By: Hans Themistode
It’s the sexy matchup. The one that everyone talks about and quite frankly, it makes a ton of sense.
The first trip to the canvas allowed boxing fans to crack a slight smile. The second and third brought about a full grin. As unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua landed the finishing blow on mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev, fans across the world screamed in excitement before his 39-year-old body hit the canvas. It wasn’t just because Joshua’s one-punch knockout was captivating, but more so because of what it signified. An undisputed title fight with fellow champion Tyson Fury.
Not since Lennox Lewis’s 1999 win over Evander Holyfield has there been an undisputed heavyweight champion. By all accounts, both Joshua and Fury not only want the fight but are begging for it to happen next. With Pulev sitting in an emergency room concussed and former WBC belt holder Deontay Wilder on the outside looking in, both Eddie Hearn and Bob Arum, their respective promoters, have stated that they will sit down to talk immediately about putting together a two-fight deal.
But while Joshua, Fury, Hearn and Arum open the doors to begin negotiations, a six feet four inch, one-time Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed cruiserweight champion in Oleksandr Usyk stands in the way.
In the land of the heavy hitters, Usyk’s defensive/box first style has never appeared to be a true fit. During his brief time as a cruiserweight, Usyk could get away with outboxing his man and racking up the points on the judge’s scorecards as opposed to ending things with one deleterious blow. Yet, with wins over Mairis Briedis, Murat Gassiev and Tony Bellow – there was nothing left for him to do. His waist and shoulders were draped in cruiserweight gold. But the challenges were few and far between.
With nothing more to prove, Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) moved up to the heavyweight division. A place where fighters often stomp and announce their presence demonstratively. For Usyk however, he tiptoed through and made his mark in a much different way.
In October of 2018, Usyk officially made his debut, pitty patting late replacement Chazz Witherspoon before ultimately stopping him in the seventh. Roughly one year later, Usyk would return to the ring yet again. This time against fringe contender Dereck Chisora. Unable to make a dent in his man, Usyk would settle for a close decision victory.
Criticism of his power has been the narrative surrounding his heavyweight ventures. No one wants to watch a big man dance around his opponent, make him miss, potshot him, wash and repeat for 12 rounds before cruising to a win on the judge’s scorecards. There has always been one theme when discussing heavyweight boxing.
One punch can end it all.
That of course, doesn’t apply to Usyk. Still, his shot at a world title was earned with his work one weight class lower. But with year number three approaching on his heavyweight trip, the soon to be 34-year-old is still awaiting his shot at a world title. Something that should have been granted to him the moment he landed in his new division.
Like any weight class, once a champion vacates his titles in favor of moving up in weight, said fighter will receive a high placement in the sanctioning bodies of his new home. In the case of the WBO, former champions in one weight class are immediately granted a world title opportunity. Nonetheless, a combination of injuries and a worldwide pandemic has forced him to wait.
In numerous conversations with Usyk over the years, the former Olympic gold medalist has dreamed of becoming a world champion in the heavyweight division. Yet, with both Fury and Joshua only one win away from achieving undisputed status, Usyk has been pushed to the side and forgotten.
Let’s be clear, a showdown between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua for all of the heavyweight marbles is salient. But to Usyk, it’s inconsequential.
The sound of a pen scribbling across sheets of paper can be heard from boxing fans as a two-fight deal is currently being hammered out between Hearn and Arum. It would be fairly easy for Joshua to vacate his WBO world title, face Fury and the winner to eventually circle back to face Usyk at a later date. With that being said, it isn’t what the Ukrainian wants, nor is it what he deserves.
There’s something to be said for a fighter that has won at every level. From Olympic glory to championship status in the pro’s Usyk has done it all. For fans at home though, they could care less. Simply stand to the side and allow the British stars to settle the debate of who is the best in the world. Any discussion that does not revolve around a mega showdown involving Joshua and Fury will be met with complete fulmination.
To Usyk however, their complaints will draw the same creepy smile he has flashed at his opponents just before dismantling them. The sexy fight, the popular fight and the significant fight is Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury. But Oleksandr Usyk has earned his shot at Anthony Joshua first.