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Oleksander Usyk vs. Alexander Povetkin planned for May 18 in Chicago

Image: Oleksander Usyk vs. Alexander Povetkin planned for May 18 in Chicago

By Trevor McIntyre: Promoter Eddie Hearn is planning in bringing unbeaten undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksander Usyk over to the United States for his debut fight at heavyweight against former World Boxing Association champion Alexander Povetkin on DAZN on May 18 in Chicago, Illinois, according to ESPN.

Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) wants to start with the best right away in the heavyweight division; hence, Hearn is going to try and match him against the 39-year-old Povetkin (34-2, 24 KOs), who is coming off of a seventh round knockout loss to Matchroom fighter IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) five months ago on September 22 at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Usyk vs. Povetkin will make a lot of noise in their native countries of Ukraine and Russia, as these two popular fighters over there. Both are Olympic gold medalists, and both have excellent technical boxing skills. Povetkin won an Olympic gold medal for Russia in 1994.

Usyk captured his gold medal in the 2012 Olympics for Ukraine. However, the southpaw Usyk has had better success at the pro level than Povetkin in capturing four world titles, albeit in division that’s not as well stocked as the heavyweight division that Alexander has fought in. Povetkin, at small heavyweight at 6’2″, 225 lbs, could have spent his career fighting at cruiserweight, and likely would have unified the division as well, but he choose to fight at heavyweight where the money is better. Povetkin had to deal with bigger heavyweights like the 6’6″ Wladimir Klitschko and 6’5″ Joshua. Those are the only two fighters that Povetkin has lost to in his 14 year pro career.

Usyk is co-promoted by Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing promotional company, having signed with them in 2018, shortly after having won the World Boxing Super Series tournament with a one-sided 12 round unanimous decision over IBF/WBA cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev in the final in Moscow, Russia on July 21, 2018. Usyk made it clear recently that he nothing else to achieve in staying at cruiserweight, and that he wanted to move up to heavyweight to unify the division in beating the likes of Joshua and whoever has the other titles before retiring from the sport. Usyk, 32, defeated WBC emeritus cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew by an eighth round knockout last year on November 10 in a fight shown on Sky Box Office in the UK at the Manchester Arena, England. The fight was competitive for the first seven rounds before Usyk seemed to shift gears in the eighth round, and easily put a tired looking Bellew away with a vicious knockdown.

This will be Usyk’s third time fighting in the U.S. He beat Thabiso Mchunu by a 9th round knockout in December 2016 in Inglewood, California. A year later, Usyk came back to the U.S and beat 2012 Olympian Michael Hunter by a 12 round unanimous decision. Neither fight could be described as exciting to watch. In fact, there was a lot of booing during the Usyk vs. Mchunu fight from the boxing fans ringside at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The fans were obviously accustomed to seeing more action-packed brawling from fighters in that are area of California. Seeing Usyk fight so technically against a much smaller, and weaker opponent in 5’11” Mchunu looked out of sorts with the fans. They responded by letting Usyk know how they felt about how he was fighting. Likewise, Usyk’s performance against Michael Hunter in 2017 was also less than thrilling to watch. The 6’3″ Usyk struggled with the high punch output from Hunter in the first six rounds of the fight. In the second half of the contest, Usyk adapted by getting on his bike and boxing the remainder of the way to shutdown Hunter’s offense. Although Usyk picked up the victory, it was not thrilling to watch.

This is a tough first fight at heavyweight in facing Povetkin, who is still fighting at a high level despite him nearing 40-years-old. Usyk was reportedly interested in facing former heavyweight world title challenger Luis ‘King Kong’ Ortiz (30-1, 26 KOs). It’s unclear what made Usyk and Hearn look at Povetkin as the guy that they want to go after. Povetkin being a former world champion with arguably better name recognition with the casual and hardcore boxing fans might be the main reason. Ortiz, 39, is the same age as Povetkin, but he’s a southpaw, very technical, and he punch. Usyk is familiar with the Eastern European style of fighting that Povetkin uses.

Ortiz would likely be a tougher fight for Usyk, because of his southpaw stance, bigger size, power and the fact that he fights with many different styles. Ortiz has adopted a variety different fighting styles that he can switch during his fights, which makes him very hard to beat when he changes things up. Ortiz came close to knocking out WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder last year in March. Ortiz might have stopped Wilder if not for the delay in the start of the eighth round. Ortiz had hurt Wilder in the seventh, and had him close to being stopped. Hearn had been mentioning Ortiz as a possible option for Usyk’s first fight. A lot of boxing fans were highly skeptical of Hearn letting Usyk fight the dangerous Ortiz in his first fight, as it’s become a common practice for Eddie to throw the Cuban fighter’s name out there when his fighters Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte need an opponent. Hearn will mention Ortiz’s name, and then go with an arguably lesser threat like Dereck Chisora or Lucas Browne.

It won’t be surprising if Povetkin beats Usyk. Povetkin can still punch, and he’s excellent at timing fighters to nail them with his powerful left hook and right hand. Usyk is going to have to focus on his defense the entire fight, as Povetkin as a big threat to him. Usyk struggled in his fights with Mairis Briedis and Bellew. Those guys would likely lose to a talented heavyweight like Povetkin. For Usyk, he’s in a tough spot. He can’t just win ugly by running around the ring, and making it boring like he did against Hunter and Mchunu. Usyk has got to stand and mix it up with Povetkin if he wants to impress the U.S boxing public. If Usyk chooses to just win the fight by ignoring the booing from the crowd, then he’ll likely win a convincing 12 round unanimous decision over Povetkin. But the victory will come with a cost, as the American boxing fans will let him know that his style of fighting isn’t appreciated. Afterwards, Hearn might need to reassess where to have Usyk fight his future matches. If he keeps bringing Usyk back to the U.S to be booed nonstop by boxing fan due to his technical style of fighting, which is very reminiscent of former heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko, then it’s going to look bad in the eyes of the fans that are watching his fights on DAZN in the U.S and other parts of the world. If Usyk is incapable or unwilling to change his fighting style to be more fan friendly, then Hearn needs to be cognizant of that, and stick him in England where the boxing fans would be more interested in seeing him dance around the ring, and not getting his feet wet in his fights. For Usyk’s sake, he needs to be a lot more aggressive against Povetkin than what he showed in his fights against Mchunu and Hunter if he wants to impress the U.S boxing fans.

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