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Oleksander Usyk vacates WBA cruiserweight title

Aleksandr Usyk Denis Lebedev Eddie Hearn Lawrence Okolie


By Tim Royner: Cruiserweight champion Oleksander Usyk vacated his World Boxing Association title on Wednesday after the WBA ordered him to defend it against ‘Champion in Recess’ Denis Lebedev (32-2, 23 KOs). WBA is expected to make former champion Lebedev, 39, their full champion once again.

Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn is already talking about having #6 WBA Lawrence Okolie (12-0, 9 KOs) challenge Lebedev once he becomes the full WBA champion again.


Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) is planning on moving up to heavyweight to start campaigning in that weight class starting in his next fight on May 18 on DAZN in Chicago. Hearn is looking to put Usyk in with former heavyweight world title challenger Carlos Takam, who has lost 2 out of his last 3 fights in defeats against Dereck Chisora and Anthony Joshua.

Hearn believes 2016 Olympian Okolie, 26, has a good shot at beating the 39-year-old Lebedev. It’s a big step up in class for Okolie, who hits hard, but he’s all arms and legs, and it somewhat uncoordinated. It might be a bad idea for Okolie to take such a big step up. Lebedev is getting up there in age, but he can sill punch, and has a lot of talent.

“I don’t know who’s going to beat him,” Hearn said about Okolie to IFL TV. “I don’t think anybody can beat him. So now we look at the division with Lebedev. Do you gamble for a world title? The fight response is no, because you have a very talented young fighter, but he can beat Lebedev. In my opinion, he is the favorite in that fight. When you don’t take these opportunities when the champ is there for the taking. In two years time when he’s ready for the WBA title, maybe a young Eastern European Russian Uzbek beast that you can’t beat or will be tougher to beat [will be champion]. So it’s going to be a tough decision. My advice to Lawrence is to probably take it,” Hearn said.

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There’s currently no one young that would give Okolie too many problems in the WBA’s top 15. A guy that would give Okolie a ton of issues if #1 WBA Yunier Dorticos. That would be a really hard fight for Okolie if he were to take on the hard hitting Cuban fighter right now. Dorticos can really punch, and if he lands a shot on the chin of Okolie, he’ll likely put him to sleep.

“In terms of his development, I just feel like timing is everything, and I feel this could be the right fight for him,” Hearn said. “I can’t see a lot of domestic fights that are exciting. There’s an argument there that the Lebedev fight might be just as easy. It’s all about risk-reward. We’ll sit down with him and plan the future this week. Lebedev is going to slide back into his super champion [spot], and every belt will become vacant [once Oleksander Usyk vacates his four cruiserweight titles. You’ve got [Mairis] Briedis. You’ve got [Yunier] Dorticos. You’ve got Krszysztof Wlodarczyk. You’ve got Andrew Tabiti fighting Dorticos. They’re great fighters. Lebedev is a very good champion. He’s just getting old. I just think the timing might be perfect to take his belt,” Hearn said.


Hearn is going to have Okolie walk the plank in facing Lebedev without any experience against world class opposition. That’s a crazy move on Hearn’s part if he throws Okolie in with Lebedev, but he has so many other fighters in his Matchroom stable at present. It probably won’t hurt as much as it would a smaller promoter to have one of their top prospects beaten by a much experienced fighter. What Okolie needs is to start fighting the fringe contenders at cruiserweight, and then work up there until he’s ready to take on one of the champions. Some excellent options for Okolie would be these fighters: Mateusz Masternak, Mike Perez, Noel Gevor, Thabiso Mchunu, Olanrewaju Durodola, Ilunga Makabu, Dmitry Kudryashov, Maxim Vlasov, Yury Kashinsky and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk.

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