Oleksandr Usyk Headed to US for Heavyweight Debut in May
Undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk is reportedly headed to the United States for his next fight, one that could have tremendous ramifications on boxing’s most storied division.
According to ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, Usyk’s promoter, Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, is plotting May 18 as the date for Usyk’s long-awaited entrance into the heavyweight division.
The proposed bout, potentially in Chicago, would pit Usyk against recent world title challenger Alexander Povetkin, a 39-year-old former secondary world titleholder, who was knocked out in the seventh round of his last fight against unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.
888Sport doesn’t have odds available yet for the potential bout, so fans of boxing betting have to sit tight for now.
In moving up to the heavyweight division, Usyk would be seeking to follow in the footsteps of the first undisputed cruiserweight champion ever, Evander Holyfield, who also went on to become heavyweight champion.
Next Logical Step for Usyk
Usyk, 32, is coming off a dominant eighth-round stoppage win over former cruiserweight titleholder Tony Bellew in Manchester, England. It was the first time an undisputed cruiserweight champion had ever defended the designation in the ring, as well as Usyk’s first fight since winning the inaugural World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament.
That culminated in Usyk unifying all four major alphabet belts (IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO) as well as the prestigious championships tracked by The Ring and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Usyk’s epic 2018 concluded with the Ukrainian becoming just the third undisputed cruiserweight champion ever, the second fighter in any weight class to win all six of the major boxing championships attainable today and being named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Usyk is in the top five of most pound-for-pound lists, and through just 16 professional prizefights has accomplished just about everything a cruiserweight can do. There’s no better time than now for Usyk to make the move up to the heavyweight ranks.
Povetkin is a Significant Test
Povetkin has been one of the top heavyweight contenders over the last decade. While he failed in his only two tries to become heavyweight champion, against Wladimir Klitschko in 2013 and Joshua in 2018, he’s shown the ability to defeat all but the very best in the division.
Moreover, he’s a skilled boxer with legitimate knockout power in both hands. While Usyk has faced a slew of top-level fighters, he probably hasn’t faced anyone as dangerous and accomplished as Povetkin.
Usually, a fighter like Povetkin would be avoided at all costs by a fighter in Usyk’s position, one moving up in weight in what most consider to be a deeper talent pool. But Usyk is a fast-moving southpaw with some of the best pure boxing skills on the planet.
Some believe he’s on pace to become the next Holyfield, a fighter considered to be one of the very best fighters ever in both weight classes.
A win over Povetkin would be a significant feather in the cap of Usyk and would help him in his efforts to secure a fight against unified heavyweight champion Joshua.
One of the UK’s biggest boxing stars, Joshua, 29, is also promoted by Matchroom Boxing and is scheduled to make his U.S. debut against Jarrell Miller on June 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Prelude to Joshua-Usyk?
Usyk-Povetkin would be one of the most intriguing bouts in all of boxing. It would feature two Olympic gold medalists squaring off against each other. Usyk won gold at heavyweight for Ukraine in 2012.
Povetkin won it at super heavyweight for Russia in 2004. Both are excellent boxers. While Usyk would carry a significant advantage over Povetkin in pure boxing skill, Povetkin would counter with as big of an advantage in knockout power.
Moreover, while Usyk would likely be the oddsmakers’ favorite in the fight, Povetkin would probably give Usyk the toughest test of his career. Many cruiserweight titleholders have braved the heavyweight ranks only to find out they didn’t carry enough power up with them to be legitimate threats.
Most importantly, a win by Usyk over Povetkin, who is ranked No. 6 at heavyweight by The Ring, might be enough to garner Usyk an immediate world title opportunity against Joshua.
Joshua (-770 with 888Sport) is a heavy favorite to defeat Miller (+500), and with bouts against WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and former unified champion Tyson Fury longshots due to each man’s network affiliations, Usyk might be the next logical choice.
PaddyPower futures market shows Joshua a -450 favorite to defeat Usyk, (+300) should the fight happen before the end of 2019.