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Oleksandr Usyk sparring Wladimir Klitschko

Image: Oleksandr Usyk sparring Wladimir Klitschko

By Scott Gilfoid: Oleksandr Usyk is sparring with former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko to stay sharp to get him ready for both the heavyweight division and a potential fight against recent David Haye conqueror Tony Bellew for later this year.

If the fight with the 35-year-old Bellew comes off, the unbeaten IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO cruiserweight champion Usyk will be defending all four of his titles against the British fighter in the UK. Usyk, 31, would be fighting in front of Bellew’s boxing fans, but he doesn’t care. Usyk is accustomed to being a road warrior in venturing into the hometowns of his opponents, and he’s not going to shy away from doing the same for a fight against Usyk.

“Usykaa Great sparring, with a great champion. #usyk #lomachenko #boxing #wladimirklitschko #ukraine # lomus # usyk17,” Usyk said on his Instagram on Wednesday.

Sparring with Wladimir will help Usyk later on when he starts tackling the huge heavyweight giants in the division. The World Boxing Organization has already voted to make Usyk WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s mandatory challenger. If Usyk is willing to fight for a world title straightaway at heavyweight, he can do so. It’s unlikely that Usyk will take that shot right away because he wants to make one more defense of his cruiserweight titles against Bellew, and then get acclimated to the heavyweight division.

Sparring with Wladimir Klitschko isn’t going to prepare Usyk for a fight with Bellew, who is shorter, slower, weaker and far less mobile than the now retired Ukrainian talent. Usyk needs to be sparring with shorter fighters than Wladimir if he wants to adequately prepare for Bellew. To be frank, I don’t think Usyk needs much sparring for him to beat the brakes off a limited fighter like Bellew. This is an easy fight for Usyk no matter who he spars with in preparation for that fight. There’s a huge difference in talent between Usyk and Bellew that there’s no getting around.

If Bellew takes the fight with Usyk, it would be his first true test at cruiserweight since he moved up to the weight class in 2014. Bellew never fought anyone good at cruiserweight before abandoning the division after Mairis Briedis became his mandatory challenger to his World Boxing Council strap, which he won after beating Illunga Makabu by a 3rd round knockout in 2016. Makabu is a flawed fighter with power, but not much talent. He’s easily the best fighter that Bellew fought while fighting in the cruiserweight division. For some reason, the WBC had Makabu ranked high at the time that Bellew fought him for the vacant WBC cruiserweight title in 2016. The WBC now has their rankings sorted out somewhat, as Makabu is rated lower at #9 and the arguably far more talented contenders like Briedis, Gassiev, Yunier Dorticos and Krzysof Glowacki are rated above him, which is what should have been the deal in 2016. Bellew’s other wins at cruiserweight came against these very beatable fighters:

– Valery Brudov

– Ivica Bacurin

– Arturs Kulikauskis

– Mateusz Maternak

– Nathan Cleverly

– Julio Cesar Dos Santos

– BJ Flores

As you can see, Bellew has been padding his record against mostly mediocre cruiserweights since moving up to the division four years ago. As such, Bellew will be facing his first and likely his last talented cruiserweight when he faces Usyk later this year. Bellew will supposedly be retiring. However, retirements in boxing are pretty much meaningless nowadays. When a fighter says he’s retiring, it often means that they’re going on a vacation and will soon be back in a year after testing on their backside.

In looking at the size difference between the 6’6” Wladimir and the 6’3” Usyk, it’s clear that there’s going to be some problems for the 2012 Olympic gold medalist once he moves up to heavyweight to fight the likes of WBC champion Deontay Wilder and IBF/WBA/WBO champ Anthony Joshua. Those guys are much bigger than Usyk, and they hit a lot harder. Usyk defeated 6’6” Joe Joyce six years ago in the World Series of Boxing, but he took a lot of punishment in the process. That wasn’t a 12 round fight for Usyk against Joyce. It was five rounds, and his face was badly marked up. It might be much worse for Usyk when he gets inside the ring with the super heavyweights in Joshua and Wilder, who can punch hard and they would have a lot of rounds to slowly wear him down.

For Usyk to be able to compete against Joshua and Wilder, he’s going to have to work on developing his nonexistent punching power, because right now, he’s too weak to get the job done against either of them. If Usyk is totally dependent on trying to beat Joshua and Wilder on volume punching in a 12 round fight, he’s going to give them numerous chances of knocking him out. Joshua, with his poor stamina, would be the more beatable fighter compared to Wilder, because he lacks the one-punch power that Deontay possesses, and he fades quickly when forced to fight hard. Wilder would be a much tougher fight for Usyk, because he would be dealing with a guy that could get him out of there with a single shot. One mistake by Usyk, and he would be done for the night.

The good news for Usyk right now is he doesn’t have to worry about the huge size and power of Wilder when/if he faces Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs) in November. Bellew, 6’3”, is the same height as him, but with a shorter reach by four inches. That means that the southpaw Usyk will be able to stand on the outside and peck away at Bellew with jabs and left hands, and there’s not much he’ll be able to do about it.

Bellew is going to be forced to try and land one big shot against Usyk, because if he can’t do that, he’s going to be in for a methodical beat down similar to the one that the Ukrainian administered to IBF/WBA cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev in their World Boxing Super Series final on July 21 in Moscow, Russia. Gassiev is a bigger puncher than Bellew by far, but he was unable to land his bombs in the fight due to Usyk’s impeccable defense and high degree of talent. Usyk will use his busy jab to keep Bellew from getting his shots off. As such, the fight is likely going to be one-sided and dull to watch unless Bellew is willing to attack Usyk nonstop like the arguably more talented Mairis Briedis did in their WBSS semifinal fight last January.

For Usyk, he would be better off if he vacated his cruiserweight titles and started fighting heavyweights right away rather than wasting time beating up Bellew. It’s not going to help Usyk prepare for Joshua and Wilder by facing a former WBC cruiserweight paper champion like Bellew. The last quality opponent Bellew faced is Adonis Stevenson, and he was stomped by him in a 6th round knockout. It’s been soft opposition for Bellew ever since. I don’t count Haye as being a good fighter, because he was old and injured at the time that Bellew fought him twice.

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