Undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk will make his heavyweight debut against former world title challenger Carlos Takam on May 25 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Usyk’s hotly anticipated entrance in the heavyweight division marks the 32-year-old Ukrainian’s official exit from the cruiserweight ranks and will be the fighter's first fight in the United States in more than two years.
Though this is his first heavyweight fight, Usyk is a big favorite. According to Dublin-based bookmaker PaddyPower, Usyk is 1/10 to win on the early boxing betting market. Takam is listed at 11/2 to win.
Why Oleksandr Usyk is Favored
Usyk became just the third undisputed cruiserweight champion in history when he defeated Murat Gassiev in July 2018 to win the inaugural World Boxing Super Series tournament in Moscow. It was a brilliant performance in what bookmakers considered a pick ‘em bout. But Usyk dominated Gassiev from the start, winning just about every round and cementing his legacy as one of the best cruiserweights ever.
In his next fight, Usyk stopped former titleholder Tony Bellew in the eighth round at Manchester Arena in England. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Usyk’s historic 200-pound run was that the 2012 Olympic gold medal winner wasn't just beating up other good fighters. He was beating up other good fighters on their home turfs with world titles on the line.
In fact, Usyk’s win over Bellew was the fifth straight win in such circumstances, a trend that started when Usyk defeated American Michael Hunter by unanimous decision in the U.S. in April 2017.
Usyk (16-0, 12 knockouts) is considered one of the top fighters in the sport. He’s ranked No. 4 on Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list and appears to have the skills and credentials necessary to become a serious player in the heavyweight division.
Why Carlos Takam Makes Sense
Takam, 38, is a Cameroonian-French contender who challenged Anthony Joshua for the unified heavyweight championship in 2017. Joshua stopped Takam in the 10th round. Takam was game but was simply outgunned by the younger, stronger champion.
In his next fight, Takam appeared to be on his way beating longtime British contender Dereck Chisora before succumbing to two massive right hands in the eighth round. Takam went to the canvas twice and could not recover on the second occasion.
But Takam (36-5-1, 28 KOs) is a relevant heavyweight contender who has at least gone rounds with some of the very best fighters in the division. He’s good enough to defeat anyone fighting below the top level and is coming off a stoppage win over regional contender Senad Gashi.
From a promotional standpoint, Takam is the perfect opponent for Usyk. He’s a legitimate heavyweight who fights the best fighters tough before losing, and he beats just about everyone else.
Early Betting Tips for Usyk-Takam
Takam is a rugged fighter, but he won’t match Usyk in class or ability. Usyk’s southpaw style, accurate jab and systematic approach to breaking opponents down over the course of a fight will probably be too much for Takam to handle.
The only real question heading is whether Usyk can handle the bigger punches from a true heavyweight. At a bit over 6 feet, Takam isn’t nearly as large as the likes of Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury. But he will still weigh at least 30 pounds more than the cruiserweights Usyk has faced, so there will be a marked difference in force.
Still, Usyk is an amazing talent capable of following in the footsteps of Evander Holyfield, the first fighter to become undisputed cruiserweight champion in 1988. Holyfield ended up a four-time heavyweight champion and is considered one of the best ever in both weight classes.
Backing Usyk on the early betting market is the only move to make. The line should move greater toward Usyk as fight day nears, so don’t expect to get any better value than what’s available right now. Usyk is one of the premier fighters in all of boxing. There’s no telling what kind of run he might be capable in the new weight class, but it will almost certainly start with a win over Takam.