Usyk, who wanted to be looked at as thee man, so he sought after the best competition.
After defeating Thabiso Mchunu by knockout in Sasha’s (Oleksandr’s) American debut, Usyk would return to face America’s most talented Cruiserweight, that being the undefeated former amateur standout Michael Hunter Jr. After the first couple of rounds, the crafty hunter found himself at a disadvantage as Usyk seemed to have him figured out, and overtook him with craft in the middle rounds, before administering a bad beating down the stretch.
Hunter survived through 12, but it was crystal clear through Usyk’s dominance that there was no way for the judges to rule, but in his favor by wide scores, delivering Michael Hunter his first, and only loss of his career thus far on his personal quest.
Right after this bout is where it was learned that a World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) tournament was established in the talented Cruiserweight division, to determine 1 singular Champion, to see who would rise like cream to the surface as the best of the best, and Oleksandr happily signed up with no hesitation, as did the other 3 world titlists, with it now being a winner-take-all equation.
Being ranked as the #1 overall seed due to insider evaluation of his immense talent, who was first up on the docket for the gifted Ukrainian? former longtime Cruiserweight world titlist Marco Huck, who is tied with Johnny Nelson for holding the record for the most title defenses in the Cruiserweight division, with 13 in a row. Usyk would take the trip to Germany as the Champion, to accommodate his opponents demands on his home soil. There was bad blood leading up to their contest, mostly from Huck’s side…but by the time that the opening bell rang, he soon figured out that it may have been a mistake to egg on the exterior-based jovial young warrior.
In one of Usyk’s most frightening performances, he destroyed Huck with consistent precision in an all-around effort, twisted the veteran around like a pretzel on numerous occasions, and rendering him helpless, forcing him to succumb to his own mercy, and seemingly going the extra mile to make him pay for his earlier transgressions. Usyk pitched a virtual shutout up till the 10th round stoppage that not only loudly put him into the semi-final round, it also garnered him some legitimate Pound-4-Pound discussion.
A stern test awaited him in the next round, that being strong, Latvian standout, and WBC Cruiserweight Titlist Mairis Briedis, who also came into the contest unbeaten, and well within the prime of his career, holding the weight upon his country as the only fighter from his region to ever become a world champion. Once again for Oleksandr Usyk, a plane ride was in order, and Latvia was the place where Usyk had to make his bones, and overcome his surroundings setting, as well as his opponent.
It was here where Briedis produced the strongest test of Usyk’s career from a points perspective, as Mairis stubbornly stood his ground, and found enough openings to get the Ukrainian’s respect. Usyk has a talent for identifying what’s in front of him, and adapting his multi-dimensional attack to cater what is happening in the moment, so he did enough to keep up with Briedis exploits through 2/3rd’s of the fight, and turned it up late to get the separation needed to secure victory, putting him in the final round, with both the WBC & WBO title belts strapped around his shoulders.
Oleksandr Usyk was in the final round – much expected by most boxing pundits, and the dream match-up of the division was now to be realized. Supremely skilled Russian Murat Gassiev was ranked as the #2 overall seed, and had obtained the WBA and IBF Cruiserweight belts, while blazing a trail to the finals, and putting some hesitance in the mind of those picking in the finals as to whom they would side with in hoisting all of the hardware.
Much like Gennadiy Golovkin, his 200 lb. stablemate Gassiev under trainer Abel Sanchez had a physically imposing style, with superb fundamentals, one who could diversity his method of attack at will. Gassiev only had one drawback, and that was that he’d completely shell up when his opponent was on the offensive instead of looking to counterpunch, and would only open up once the incoming barrage reached a ceasefire.
For this bout, Anatoly Lomachenko (Papa-Chenko) decided to train the big man, and his tutelage enhanced Usyk’s performance to brilliant proportions, as Anatoly drilled home to his fighter that the way to take advantage of Gassiev’s setback was to keep him stuck behind his shell with sustained strategic activity upstairs, and use a plethora of angles to continuously force him to reset, when Gassiev was looking for payback after every heavy Usyk combination outburst.
After the first 2 rounds, Usyk put up a masterclass performance of near wipeout variety en route to his crowning achievement as a professional, pairing the WBA, IBF belts with his WBC, WBO straps, winning the vacant Ring-Magazine World Title, and hoisting the coveted WBSS trophy, on Russian soil, in Murat’s backyard. The crowd showed respect for Usyk, as he basked in celebration, joining the likes of Evander Holyfield as an Undisputed World Cruiserweight Champion, putting himself in rarified territory.
Speaking of Holyfield…after he became Undisputed Champ back in 1988, he vacated his belts and took his exploits up to Heavyweight. As for Oleksandr Usyk, he decided to take it a step further to become the only Cruiserweight Undisputed Champion to defend all of the straps by getting a defense under his belt-notch.
He certainly did not pick a light opponent, instead he fought dangerous former Cruiserweight Titlist Tony Bellew, who really came on during the backend of his career as a serious foe – a tough nut to crack if you will. This was a bout where Usyk further showcased his versatility, coming forward as the aggressor, to Bellew’s penchant to counterpunch, and pick at you in space.
Bellew had his moments early, thrilling his home crowd at Wembley, but Usyk slowly settled his way into the fight, and began to string together 4-5 punch combinations that Bellew had difficulty picking up, by around round 5 of the contest.
Usyk rode the momentum that he had forged, and delivered the deadliest knockout of his career with a megalithic left hand that had Bellew slumped on his back, hanging on the bottom rope in front of his Promoter, and friend Eddie Hearn, in front of his fans. Bellew did well, but that was the moment that pointed him towards retiring from the sport, and from there, Usyk felt like his work was done in the Cruiserweight division, clearing out all challengers.
Oleksandr Usyk’s real goal forged in the amateurs was to one day become Heavyweight World Champion once he made it to the pro ranks, so he decided to take time out to work on his body, to add 20-25 lbs. of muscle to ready him for his Heavyweight quest. After a lengthy layoff, he defeated American Chazz Witherspoon in a bout to get him acclimated to the difference in weight.
Usyk decided to cast himself in a dangerous fight against the divisions physical bulldozer, and gatekeeper in Dereck Chisora, in a stern test to see whether he could survive a physical affair that only Chisora could provide at that level. Usyk was made to feel uncomfortable the entire night, but he did enough to physically hold down the fort, while tallying up the points, and hurt Chisora on multiple occasions a confidence booster for Usyk, as he pulled off the decision win.
TYING THE KNOTS TOGETHER FOR THE FULL PERSPECTIVEON USYK EFFECT
If you have noticed, every single major fight of Usyk’s professional career was on enemy soil (using the enemy term lightly), dealing with hostile environments, standing tall while out of his comfort zone, and delivering in grand fashion to have his greatness realized by the masses.
Now only has he taken up the road warrior concept, he has defeated every opponent that he has faced thus far, and up to this point in time, he is still the only man to defeat Michael Hunter Jr., Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev, further enhancing the magnitude of their match-ups, and what he was able to do, in his opponents backyards. Usyk will attempt to go on the road one more time, in the sternest test of his career against unified WBA/WBO/IBF Heavyweight World Titlist Anthony Joshua, who although isn’t unbeaten, has defeated everyone that he has faced.
Regardless of what happens in that bout…..it has to be noted…and revered the path in which the 34 year old Ukrainian maestro has decided to take, and continues to take. He might have more history to make (that will remain to be seen), but this notion right here should be pushed to the forefront of his everlasting legacy, as a risktaker who consistently gave up concessions in order to get certain fights made, and showing out amongst fans, who carried vested interest in their home fighters, only to be crushed by the brilliance of one named Usyk, who always seems to thrive in uncomfortable positions, and openly looks for them, strictly for motivation purposes.