If Oleksandr Usyk, as expected, conclusively dispatches of Tony Bellew this Saturday night at the Manchester Arena, a move up to heavyweight is virtually guaranteed.
After all, the Ukrainian southpaw is currently the proud owner of all four major belts, and in the case of a victory, would have successfully defended his collection of championships against the division’s biggest name.
Moving up a weight class is often a tantalising proposition for cruiserweights wanting to test themselves against some of the biggest superstars – literally and figuratively – in the sport. However, it has to be said that these ventures into boxing’s marquee division have often produced mixed results.
Take for example, the cases of Evander Holyfield and David Haye – fighters who established themselves respectively at two hundred pounds as the consensus best in the world before falling short at against some of the most formidable heavyweights of their time, who were able to capitalise on their superior physical dimensions to effectively negate the skillsets of their smaller counterparts.
This is not to suggest, of course, that Usyk is not capable of accomplishing anything meaningful whatsoever at heavyweight. Indeed, his amateur record indicates that he is comfortable with the notion of outfoxing stronger opponents with accurate combinations and relentless pace.
Whether Usyk can replicate these amateur feats at professional heavyweight championship level is a different question altogether.
When taking into account the sporadic success that Arthur Szplika, for example enjoyed against Wilder in the latter’s WBC title challenge in 2016, it would be reasonable for Usyk to believe that he is more than well-equipped to defeat some of these heavyweight giants. Szplika – a fellow southpaw from neighbouring Poland, albeit a significantly more limited one – was able to frustrate Wilder throughout much of the early proceedings with his speed and movement. Szplika’s ability to make things awkward for Wilder in early rounds, however, was soon forgotten when he was dramatically flattened in the ninth round with a single punch.
Against such powerfully athletic and devastating punchers like Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, you get the distinct impression that Usyk would be walking a similarly precarious tightrope. Still, by the vast majority of boxing fans, they are considered sufficiently interesting and competitive match-ups to warrant a move up to heavyweight.
On the other hand, in terms of enhancing his legacy and pound-for-pound standings, it may be prudent for Usyk – having already assumed the position as the world’s leading cruiserweight – to continue to reign as the undisputed champion, as opposed to relinquishing his titles, until someone comes along to unseat him.
As underrated and dogged as he may be, that someone is unlikely to be Tony Bellew on Saturday night.
Article by: Navi Singh
Follow Navi on Twitter at: @DarkMan________