Photo Credit: Richard Heathcote/GETTY
“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” —Edmund Hillary
Aleksandr Usyk cuts an intimidating figure.
At six-foot-three & over 200 pounds - blasted with tattoos, Usyk looks straight out of central casting. I personally think film director Steven Caple Jr. & the casting supervisor for Creed II missed a trick when they failed to cast Usyk for the role of Ivan Drago’s son in the film. No matter, since 1 week before the film’s American release Usyk starred in his own drama when he traveled to England in the heart of enemy territory to defend his undisputed Cruiserweight title against former champ Tony Bellew. Usyk slammed the door on any notion of a remaining legitimate threat to him at Cruiserweight with a devastating 8th round KO.
Part of the irony in Usyk’s appearance is, though he might seem physically perfect for the role of the villain there are few boxers in the sport as congenial than Aleksandr Usyk!
He smiles easily & often, as his lips pull back over his gap-toothed grin Usyk seems all too self-aware. He’s not awkward or camera-shy nor is he full of false bravado. Even in the aforementioned bout with Bellew, famous for bringing the needle to every fight, Usyk was nonchalant. I recall an interview in the backstage area where Bellew was quite serious, almost vexed, he understood the challenge Usyk presented, add to that this most likely would be his last fight ever win or lose, when out of nowhere who literally “popped up” but Usyk! Peering over a partition with wide eyes Usyk caught Bellew’s attention and waved robotically, the childlike glee Usyk took in playfully trolling Bellew just before their fight was obvious and Bellew couldn’t help but laugh.
But there is another side to Usyk.
A pathological need to win, to achieve greatness.
Nothing & no one will stand in his way, there is nothing personal to him about the Hurt Business, he only wants to be the best.
Usyk laughed with Bellew one moment & ruthlessly stretched him out on the canvas the next.
I am Feel, I am Very Feel.
Born on the 17th of January 1987 in the former Soviet province of Crimea in Ukraine, to this day a center of political unrest, Aleksandr Usyk’s early years were punctuated by the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in the town of Pripyat in the north of Ukraine barely a year earlier and the fall of the USSR less than 4 years later.
However, from an early age, Usyk was gifted in sports and played league football (soccer) for Tavriya in his hometown of Simferopol. He picked up boxing training formally at 15 and didn’t look back. He made it to the European Championships in 2006 but lost to Matvay Korobov who recently gave Jermal Charlo all he could handle and then some.
His lot improved through dedication in 2008 when he returned to the Euros winning Gold at light heavyweight. He won the World Amateur Championship in 2011 with victories over solid opposition including current IBF titleholder Artur Beterbiev. Then went on to win gold at the 2012 Olympic Games alongside Vasyl Lomachenko.
Usyk wasted little time following his crowning amateur achievement & turned pro the following year in 2013. He fought at least three times a year before he was positioned against the experienced Polish native Krysztof Glowacki, the WBO Cruiserweight champion. It was the first time Usyk would be forced to go all 12 rounds but he won a very convincingly wide points decision becoming the first fighter to win a world title in that weight class in just 10 fights.
Next came a frustrating but valuable lesson learned when Usyk scored a 9th round KO over Thabiso Mchunu as chief support for the Hopkins vs. Smith Jr main event. Largely there to survive, Mchunu didn’t open up much which made for a tough watch, Usyk needed all his skills to crack the shell to get the nut inside.
Next came the 12 round clean sweep of Michael Hunter who was dropped in the 12th round cementing the victory.
In Usyk’s next bout he entered the inaugural season of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) a tournament that would ensnare all four titles, the Ali trophy & the lion’s share of a $50 million dollar pot to the new undisputed Cruiserweight champion!
Usyk’s coldbloodedness would be well & truly on display against his first-round opponent former IBF Cruiserweight champion Marco Huck. During the face-off between the two men for whatever reason Huck shoved Usyk who didn’t respond physically but leered at Huck, all joviality drained from Usyk’s face & was replaced by a seething rage that Usyk failed to hide, as such he unleashed an unholy ass whooping on Huck enroute to a 10th round stoppage win.
Next came an entertaining scrap against Mairis Briedis in the latter’s home country of Latvia advancing to the final taking Briedis’ WBC title with him.
In the final Usyk once again went on the road, a feature of this second half of his career, to Moscow, Russia where he would face Murat Gassiev who violently stopped Krysztof Wlodarczyk & Yuniel Dorticos along with 17 other poor souls.
I picked Gassiev & Usyk to end up in the final. Full disclosure though, from the beginning I had Gassiev beating - in fact stopping Usyk. I have never been so wrong nor been so happy to be, as this fight was Usyk’s coming out party. From bell to bell Usyk put on a clinic so sublime it was beautiful to watch. Usyk had learned and grown so much as a fighter by that point he used every bit of his athleticism, ring IQ and considerable skill to render Gassiev & his terrific power impotent. To the point where Gassiev’s trainer, Abel Sanchez contemplated pulling him out of the fight.
Usyk had arrived upon the national boxing consciousness & some might say out from behind the shadow cast by fellow Ukranian Vasyl Lomachenko.
Gassiev was the first Ali trophy winner, the first fighter to ever unify the Cruiserweight division in the four-belt era & only the third man to unify any division in the four-belt era after Hopkins & Bud Crawford.
What’s more, the media & fans were treated to Usyk the character, Usyk the budding sports star on a much broader level, his tongue in cheek approach could resonate with fans who often picture fighters as marble-mouthed half-literate humorless thugs.
Leading up to one of his fights in the WBSS a media member asked Usyk how he felt - fairly routine - “just a few days before the fight, how do you feel?”
Like he had it planned, Usyk announced through his ear to ear grin “I am feel, I am very feel.”
A hilarious outtake from a guy who doesn't’ take fighting seriously at all ever but takes winning deadly serious always.
Aleksandr Usyk is the personification of class, sportsmanship & skill, he’s also an athlete that exists outside the box particularly within the niche of combat sports! He will disarm fans with his antics & good humor before disarming foes in the ring with fighting acumen.
Now Usyk will make his heavyweight debut next week on the 12th of October in Chicago, IL a sports-mad city almost big enough to handle the personality of Usyk against new opponent Chazz Whitherspoon (38-3-0), fighting on just 4 days' notice after Tyrone Spong tested positive for a banned substance.
Just the kind of challenge Usyk will revel in, from there I can see him going after Joe Parker, former WBO champion or Alexander Povetkin.
The heavyweight landscape being what it is at the moment politically it could be very hard to get either Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder in the ring, however, Anthony Joshua is signed to Eddie Hearn’s streaming platform DAZN as well, it’s conceivable a fight could be made next year between Joshua & Usyk should Joshua win since Usyk is the WBO mandatory… not too many people would believe that Andy Ruiz is more skilled or more powerful than the slick southpaw from Ukraine, right now head to head I would favor Usyk to beat AJ on skill alone.
Humbly, in its short time in the boxing lifestyle space, Boxraw has been on the cutting edge of performance-based gear & we are beyond proud to announce our exclusive line inspired by Aleksandr Usyk: Undisputed 17.
Undisputed skill & achievement in the ring matched with undisputed innovation & passion for the sport.
BOXRAW X USYK: UNDISPUTED