One could be forgiven for not believing that a heavyweight division exists outside of Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, and Deontay Wilder.
For the best part of 2021, Eddie Hearn tried desperately to stage the biggest fight in boxing between the two Brits but those lofty plans were grounded when it was ruled that Wilder was entitled to a third fight with Fury, which will take place on October 9th. Enter Oleksandr Usyk.
The chilling Ukranian, a dominant force at amateur level before tearing a hole through the talent laden cruiserweight division with memorable wins over Mairis Briedis and Tony Bellew, will be in the opposite corner to Joshua on September 25th. It’s his chance to confirm his long-held belief that he is very much a credible threat at heavyweight.
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For the duration of this year, Usyk has had to endure consistent chatter regarding the undisputed status at heavyweight as negotiations between Joshua and Fury went hot and cold on a daily basis. Sitting on his mandatory status with the WBO, Usyk knew his shot at heavyweight glory was imminent but it’s coming sooner than expected and now arrives the chance to scribble all over the paper that document the strategy to stage Joshua vs. Fury in 2022.
Usyk’s path to Joshua, especially whilst campaigning amongst boxing’s big men, has been a straightforward one albeit not one littered with dangerous obstacles. After eliminating a murderer's row at cruiserweight, Usyk’s successes at heavyweight have come in the shape of Chazz Witherspoon, a faded contender, and Derek Chisora, whose best days are likely behind him. Is that ample preparation for a tall, fast puncher like Anthony Joshua?
In Chisora, Usyk will have sampled what it feels like to be in the ring with a legitimate heavyweight. For all the Londoner’s shortcomings, Chisora is big, strong, fit, and has mastered the art of using his strength up close. This is a man who’s provided stern tests for leading fighters and Usyk handled the assignment as well as anyone with the exception of Fury and David Haye.
Usyk has long identified Joshua as his premier target at heavyweight and with his career meticulously planned since day one, the unbeaten fighter has likely known that this day would arrive. If Joshua’s style hasn’t been replicated amongst Usyk’s opponents, it’s almost certain that it’s been encountered in the gym.
No matter what the result against Joshua, Usyk’s career has been a resounding success whether in the vest of Ukraine or as the cruiserweight division’s first ever four belt-holder. His wins at heavyweight up to now have been against fighters outside the promising mix, but a win against his fellow 2012 Olympic gold medallist creates a ton of opportunities that will be felt throughout the entire sport.
Usyk could walk away from his beloved sport after only 19 fights knowing everything he achieved was done in a proper manner. His legacy is secure regardless of how his heavyweight flirtation plays out but that’s not enough for a fighter like Usyk. His hunger can only be supressed with glory and even if he does pull off a minor upset against Joshua, you can wage any of amount you possess that his focus will immediately switch to October 9th.
Boxing fans globally have joined hands in praying for a potential Joshua vs. Fury fight next year. It’s a natural rivalry between two contrasting characters who are currently occupying the top two spots in their weight class. Most want a hero at heavyweight and they’ve decided it’s between two men, but a villain is currently loitering with intent and he’s ready to inject a ton of chaos into those arrangements.