You could argue that it would be redundant to say that greatness is within Aleksandr Usyk’s grasp on Saturday night.
Depending on how one defines it, he has already achieved greatness on a number of occasions…
A 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medallist, Usyk captured a professional World title in just his tenth paid fight against a champion in their homeland, defended it three times against respected challengers on foreign soil (one of whom, incidentally, was a former World champion himself; the second longest-reigning in the division’s history), and then unified against a fellow undefeated World champion; once again, as the away fighter.
It’s important to note that Usyk, the current WBO and WBC champion, has achieved all of the above in under fifteen fights. Nevertheless, becoming the first winner of the Muhammad Ali trophy would represent something very special indeed – especially for a man whose charisma and sleight of hand at least somewhat resembles the tournament’s namesake.
What isn’t overtly apparent, however, behind the scenes, is the dedication it takes to consistently succeed at world level, as Usyk has.
“Discipline beats everything,” Usyk explains, in characteristically verbose fashion. “One of the most important components a fighter needs in order to achieve the highest success is discipline.”
A committed father and husband as well as a committed fighter, Usyk – who has been deemed the “cruiserweight Lomachenko” in some quarters – is generally considered to be the best fighter in the world in his weight class.
Whatever the case, fighting Murat Gassiev in front of tens of thousands of vociferous Muscovites is not a straightforward proposition.
Usyk – who was reportedly reluctant to fight in Russia – is fully aware of this, but is the favourite for a reason. The enigmatic Ukrainian balks at the notion that he had any reservations in his opponent’s home country, albeit Gassiev belongs to the Ossetian minority community.
“Do I look like I am afraid to fight anywhere? I feel excellent about it.” said Usyk bullishly.
“I am a warrior. I do not care where I fight, I just want to fight. I know there will be support coming in from Ukraine which is great. I am ready and my team is ready. We are all going to Moscow in good mood.”
Although a largely apolitical athlete, Usyk venerates his Cossack heritage and maintains a heartfelt pride in his nation. You get the distinct sense that Usyk innately understands the significance of winning in Russia, following the change in the final’s location from Jeddah.
A victory on Saturday night, for various reasons, would mean an immeasurable lot for either fighter.
It is almost an afterthought, therefore, considering the magnitude of this fight, that the winner will become the undisputed champion of the world.
Usyk progressed into the final with a majority-decision victory over undefeated WBC champion Latvian Mairis Breidis at the Riga Arena; a win where he was required to display a certain amount of character in addition to the sublime boxing skills that have for the most part defined his amateur and professional fights.
Buoyed on no doubt by a hometown crowd, the battle-tested, tricky Breidis gave Usyk the toughest fight of his professional career to date, successfully connecting with numerous power shots in the early rounds before Usyk rallied with volume punching and activity to overwhelm Breidis and secure a closely-fought, albeit well-deserved victory in what was one of the fights of the year.
Much to the disdain of the perennial showman Usyk – an entertaining and enigmatic character outside of the ring – the thrilling spectacle that Gassiev and Dorticos produced a week later managed to even surpass his epic battle in Riga.
The Abel Sanchez-trained Gassiev – whose devastating punching power is complemented by an otherworldly toughness – withstood an early onslaught from Dorticos to decisively knock the Cuban out of the ring in the final round and send the crowd into a frenzy, unifying the IBF and WBA championships in the process.
“I will only say this, he is a strong guy,” Usyk remarks, when asked to analyse his upcoming opponent.
“The fight was perfect, two great guys who found out who is the strongest. When the strong guys meet, the fights are interesting. This is what is so great about this tournament. It is necessary for the sport. I have said it before and I will say it again: the fans should expect a beautiful final.”
Article by: Navi Singh
Follow Navi on Twitter at: @hombre__obscuro
Quotes Courtesy of World Boxing Super Series [Press Release]