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Usyk vs. Gassiev: Can Oleksandr handle Murat’s power better than Dorticos?

Alexander Usyk Murat Gassiev

By Jeff Aranow: Yunier ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs) found out the hard way how hard Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) can punch last Saturday night in getting stopped in round 12, and now it’s Oleksandr Usyk’s turn to test his power.

IBF/WBA cruiserweight champion Gassiev and the unbeaten WBC/WBO champion Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) will be meeting up in a unification fight in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) in three months from now on May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Usyk might not have the same chin to take Gassiev’s power like Dorticos could. The Cuban was incredibly tough with his ability to soak up Gassiev’s best shots without getting hurt in the first 11 rounds of their fight last Saturday night in Adler, Russia.

Usyk is going to have to find some power somewhere for him to be able to defeat Gassiev, because his amateur style of fighting isn’t going to work. It’s not going to help Usyk win rounds, as this isn’t amateur boxing where the judges score rounds based on the white tip of the gloves connecting. Dorticos was out-landing Gassiev in many of the early rounds, but the Russian fighter’s harder shots enabled him to win rounds even while being outworked. At the same time, Gassiev’s harder shots slowly wore Dorticos down round by round. By the 12th, Dorticos was weary from eating so many hard shots from Gassiev, and unable to take his explosive barrage of punches that he unleashed. Usyk struggled with Mairis Briedis’ power in the first 6 rounds of their fight on January 27, and he had similar problems in the 12th. If not for Briedis tiring in rounds 7 through 11, he would have lost the fight to him.

Usyk is a mover, and the way to slow his style of fighting down is to attack his body. Gassiev will have to go after Usyk’s midsection early and often if he wants to keep him from bouncing around the ring with his amateur style of fighting. If Gassiev can take away Usyk’s best strengths by reducing his ability to move around the ring, he could wear him down and make him less able to use his mobility. Usyk is not the same fighter when he’s stationary than he’s able to move. We saw that in the Briedis fight when Usyk got tired in the 12th round and took punishment. Briedis invested early with some nice body work against Usyk, but he didn’t go to the body nearly enough to wear him down fully. Gassiev might even be able to knockout Usyk like he did with Wlodarcyk if he goes to the body early and often in their fight on the 11th of May. A fighter that punches to the body like Gassiev does is the worst thing for a mover like Usyk. It’s never good news for a mobile fighter like Usyk when they find themselves matched against a big body puncher. Gassiev is the best of the best when it comes to throwing body shots Gassiev doesn’t need great boxing skills with the power that he has going for him. Gassiev does have very good skills though. His ability to box is clearly underrated.

What makes Gassiev such a threat to Usyk is his ability to hurt him with punches to anywhere on his body. Wherever Gassiev lands on Usyk, he can hurt him. If Gassiev lands a left hook on the chin of Usyk like he did with Dorticos, he could go to sleep for a while. Gassiev’s body punching is out of this world. Dorticos was able to take the body shots from Gassiev, but he did a good job of blocking the body shots down the middle. Gassiev was limited to landing his body shots on the sides of Dorticos’ midsection, and he was able to take those well. There’s no telling whether Usyk will be able to handle Gassiev’s power when he punches to the body or head. Usyk prove to be less able to handle Gassiev’s power the steel-chinned Dorticos.

The way Gassiev took Dorticos, 31, apart in the 12th round, it’s difficult to imagine Usyk being able to stand up to a similar avalanche of devastating head shots from the Russian fighter. Usyk looked invincible until his last fight against Mairis Briedis. Usyk almost lost that fight, and in fact he would have lost if Briedis had paced himself a little better. Briedis pushed too fast of a pace in the first 6 rounds of the fight, and he didn’t have the conditioning to continue to fight hard in the last half of the match. he Gassiev, 24, is a different type of fighter. He can fight at a fast pace for an entire 12 round fight without fading in the same way that the 33-year-old Briedis did. One reason for that may be due to Gassiev being younger than Briedis by 9 years. It just looks to me like Gassiev is simply more capable of fighting harder for a full 12 round fight than Briedis. Gassiev looks like someone that will always be capable of fighting hard without fading his entire career. That’s unwelcome news for Usyk, as he’s going to need to depend on his boxing skills a lot more against Gassiev than he’s had to in his first 2 fights in the WBSS tournament. Usyk cannot afford to let Gassiev unload with his artillery blasts against him like he did in his first 2 fights in the tournament against the Cuban Yunier Dorticos and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. Gassiev’s last 3 opponents – Dorticos, Wlodarczyk and Denis Lebedev – all took a lot of heavy blows from him in losing to the Russian fighter. Those are very good fighters by the way. As good as Usyk’s recent win over Briedis was, he doesn’t have 3 names like that on his entire 14-fight resume. Usyk’s win over Marco Huck was against a shot fighter that had lost his previous fight to Briedis by a one-sided 12 round decision.

Usyk, 31, figures to be the favorite in the fight just as he was in his 2 previous contests in the WBSS against Mairis Briedis and Marco Huck. However, Gassiev is a bigger puncher than those 2 fighters, and his power gives him a very good chance of cutting through Usyk’s advantage in boxing skills. You can say that Gassiev has a puncher’s chance, and that would be an accurate statement. But if Gassiev can land one of his hard shots on the chin of Usyk on May 11th, it won’t matter how much better of a fighter the Ukrainian is. It does matter how much better Usyk is in the boxing skills department than Gassiev. If Usyk gets hit with a hard-enough shot, it won’t matter how much better he is than Gassiev. Usyk’s chin will betray him just like Dorticos’ chin betrayed him in the 12th round. When Gassiev landed a scorching left hook to the chin of Doricos in round 12, the fight was over with at that point. Dorticos was never going to be able to survive the round. Usyk is in the same boat. If he gets hit hard enough by Gassiev, the fight will end quickly and suddenly on May 11th.

Gassiev’s punch placement and accuracy makes him a tough customer for Usyk, who is hittable in the pro ranks. Getting hit by a guy with Gassiev’s power is not a good thing. Usyk is not super human when it comes to his ability to take punishment. I don’t see Usyk having a better chin than Dorticos or Denis Lebedev. Those guys took a career’s worth of monstrous shots from Gassiev in their fights. Those same punches landing on Usyk would likely send him down for the count.

If the Usyk-Gassiev fight goes the full 12 rounds like the Usyk-Briedis fight, it could come down to the judges needing to weight the value of Usyk landing more shots to Gassiev’s much harder, and cleaner landing blows. Of course, Gassiev will need to land more than 3 hard blows per round for him to win the rounds. Gassiev has got to be busier than he was against Dorticos for him to win rounds against Usyk. If Usyk is able to withstand Gassiev’s power, and I suspect he will, then the Russian fighter is going to need to make sure he lands enough hard shots for him to have a chance of winning.

It’s quite possible that Usyk will be a lot more defensive against Gassiev than he was in his fight with Briedis. Usyk was more stationary in that fight than he was in his fight with Marco Huck. Usyk was moving all over the place against Huck, and in his fight against Thabiso Mchunu. Usyk will probably fight a lot more defensive fight against Gassiev to limit his ability land head and body shots. That means if Gassiev is going to land his big punches, he’s going to need to be quick at cutting off the ring on Usyk, and he’ll need to be able to throw stabbing jabs from the outside to keep him from running all over the ring. Usyk won’t like getting hit to the midsection while he’s running. It’s hard to take a body shot when a fighter is in full gallop like Usyk does when he’s in his runner’s mode of fighting.

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