Heavyweight boxing is finally awaking from its slumber and boxing fans are in for a treat this weekend as unified heavyweight champion and pound-for-pound great Oleksandr Usyk returns to the ring.
A year after beating Anthony Joshua in their rematch, Usyk defends his titles against Britain’s heavy-handed Daniel Dubois this weekend. Should Usyk win, the demand for an undisputed showdown between he and WBC champion, Tyson Fury, will reach fever pitch. For the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
Usyk has built a reputation as one of boxing’s great road warriors. All of his notable victories coming on his opponents’ turf. This weekend will be a unique situation for him. The fight is taking place in Poland but the Stadion Wroclaw will be packed with Ukrainians transplanted there due to the war raging in their homeland. Rather than walking into the lions den, Usyk will be roared on by a partisan support desperate for a glimpse of their hero.
Usyk is known for his otherworldly boxing ability and supreme fitness. But determination and a refusal to accept defeat have also been key components in his rise toward the top of the heavyweight division.
With the countdown to this weekend’s fight with ‘Dynamite’ Dubois well underway, we look back on three of the victories that encapsulate Usyk and make him so special.
W12 Mairis Briedis, Riga, January 2018
Briedis came closer than anybody to inflicting Usyk’s first professional defeat. The pair fought in the semi-final of the prestigious World Boxing Super Series amid a tumultuous atmosphere in Briedis’ hometown. The fight was relentless from start to finish with the Latvian’s ability to match Usyk in terms of fitness and work rate giving him the chance to get close and let his hands go. Usyk – the more gifted fighter – had to dig deep and fight fire with fire. He landed more than Briedis but was less accurate. After a sensational fight, Usyk was awarded a razor close majority decision.
The fight proved Usyk’s toughness and heart but also showcased his ability to be effective even when things aren’t going entirely to plan. He dealt with a hostile, loud crowd and a determined, world class opponent and still found a way to win.
W12 Murat Gassiev, Moscow, July 2018
Usyk may go on to defeat Tyson Fury and reign as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. But it will still be difficult for him to put together a better performance than the one he produced to take Gassiev’s undefeated record and win the stacked World Boxing Super Series tournament.
At the time, Gassiev was a fearsome prospect for any cruiserweight on the planet. The Russian’s relentless pressure and thudding power accounting for a long list of respected fighters. The fight was seen as the ultimate clash of styles and given Usyk’s struggles with Breidis, opinion on who would win was split.
Usyk’s performance made anybody who backed against him look extremely stupid. The result was a formality long before the final bell with Gassiev plodding around after a supremely focused Usyk, whose cleverness, fitness and boxing ability carried him to a near shut out decision victory. On the rare occasions Gassiev did manage to get close and find some success, Usyk answered him right back.
This was a masterpiece.
W12 Anthony Joshua, London, September 2021
Although his domination of the cruiserweight division had earned Usyk the admiration and respect of boxing fans and pundits, comfortable but underwhelming heavyweight victories over Chas Witherspoon and Dereck Chisora meant that there were many who assumed Anthony Joshua’s size, speed and combination punching would prove a bridge too far for the Ukrainian.
Maybe wary of being picked off by Usyk’s sharp counter punches and exhausting himself by committing to an all out attack, Joshua elected to box rather than maraud and to pick his moments rather than looking to impose his size and strength on Usyk. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and although Joshua would undoubtedly have been better served by making the fight more physical, he did well. Momentum seemed to be swinging behind him as the fight moved into its final stages.
With the fight on the line, Usyk dug in and conjured up one of the greatest sets of championship rounds in boxing history. After nine rounds of high intensity, high pressure work with one of the best heavyweights of his era, Usyk somehow found another level. He swept the final three rounds and left the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with Joshua’s belts.
From the Olympic Games to the World Boxing Super Series, Usyk’s career has been one long string of massive events. But this felt like the culmination of everything. In one night, Usyk proved himself to be an elite heavyweight and not only one of the greatest fighters on the planet but one of the very best operators of the modern era.