Oleksander Usyk says he’s not ready for Anthony Joshua yet
By Mike Smith: IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO cruiserweight champion Oleksander Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) says he’s not ready to face Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) for his IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight titles when he moves up in weight in 2019. Usyk wants to wait a while before he faces Joshua for his titles.
Last Saturday, Usyk showed that he could beat a former heavyweight in stopping Tony Bellew (30-3-1, 20 KOs) in the 8th round in front of a large crowd of Bellew’s loyal fans at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. Usyk, 31, overcame a slow start in the first four rounds to come on in the second half of the fight to knockout Bellew with a single left hand punch in the 8th round. The performance showed that Usyk needs to improve by leaps and bounds before he takes on the 6’6″ 245 lb Joshua. Although the 200 lb Usyk isn’t far behind the 215 lb WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in weight, he’s not even close to being near the 245 lb Joshua.
“In actuality, I have more work,” Usyk said. “I used to dream a lot. Becoming the heavyweight champion is not what I’m dreaming of. It’s my goal. It’s too early [to challenge for a world title against IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua]. If you want to speak of it, speak of it, but I want to wait a little bit. I want to see things in a real light. My dream is all people will respect each other,” Usyk said.
Usyk proved that he could hang with and beat a huge heavyweight in 6’6″ Joe Joyce when he fought him in the World Series of Boxing in 2012/2013. Joyce weighed in the 230s at the time. He’s improved a lot since then, so it might not be as easy for Usyk to defeat him now. The fight showed that Usyk has the boxing skills to defeat an opponent much bigger than him. If he can do that against Joyce, then perhaps he can outbox Joshua as well.
It’s not realistic to assume that Usyk is going to be able to add 30 to 45 lbs to his frame without it crippling his game altogether. Even if Usyk can put that kind of weight on, it’s probably not going to help him in a realistic way stand up to the punching power of the naturally bigger Joshua in a fire fight. Usyk will need to stick with what’s brought him this far in the professional and amateur games by using his movement, speed and boxing skills to beat the top heavyweights in the division.
It wasn’t a good sign that Usyk had problems handling the size and punching power of Bellew last Saturday night. If not for Bellew tiring out after the 4th round and deciding to box Usyk instead of continuing to slug, the former Ukrainian amateur star might have gone on to lose the fight. Usyk can’t hank on the top heavyweights like Joshua, Wilder, Luis ‘King Kong’ Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Alexander Povetkin and Dominic Breazeale tanking out the way that Bellew did. That’s not something that Usyk can count on. He’s got to assume that those heavyweights will be able to fight hard for a full 12 rounds. Usyk loses to those fighters if he’s not capable of fighting better than he did last Saturday. Joshua has to be licking his chops right now after seeing how pedestrian Usyk looked in beating Bellew. Joshua would have demolished Bellew if it had been him inside the ring last Saturday.
“The fight between Usyk and Bellew was one of the biggest fights in boxing,” Eddie Hearn said. “Not many people in the UK know about Usyk, because his fights haven’t been in front of big audiences in the UK. So it wasn’t like Haye-Bellew where it was two guys in the British market for years and years. But now he’s [Usyk] going to be extremely popular in the British market. Tonight it was on pay-per-view in the UK. It was on DAZN. Both of those guys, Sky and DAZN, were ecstatic with the fight,” Hearn said.
Usyk isn’t a big star in the UK yet. Hearn is getting ahead of himself in saying that Usyk is now popular in the UK. That could change though if Hearn continues to match Usyk against British heavyweights in the future. Dillian Whyte (24-1, 17 KOs) has already been vocal about wanting to fight Usyk. That’s a good test for Usyk to take after Whyte faces Dereck Chisora on December 22 and Joshua on April 13. The perfect four-fight plan for Usyk to become a household name in the UK would be to match him against Dave Allen, Joseph Parker, Chisora and Whyte. At the end of those four fights, Usyk should be ready to take on Joshua, as long as he wins all of those fights and looks good. If Usyk can’t get passed those fighters with flying colors, then it’s pointless for Hearn to put him in with Joshua. He probably will still make the Joshua -Usyk fight as long as Usyk is unbeaten, but it won’t be a good fight. Once Usyk is fighting against 240-pounders like Joshua and Whyte, he’s going to be a fish out of water in fighting heavyweights that are too big for him. It would be the same situation if you asked Joshua and Whyte to drain down to 200 lbs to face Usyk. They might be able to do it through super human effort, but they would be too weak to be a threat to Usyk.
Historically, there has been only few former cruiserweights that were able to move up to heavyweight and shine for any length of time. Evander Holyfield is the most notable fighter that made the leap from cruiserweight to heavyweight and was successful. However, Holyfield struggled each time he had to share the ring with the huge 6’5″ heavyweights like Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis. Holyfield did better against the smaller heavyweights like Ray Mercer, Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer and John Ruiz. Holyfield absorbed a lot of punishment in his fights against Lewis and Bowe. Holyfield wasn’t the same fighter after his two fights against Lewis in 1999 and 2001. But by that point in Holyfield’s career, he was getting up there in age. Usyk doesn’t plan on sticking around in boxing for too much longer. He says he’ll retire after he unifies the division, which means he could be out of the sport within two years or less if he’s able to get fights against Joshua and possibly Wilder. It would help if Joshua faces Wilder in 2019 so that the four titles can be unified. Even if Wilder beats Joshua, Hearn is still likely going to want to have Usyk face him. There’s too much money on the line for a fight between Joshua and Usyk for Hearn not to insist on making that match no matter what the circumstances.