Hamed: Aleksandr Usyk would give Anthony Joshua a run for his money
By Tim Royner: Former super featherweight world champion Naseem Hamed believes undisputed cruiserweight champion Aleksandr Usyk would give IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs) and WBC heavyweight champion Deontay ‘Bronze Bomber’ Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) problems in the future when he moves up in weight to challenge him for his belts.
Usyk, 31, defeated IBF/WBA cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs) by a landslide 12 round unanimous decision last Saturday night in the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament at the Olimpiyskiy in Moscow, Russia. Gassiev, 24, looked very slow of hand and foot, and he was giving away a reach against Usyk. However, Gassiev was still able to shake up Usyk badly with one of the few solid shots he hit him with in the 3rd round when he staggered him with a right hand.
Usyk says he wants to fight former World Boxing Council cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew next, and his challenge has been accepted by him. The only thing that needs to be decided is when, where and what weight class the fight will be held at. Usyk, 6’3”, says he would be willing to face the 35-year-old Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs) at heavyweight if he’s not interested in coming down in weight.
“I honestly think he would give Anthony Joshua a run for his money,” said Hamed on ITV Box Office. “I would like to see him fight AJ. He can work for 12 rounds. He would give Anthony serious problems. I think he can do the same thing [deliver a performance like the one against Gassiev] even against Wilder.”
Hamed might be getting a little carried away in assuming that Usyk will be able to present problems against the 6’6” Joshua and the 6’7” Wilder. The 6’3” Usyk tends to win his fights by using his height and reach in his fights. Usyk had a two inch reach advantage along with his speed advantage over Gassiev last Saturday night. Usyk dominated with his jab for the most part, keeping the shorter-armed Gassiev helpless on the outside. Usyk won’t be able to do the same thing against Joshua, who would have a four inch reach advantage over him. Wilder would have a five inch reach advantage over Usyk. What this ultimately would mean is Usyk would need to wade through Joshua and Wilder’s jabs, right hands and left hooks in order to get close enough to land his punches. That’s bad news for Usyk because he doesn’t have a lot of punching power.
Usyk had problems beating Mihai Nistor, Artur Beterbiev and Joe Joyce. The 6’6” Joyce used his superior size, pressure and power to make it really tough for Usyk in their fight five years ago in the World Series of Boxing in 2012. Usyk won a five round decision over Joyce, but it was a very hard fight for him in which he was hit often. That was against a very green 27-year-old Joyce, who has gotten bigger and more powerful since then. If Usyk had to fight a 12 round fight against Joyce at the pro level, he would likely be worn down by his size and power and end up getting stopped. Usyk’s handlers aren’t going to put him in with a big guy like Joyce while they work him towards a big money fight against heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. It’s clear that Usyk’s promoters are going to match him carefully by putting him against flawed fighters at the heavyweight level until he gets a big money fight against Joshua. A fight against Deontay Wilder won’t be on the agenda for Usyk until after he faces Joshua. It’s all predictable.
Usyk showed in the Joyce fight that he didn’t have the punching power to hurt him. Additionally, when Joyce was on the outside, he was tattooing the shorter-armed Usyk with jabs. If this was Joshua and
Deontay Wilder that was hitting Usyk with shots from the outside, he wouldn’t last long against him. Of course, few boxing fans would be giving Usyk any chance of beating the likes of Joshua and Wilder. This would be about sporting entertainment. Usyk likely wouldn’t get past a good contender if he were forced to fight his way to a title shot by going through the likes of Dillian Whyte, Luis Ortiz, Adam Kownacki, Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, Carlos Takam, Jarrell Miller or Tyson Fury. Usyk would have a lot of problems getting past those guys because he doesn’t possess heavyweight power. Even at cruiserweight, Usyk isn’t a puncher. The knockouts Usyk scored in the cruiserweight division was from him landing an accumulation of blows against over-matched opposition. At heavyweight, Usyk couldn’t use his high volume style because he would get hit with shots that would take him out.
Usyk’s win over Gassiev last Saturday night showed that he would be a threat to some of the contenders in the heavyweight division, but not against Joshua or Wilder. The only champion Usyk would be a threat to is WBA ‘regular’ belt holder Manuel Charr, but he’s considered a paper champion by a lot of boxing fans. Usyk can probably beat a guy like Charr, but he wouldn’t be the first cruiserweight to beat him. Mairis Briedis already knocked Charr out several years ago.
Promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s interested in making the Bellew vs. Usyk fight. Bellew says he wants the fight, and Usyk of course wants to take the fight as well. Bellew will get a lot of attention in the UK and from other parts of Europe in facing Usyk. What Bellew likely won’t get is the victory. He’s going to have a bad night at the office when he gets inside the ring with the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, but at least he’ll make a lot of money for the fight. Bellew vs. Usyk will clearly be shown on Sky Box Office PPV, and it’ll give Bellew a nice retirement payday.
There’s no reason for Usyk to stay at cruiserweight after his win over Gassiev in the World Boxing Super Series tournament last Saturday. If Usyk remained at cruiserweight the only appealing fights he’d have available to him would be matches against Yunier Dorticos, Maxim Vlasov, Denis Lebdev and a rematch against Mairis Briedis. The fans wouldn’t want to see Usyk face Gassiev again because their fight was too one-sided and boring for there to be a second one. That wouldn’t make for good television if Usyk and Gassiev fought each other twice. Gassiev is too slow, limited and one-paced for him to ever beat Usyk. The type of fighters that give Usyk problems are ones that put tremendous pressure on him and throw a lot of punches the way that Joyce did. When Usyk is forced to fight every second of every round, he struggles. Gassiev doesn’t fight in that manner. He’s a slow, methodical fighter who looks to land tremendous shots every 10 to 15 seconds. He might land five or six huge shots in the entire round, and between then, he’s waiting, waiting and waiting for the perfect moment to unload. Usyk took advantage of Gassiev’s slow approach by hitting with countless punches that upset his timing entirely.
The fans want to see Usyk step up to heavyweight and face Anthony Joshua on April 13 at Wembley Stadium in London if Wilder doesn’t agree to the $15 million flat fee offer that was given to him by Hearn. The venue is booked for Joshua’s April 13 fight. He just needs an opponent now. However, Usyk wants the Bellew fight, not the Joshua fight, which is a pity, because he would make a lot more money fighting him than he will against the former WBC cruiserweight champion. Usyk appears to want to take the go slow approach to moving up to heavyweight rather than diving straight in for a heavyweight title fight straightaway. It’s too bad because with all the attention Usyk received in winning the World Boxing Super Series tournament last Saturday night in beating Gassiev, there’s no better time than now for him to take on Joshua. Usyk won’t receive the same amount of attention by beating Bellew, who the casual American fans have never heard of before. Usyk facing Bellew would be a letdown for fans because the outcome is predictable. Bellew is a guy that has mostly taken the soft path during his career. Only one instance during Bellew’s career he took on a fighter that was considered the best in his weight class when he fought Adonis Stevenson in 2013 and was knocked out in the 6th round.
“At this moment I heard that Tony Bellew is looking for winner of the World Boxing Super Series and I hope he will see me talking,” Usyk said after his win over Gassiev last Saturday. “Tony Bellew, are you ready? If he doesn’t want to go down [to cruiserweight] I will go up [to heavyweight] for him. I will take extra spaghetti for dinner for him.”
Bellew responded to Usyk’s challenge on social media, saying, ”Usyk I was BORN READY!! Let’s get this done!!”
Usyk then answered back saying, I’M ALSO READY!”