Un­beaten cruis­er­weight will face Gassiev or Dor­ti­cos in Saudi Ara­bia


He may have been fight­ing for only the 14th time as a pro­fes­sional, but in out­class­ing Latvia’s Mairis Briedis in Riga, he added the WBC world ti­tle to his WBO belt, fur­thered his rep­u­ta­tion as one of the world’s finest fighters, and per­haps even es­tab­lished him­self as the great­est cruis­er­weight since Evan­der Holy­field. Fight fans in Saudi Ara­bia are in for a treat when he comes to town.

Rus­sia’s Mu­rat Gassiev and Yu­nier Dor­ti­cos, of Cuba, will fight in Sochi on Satur­day for the IBF and WBA ti­tles and the chance to face Usyk in Jed­dah. The win­ner of that will re­ceive $10 mil­lion and be crowned the cruis­er­weight di­vi­sion’s first undis­puted cham­pion since 2006. De­spite be­ing tested by Briedis in a way that he never pre­vi­ously had, Usyk will be the over­whelm­ing fa­vorite.

Not since Holy­field’s two vic­to­ries over Dwight Muham­mad Qawi in 1986 and 1987 had there been such an en­ter­tain­ing cruis­er­weight ti­tle fight as Usyk’s semi­fi­nal against Briedis, and nei­ther has there been a cham­pion so re­spected since David Haye in 2008.

When the 31-year-old Usyk fights the win­ner of GassievDor­ti­cos in May, he will not only be do­ing so for the sixth con­sec­u­tive time out­side of Ukraine, but will also be pre­sented with the op­por­tu­nity to hold all four of the 200lb world ti­tles, some­thing nei­ther Holy­field nor Haye ever achieved.

The 200lb di­vi­sion has never pre­vi­ously been among box­ing’s most glam­orous but has now been boosted by the emer­gence of four high-qual­ity WBSS semi­fi­nal­ists. Each of the com­pe­ti­tion’s fi­nal four re­mained un­de­feated, at their peak and in pos­ses­sion of one of the di­vi­sion’s four world ti­tles.

Usyk is the stand-out. He won Olympic gold at heavy­weight at Lon­don 2012, and so nat­u­ral is his tal­ent that he is al­ready be­ing spo­ken of as a threat in the pro­fes­sional heavy­weight di­vi­sion as a well as a po­ten­tial chal­lenger to An­thony Joshua should he suc­ceed, as ex­pected, in Jed­dah. That the su­per-feath­er­weight Va­syl Lo­machenko, widely con­sid­ered the world’s finest fighter, is a longterm friend and sta­ble­mate serves only to broaden his ap­peal. The two have fought on the same cards in the US, and, in the same way that proved ef­fec­tive with Gen­nady Golovkin and Ro­man Gon­za­lez, have of­ten been billed as a dou­ble at­trac­tion on in­flu­en­tial tele­vi­sion net­work HBO.

De­spite not se­cur­ing the onesided de­feat of Briedis that had so widely been pre­dicted — he won a

LON­DON: In win­ning the tough­est, high­est-pro­file and most ab­sorb­ing fight of his ca­reer on Satur­day night, Ukraine’s out­stand­ing Olek­sandr Usyk be­came the first fighter to progress to the fi­nal of the cruis­er­weight edi­tion of the World

Box­ing Su­per Se­ries (WBSS) to be held in Saudi Ara­bia in May.

ma­jor­ity points de­ci­sion via ac­cu­rate scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 114-114 from the three judges — it was the Lat­vian’s rep­u­ta­tion that was en­hanced, and not Usyk’s un­der­mined.

The sus­pi­cion re­mains that, for all of Briedis’ phys­i­cal strength, punch re­sis­tance and de­sire, the Ukrainian could have won more con­vinc­ingly had he cho­sen to use the full ex­tent of his skills, but he in­stead rel­ished the high-qual­ity phys­i­cal af­fair it be­came and also rec­og­nized that pro­vid­ing a more pri­mal form of en­ter­tain­ment would en­hance his pop­u­lar­ity. When he could have de­fended him­self amid the 33-year-old’s pres­sure, he re­mained re­laxed, changed the an­gle at which he was fight­ing — sim­i­larly to Lo­machenko, his re­mark­able re­lent­less­ness and mo­bil­ity makes him so dif­fer­ent from al­most all of his po­ten­tial ri­vals — and im­me­di­ately fought back.

That he showed he could be hurt — as he did on more than one oc­ca­sion, par­tic­u­larly in the 12th and fi­nal round — also chal­lenges the per­cep­tion the WBSS rep­re­sents a vic­tory pro­ces­sion for him and will in­crease Gassiev’s and Dor­ti­cos’ be­lief, given both pos­sess power and are par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous early.

The re­tired Wladimir Kl­itschko had trav­eled to Riga to sup­port Usyk, his com­pa­triot, on the road to Jed­dah, and now that he has suc­ceeded will be ex­pected to again fol­low him there in May. It could be quite a night.

Olek­sandr Usyk un­leashes a fear­some up­per­cut to the head of Mairis Briedis on Satur­day night. (AFP)

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