After enjoying a spectacular 2018 in which he swept all of the major ‘Fighter of the Year’ honours, undisputed World cruiserweight champion and inaugural Ali Trophy winner Oleksandr Usyk has seemingly set his sights on a move to heavyweight.
With the Ukrainian superstar now widely considered to be one of the sport’s premier ‘pound-for-pound’ combatants, his move into boxing’s marquee division is set to shake things up in an already stacked heavyweight roster.
We take a look at who could potentially await Usyk in 2019…
Dillian Whyte: 25-1 (18 KO’s)
Following a stellar 2018 that saw him pick up three wins over world level opponents in Lucas Browne, Joseph Parker and Dereck Chisora, Brixton heavyweight Dillian Whyte enters 2019 within touching distance of a World title shot.
After racking up nine consecutive victories since his solitary career defeat to Anthony Joshua in December 2015 – including a stunning eleventh round knockout in his bad-blood heavyweight rematch with Chisora in December – ‘The Bodysnatcher’ is regarded by many as the most improved fighter in the division.
Despite holding a lofty ranking across the board with the sport’s governing bodies, 30-year-old Whyte has remained active in meaningful fights and is now the leading candidate for a long-awaited rematch with Joshua in April.
However, with Joshua rumoured to be weighing up a potential voluntary defence against brash American Jarrell Miller at Madison Square Garden, Whyte may once again find himself waiting in the queue for a crack at World honours… enter Usyk?
Since aligning himself with Matchroom Boxing on a co-promotional deal with current handlers K2, Usyk has voiced his desire to tackle one of Britain’s pool of heavyweights. With promoter Eddie Hearn previously stating that Whyte was a part of Usyk and Alex Karassyuk’s (K2) plans, a possible Whyte-Usyk bout has since long been mooted by sections of the boxing fraternity.
Whyte, however, seemed less enthused by the prospect when questioned in a recent interview on iFL TV about a potential bout with Usyk, with the Jamaican-born-Brit claiming that a bout with Usyk would be a financial flop due to the Ukrainian’s lack of English and – according to Whyte – being largely unknown to the paying audience.
Luis Ortiz: 30-1 (26 KO’s)
Cuban dangerman Luis Ortiz is another heavily rumoured foe for Usyk to dip his toes into the heavyweight pool – and it would be straight in at the deep end for the Ukrainian.
Despite his advancing years (exactly how advanced being a source for debate among boxing fans) Ortiz still remains a stiff test for anyone in the division. While it is fair to say ‘King Kong’ no longer possesses the same zip and speed that saw him emerge as one of the most avoided heavyweights on the planet, his considerable amateur pedigree and nous inside the squared circle still make him a very serious threat to any heavyweight pretender.
After losing his undefeated record in a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate against WBC champion Deontay Wilder in March, Ortiz returned with a pair of stoppage victories; the most recent of which coming on the Wilder-Fury undercard in December where dropped American Travis Kauffman three times en route to a tenth round TKO.
Though Ortiz remained in complete control throughout the contest, his age and lack of freshness was apparent for all to see. With Usyk riding the crest of a considerable wave in 2018, his sheer energy of hand-and-foot may tip the scale in his favour in any potential match-up with the 39-year-old veteran.
With a reported combined amateur record of 684-34, a bout between Usyk and Ortiz would see two of the most gifted technicians in the upper-weight classes lock horns.
For Usyk, a man who has not shied away from testing himself in a whirlwind professional career so far, the opportunity to move up and take out a man considered by many to be the division’s ‘boogeyman’ may prove to be an attractive proposition.
However, expect both men to seek match-ups that offer a far greater risk-reward balance – with neither man bringing hardware or a particularly big payday for the other. In fact, Usyk’s promoter claims to have already been knocked back by Ortiz’s handlers; a claim which was denied by the Cuban’s team recently on social media.
Alexander Povetkin: 34-2 (24 KO’s)
Former WBA World heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin is another name touted by many as a potential foe for Usyk.
Povetkin, now 39-years-old and coming off the back of his sole career stoppage loss to unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, appears to be in no mood to leave the sport quietly and has been linked with a host of heavyweight names.
In recent months, ‘Sasha’ has been linked with bouts with Dillian Whyte and Carlos Takam – among others – and after far-from-disgracing himself in a seventh round TKO loss to Joshua in September, he has been put forward as a possible first encounter for Usyk at heavyweight.
While Povetkin brings little to the table in the form of titles, he is well-ranked with both the WBC and WBA and would offer Usyk the opportunity to gatecrash the ‘Top 10’ of both governing bodies with a victory.
With Povetkin’s promoter Andriy Ryabinsky having previously worked closely with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing, a bout would in effect be a relatively straightforward one to make.
After already showing his willingness to travel in his career so far (most notably in his WBSS final victory over Murat Gassiev in Moscow) a potential showdown in Povetkin’s home country of Russia could be a viable option for Usyk. However, with initial rumours preceding his bout with Gassiev that suggested Usyk was not best pleased to travel to Russia due to political tensions between the country and his homeland of Ukraine, it is thought that a neutral venue could also be a possibility.
A potential Usyk-Povetkin bout would bring together two Olympic Gold medallists and present an intriguing clash of styles. With Povetkin showing he still has plenty left in the tank in his loss to Joshua, his marauding, come-forward style would gel well with Usyk’s fleet-footed boxing talent.
An interesting proposition…
Joseph Parker: 25-2 (19 KO’s)
Former WBO World heavyweight champion Joseph Parker has reportedly turned down the opportunity to be Usyk’s first dance partner at heavyweight – though it is a claim that was vehemently denied by Parker’s promoter David Higgins.
After two successive high-profile losses in 2018 to Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, Parker returned with a third round knockout of the overmatched Alexander Flores in his homeland of Auckland, New Zealand in December.
Though blessed with fast hands and a solid chin, Parker has attracted criticism from some sections of the boxing fraternity for a perceived ‘nice guys finish last’ persona. An affable, charming young man, Parker would surrender his WBO title to Joshua at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium in March of 2018 with a lukewarm performance in which, although marred by poor officiating, the Kiwi showed little in the way of ambition en route to a lopsided points loss.
Parker would follow the defeat to Joshua with another pay-per-view showdown with Whyte, which would once again highlight his fragilities as he was bullied and bludgeoned by the Brixton man throughout. Though Parker came close to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a twelfth round knockdown, the 26-year-old would succumb to a second career reverse in as many fights, leaving him to rebuild his career in the process.
Having suffered two high-profile defeats in the last twelve months, it is of little surprise that Parker and his team have reportedly chosen to swerve a match-up with Usyk.
Standing at 6ft 4″ and holding a 76″ reach, Parker would not enjoy the same physical advantages over Usyk as some of the other heavyweight behemoths on this list – and with the Samoan-born slugger very much in the rebuilding phase following a forgetful 2018, a bout between the two men is considered highly unlikely.
Anthony Joshua: 22-0 (21 KO’s)
The last – and perhaps the most unlikely – name on this list would be divisional kingpin Anthony Joshua.
Holding three of the four major heavyweight titles, British star Joshua is still without an opponent for his next bout at Wembley Stadium on April 13th.
Though rumours of a potential Joshua-Usyk bout have wafted through the sport in recent weeks, it is perhaps even too much to ask of the great Ukrainian to tackle the consensus number one heavyweight in his divisional debut – but never say never…
After signing a co-promotional deal with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing – Joshua’s long-time promoters – Usyk made no secret of his desire to eventually face off with the WBA/WBO & IBF champion, in another match-up that would see two Olympic champions pitted against one another.
Having introduced himself to the British public with a spectacular eighth round TKO of Tony Bellew in November, Usyk has already been exposed to the U.K. audience and, it could be argued, would be Joshua’s highest profile opponent to date outside of his 2017 epic with Wladimir Klitschko.
With the WBO’s regulations affording Usyk an instant mandatory status for Joshua’s WBO crown should he make the move to heavyweight – coupled with the working promotional relationship between Matchroom and K2 – a potential Joshua-Usyk bout could in effect be an easy one to make.
However, with Usyk thought to be seeking an alternative opponent to test the waters in a new weight class and Joshua chasing an undisputed showdown with WBC champion Deontay Wilder, a fight between the pair in the near future is thought to be highly unlikely.
… One for 2020 perhaps?