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WBO makes Oleksandr Usyk heavyweight mandatory

Aleksandr Usyk

By Tim Royner: In a predictable move, the WBO announced on Saturday that they’ve made unbeaten Oleksandr Usyk their mandatory at heavyweight. The result of this move probably means that former undisputed cruiserweight champion Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) will get a quick shot at fighting the winner of the rematch between IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua. Those two will likely square off in November.

Whyte bypassed by Usyk

Dillian Whyte was hoping to be installed as the mandatory WBO heavyweight challenger, as he’s currently ranked #1 with the sanctioning body. Whyte (25-1, 18 KOs) has been waiting to be installed as a mandatory for either Joshua or WBC champion Deontay Wilder for a considerable amount of time. Unfortunately, Whyte will need to wait a little longer for him to get a title shot, as the WBO intend on having Usyk battle for their strap straightaway against the Joshua-Ruiz winner.

The WBO has a rule in which they allow their champions in other weight classes to move up a level and be immediately made the mandatory challenger.

It’s not the end of the world for Whyte. He’s got a fight next month against Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs) on July 20, and Hearn is convinced the World Boxing Council will make that match-up for both their interim WBC title and the mandatory. The winner of the Whyte-Rivas fight will be the mandatory for Wilder, which is what Hearn is counting on. But he also wants the WBC to order Wilder to defend against Whyte after his next title defense, and that could be against either Luis Ortiz or Tyson Fury. Whyte will get his title shot soon for the WBC belt. It might not be as easy a fight for him as it would be for him to face Ruiz Jr. for the WBO belt, but that’s out of his hands now.

WBO’s decision to elevate Usyk isn’t a popular one

The WBO’s decision to install Usyk as the mandatory at heavyweight isn’t a popular one with fans, because many of them feel it’s not fair to the challengers that have worked hard to get highly ranked in the division. Usyk is getting a title shot based on his past accomplishments rather than on what he’s done at heavyweight, which is nothing. Ideally, the WBO should let fighters like Usyk earn a title shot instead of having it given to them. It kind of cheapens the accomplishment for fighters to be given #1 rankings right away without having ever fought in that weight class. If Usyk had to actually earn the title shot at the WBO belt, he would need to beat fighters like Whyte. Could Usyk do that? Perhaps, but maybe not. Usyk was losing to Bellew at the time he stopped him in the eighth round last November.

Hearn will be pleased

The move by the WBO to install Usyk as the heavyweight mandatory with their organization will probably make Usyk’s promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing pleased, since he wants to turn Oleksandr into a star in the U.S and UK. If nothing else, Hearn wants Usyk to fight Joshua in a Matchroom controlled promotion for the heavyweight titles. That would be a dream come true for Hearn. However, for that to happen, Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) will need to beat Ruiz Jr., 29, in their rematch later this year in the fall.

There’s no telling whether Joshua will win the Ruiz rematch or not. Hearn wants to give Joshua an edge by negotiating to have the Ruiz Jr. rematch take place in the UK rather than in the United States, which is one of the two areas of the world where Ruiz Jr. wants the fight to take place. Ruiz would also like for the Joshua fight to be staged in Mexico, but that’s not going to happen.

Heavyweight division will be difficult transition for Usyk

Usyk turned pro in 2013 after capturing a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics for Ukraine. In the pro ranks, Usyk has wins over Marco Huck, Tony Bellew, Mairis Briedis, Murat Gassiev, Michael Hunter, and Krzysztof Glowacki. Usyk didn’t look so good in his last fight in stopping former WBC cruiserweight champion Bellew in the eighth round last November in Manchester, England. At the time of the stoppage, Bellew was ahead on two of the scorecards 68-65, 67-66, while the third judge had it 67-67. Boxing News 24 saw Bellew winning 68-65.

Oleksandr Usyk vs. Dereck Chisora on March 28 at O2 - Eddie Hearn

Usyk almost lost to Briedis in the WBSS tournament last year. Going by how close that fight was, it’s unlikely that Usyk will do well at heavyweight. He’s like another Chris Byrd type of heavyweight. In other words, Usyk is a finesse guy that tries to win rounds, and box his way to victories instead of slugging.

Usyk’s lack of punching power will limit his success

The way that Usyk struggled against Bellew could be an indicator that the Ukrainian isn’t going to do well against the 240+ pound heavyweights in the division. Those guys are bigger, stronger and hit harder than Bellew, and Usyk looked weak and afraid against Tony. Usyk’s punching power and hand speed was nothing special at cruiserweight. He wasn’t fighting at the same level of former cruiserweight champion Evander Holyfield when he made the move up to heavyweight in the 1980s. Holyfield was a far better fighter than Usyk, who is a finesse type of guy. The 32-year-old Usyk will have only one way of winning at heavyweight, and that’s to win by decision.

Usyk didn’t look good in his win over Joe Joyce in the World Series of Boxing in 2013. Joyce walked Usyk down, and marked up his face. Had that been a 12 round fight instead of a five-rounder, Usyk might have lost. Joyce has gotten bigger and stronger since then while Usyk has stayed the same. At heavyweight, Usyk will likely be too small and weak do anything against the bigger fighters.

Oleksandr Usyk vs. Dereck Chisora on March 28 at O2 - Eddie Hearn

Winning decisions won’t be easy for Usyk at heavyweight

Usyk’s finesse style of fighting, which involves a lot of hitting and running won’t be a popular one at heavyweight. He was heavily booed in his fights against Michael Hunter and Thabiso Mchunu due to his movement. In Usyk’s fights against Bellew, Marco Huck and Murat Gassiev, he also made it very boring to watch due to him not staying in the pocket to punch with them. It was mostly weak shots from Usyk, and a lot of movement. At the heavyweight level, the judges will have to decide whether to give Usyk rounds based on his tapping shots or give it to his opponent for their harder blows.

Oleksandr similar to Tyson Fury with fighting style

Usyk is like a smaller version of Tyson Fury with the way that he fights in a purely finesse style. Like Fury, Usyk throws a lot of light, tapping shots done to outwork his opponents, and win rounds. Usyk still fights with the same amateur style that he had in many years in Ukraine. It’s a style that enables him to win decisions, but it’s not entertaining to watch. It takes a certain type of boxing fan to enjoy watching one of Usyk’s fights. The fan that likes action and power punching generally doesn’t like watching a finesse level fighter like Usyk.

This is bad news for Joshua that Usyk is now ranked #1 with the World Boxing Organization, because it means he’s going to need to improve his conditioning. Usyk is a 12 round fighter, who is going to try and out-box everybody. He’s not going to attempt to score knockouts at the heavyweight level, because he’s not a big puncher, and he can be hurt. Murat Gassiev had Usyk hurt in their fight last year in the final of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament. If a fighter with a low work rate like Gassiev can hurt Usyk, then you can bet that guys like Deontay Wilder, Joshua, Whyte and Ruiz Jr. will cause him problems.

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