Usyk’s incredible transition from cruiserweight to heavyweight

For those who have followed Oleksandr Usyk’s career closely over the years, the two-division world champion’s success at the elite level won’t come as a surprise. Born and raised in Simferopol in Ukraine, Usyk’s technical prowess and awkward offensive style is the calling card of so many boxers who hail from the Eastern European nation’s amateur system.

As he looks to add to his already incredibly impressive résumé in a highly anticipated rematch with Anthony Joshua this month – in which he enters as the Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua fight odds favourite – let’s highlight his success to date and how he has managed to remain a top five pound-for-pound boxer in spite of moving up considerably in weight to compete in a division occupied by giants.

After winning gold at the London Games in 2012, Usyk made the decision to turn professional the following year. Once in the pro ranks, Usyk’s intent to progress was swiftly laid bare – as he went on to win his first nine cruiserweight bouts by way of knockout against opponents with winning records. Usyk’s rapid advancement to 9-0 (9KOs) was rewarded in 2016, as it earned him a world title shot against highly-rated Pole Krzysztof Glowacki for the WBO cruiserweight title. In pure Usyk fashion, it was a boxing masterclass – and the level of dominance he displayed announced to the sporting world that his potential was limitless.

While achieving a world title in ten fights is an amazing feat, it was his triumph in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) which cemented his legacy as one of the greatest cruiserweights in the history of boxing. In what is a round-robin style knockout tournament consisting of six of the best fighters in the division, Usyk made relative light work of current world champions and world title challengers to hoist the famed Muhammed Ali Trophy. By defeating respected fighters such as Marko Huck, Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev enroute to the WBSS title, Usyk became the first cruiserweight to achieve undisputed status in the four-belt era.

Usyk followed his WBSS success with a devastating seventh-round knockout of Liverpool’s Tony Bellew, before announcing that he was going to make the move up to compete at heavyweight. Opinions were mixed as it pertained to how he would fare in the sport’s glamour division – as while his talent and skill was undeniable – both heavyweight world champions at the time were at least three inches taller than the Ukrainian.

That didn’t seem to deter Usyk, who agreed to fight America’s Chazz Witherspoon just a year later in Chicago. He secured a victory in unimpressive fashion – and after struggling again in his following bout with England’s Derek Chisora – questions were raised as to whether he could cut it at the higher weight.

Those doubts lingered until his world title fight against Joshua at Wembley in 2021 – when he put on a performance for the ages. Ballooning up to 220lbs for his fight with the two-time world champion Joshua – Usyk’s gameplan, superior technique and clinical southpaw skillset saw him win a unanimous decision in front of just shy of 70,000 fans at Tottenham Hotspurs’ new stadium.

While Usyk needs to achieve plenty more before reaching all-time great status in the heavyweight division, there’s no denying he is on a trajectory that could see him reach it sooner rather than later.

Huynh Nguyen

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