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Oleksandr Usyk should stay at cruiserweight

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By Jim Dower: Okeksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) had a really difficult tie last Saturday night in barely beating WBC cruiserweight champion Mairis Briedis (23-1, 18 KOs) by a 12 round majority decision in Riga, Latvia.

In the end, Usyk won because Briedis faded during the middle portion of the fight. If not for that, Usyk would have lost against the stronger Briedis. The fight showed Usyk’s major flaws in his fighting style that will make it hard for him to find success if he moves up to the heavyweight division after the World Boxing Super Series tournament is completed on May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Usyk, 31, wishes to move up to heavyweight to go after a title fight with champion Anthony Joshua.

After the fight with Briedis, Usyk didn’t that he’s changed his mind about wanting to move up to heavyweight. It’s possible that Usyk may change his mind about moving up in weight if he’s beaten in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series against the winner of this Saturday’s semifinals match between IBF champion Murat Gassiev and WBA champion Yunier Dorticos. Those fighters have even more power than Briedis, but they have better stamina. They don’t tire like Briedis, and they’re younger than him.

Gassiev is only 24, and he punches like a heavyweight. If anyone that should be moving up to heavyweight after the WBSS tournament concludes, it’s Gassiev. He has a heavyweight frame along with power. Usyk would be forced to win long grueling 12 round fights at heavyweight that could result in him taking a lot of punishment. Being in a long fight against someone like Joshua or Wilder would be bad news for Usyk, as they would be hitting him with major shots all along the way.

Usyk beat Briedis by the scores 114-114, 115-113 and 115-113. Usyk won the fight by very narrow margins in a fight that could have gone the other way easily. Briedis’ harder shots made the rounds difficult to score. It came down to the judges having to decide whether to give the rounds to Usyk based on his jabbing and weaker shots or to Briedis for his harder, but fewer blows.

If Usyk does move up to the heavyweight division after the WBSS is done in the first quarter of 2018, it’s going to be slow going. Usyk, 31, is not that fast of hand that he can win fights at the heavyweight level based on his speed. Usyk will need to gain some weight unless he wants to say around 220 pounds and compete at that weight. Usyk weighs around the same as WBC heavyweight champion Deontay ‘Bronze Bomber’ Wilder, but the difference in punching power between the two fighters is huge. Usyk doesn’t possess a lot of power. Even Briedis had more power than him, and he’s not in the same league as Wilder or Joshua.

The advantage of Usyk remaining at cruiserweight is he can remain a champion for possibly a long time, he can limit the amount of punishment he absorbs, and he can win fame as the top fighter in the division. Usyk will be the No.1 fighter at cruiserweight if he wins the WBSS tournament. If Usyk moves up in weight, he might get knocked out against the first decent fighter he faces in the weight class before he even gets a chance to square off with Joshua.

Usyk isn’t going to be given a fight with Joshua without him having to prove himself against a gate keeper like Dereck Chisora, Dillian Whyte or Jarrell Miller. Those guys will be difficult fighters for Usyk. If Usyk’s heavyweight experiment ends in failure, it may prove to be difficult to lose the weight he puts on to get back down to cruiserweight. Usyk would be stuck in a division that he posses the size or the power for him, and his paydays will be minimal as a contender instead of a champion. Usyk is better off if he stays at cruiserweight where he’s more suited for. Let Gassiev move up in weight. He has the heavyweight power and the frame to do well in that weight class.


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