This weekend, Oleksandr Usyk makes the second defence of his unified WBA, WBO, IBF and The Ring heavyweight championship of the world. His challenger is WBA mandatory Daniel Dubois, who secured the shot by virtue of holding the extraneous ‘regular’ championship from that sanctioning body.
There is an air of frustration that what will likely be Usyk’s only fight of the year is coming against ‘Dynamite’, rather than in an undisputed title clash with WBC belt-holder Tyson Fury. But with ‘The Gypsy King’ preferring a bombastically needless ten-round non-title affair with UFC champ-turned-boxing novice Francis Ngannou, this is the only heavyweight title attraction we’ll get this year.
Fans are irked by this and understandably so. That disaffection likely extends to Usyk himself. The Ukrainian superstar has done everything he can to get Fury into a prize ring. But the mercurial Mancunian operates in a quasi-boxing hinterland. Fury is as much an international celebrity as a competitive sportsman these days. He mixes business with pleasure, taking on MMA stars in ego-boosting but ultimately easy fights and enjoys a worldwide profile with his new reality series, At Home With The Furys.
Glamour has never been something Usyk has craved in his own boxing career. An old-school craftsman, what ‘The Cat’ looks for in his own ring exploits is supremacy. He achieved it masterfully at cruiserweight, clearing out the division to become undisputed ruler. The 36-year-old made the perfect start at heavyweight too. He is 4-0, including two victories over Britain’s Anthony Joshua. However, that supremacy is now in question.
At heavyweight, Usyk cannot truly claim to be the best until he fights Fury. The same can be said of ‘The Gypsy King’. For now the two are locked in a cold war for the throne’s possible future. But once, Usyk could take solace in his probable hold on the pound-for-pound crown. Given his perfect 20-0 record and unified titles at two weights, he was a worthy candidate. Given the studious boxing literacy he showed in winning these titles, there was little question he was among the finest fighters on the planet.
Usyk still is, of course. But the “among” part of that sentence is said with far more emphasis now. Usyk has been out of the ring for a year since his second victory over Joshua. This has largely not been by his own choice, with protracted talks over the proposed undisputed title fight also limiting Fury’s last ring appearance to his December win over Derek Chisora. But boxing is a fast-moving business and, in Usyk’s absence, new challengers have emerged to the pound-for-pound throne.
In the last month, Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue have each presented their credentials to overtake Usyk. In fact, The Ring Magazine’s own pound-for-pound list now has them both above Usyk, who sits in third place. Crawford’s win over Errol Spence Jr and Inoue’s victory over Stephen Fulton have put them at the forefront of the conversation. Each secured by knockout over performances expected to extend them in big fights, these wins are the things legacies are built on.
A victory over Dubois, with all respect due to the Brit, isn’t a victory like this. If Usyk does beat his challenger, no manner of victory will be enough to usurp Crawford and Inoue. A win is expected here and an easy one at that. Not a shut-out, not a stoppage, not a first-round pummeling would be enough. Usyk must complete his obligations simply to maintain the status quo.
If it were any other fighter, you might doubt their motivation going into what fans, fairly or unfairly, see as a foregone conclusion of a fight. But Usyk isn’t any other fighter. That is what he battles to prove not only against Dubois, but in every fight he undertakes. It won’t be enough this time, no matter how much style and substance he brings. But it is to be hoped, once this fight is out of the way and Fury’s Ngannou itch is scratched, that we get a fight between the pair. A victory for either man really would shake up the pound-for-pound rankings. Naoya and Terence, beware.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change