Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) is considered one of the best cruiserweights of our time and has so far crushed all of his opponents. He unified the cruiserweight division with a win over Murat Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs) in July of 2018. Usyk also defended his titles against well-known British cruiserweight Tony Bellew (30-3-1, 20 KOs) which ended in a TKO, just four months after gaining the titles. Since, he has fought just once in October of 2019 vs Chazz Witherspoon (38-4, 29 KOs) who retired in the 7th round. This was Usyk’s first heavyweight bout. Looking to get a head start in the heavyweight division has been delayed due to various issues such as injuries and now the coronavirus pandemic. As we wait, lets look at the somewhat overlooked cruiserweight division and those that have attempted the jump up to heavyweight.
Many do not know that the cruiserweight division has not always been associated with boxing. There has also been a lack of money in these fights, as the heavyweight fights were the “money fights”. It most notably became recognized in 1980 in America. Before then, many looked at this as the light heavyweight division and even after its creation, used these two divisions interchangeably. It now ranges from 176-200lbs and some of the greatest fighters in history fought as heavyweights before this division was created. Fighters such as Jack Dempsey (54-6-8, 44 KOs) weighed 188lbs, Rocky Marciano (49-0, 43 KOs) weighed 184 pounds, and Floyd Patterson (55-8-1, 40 KOs) weighed 190lbs. These men were crowned champions in the biggest division and weighed less than 200lbs. Some of the men they battled were over 5 inches taller and up to 70lbs heavier. However, they used their skills and abilities to overcome these short comings. As time went on the amount of weight between light heavyweight and heavyweight was beginning to widen and the sanctioning bodies decided it was time to introduce another division.
Once the division came to form, the most notable fighter to move from cruiserweight to heavyweight is Evander Holyfield (44-10-2, 29 KOs) who some consider the greatest cruiserweight ever. Holyfield was able to shutdown the iconic Mike Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs), Riddick Bowe (43-1, 33 KOs), and George Foreman (76-5, 68 KOs). However, not all was perfect when he moved up as he took some bad losses to some of the divisions best. Another fighter to make a successful move was Michael Spinks (31-1, 21 KOs) who defeated Larry Holmes (69-6, 44 KOs) by unanimous decision to become the first light-heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title. There have been a few other successful cruiserweights who’s jump to heavyweight were not as glorious. Steve Cunningham (29-9-1, 13 KOs), David Haye (28-4, 26 KOs), Vassily Jirov (38-3-1, 32 KOs), and Al Cole (35-16-3, 16 KOs) were all magnificent at cruiserweight and only had a combined 9 losses with 6 of those coming from Cunningham. They were a mixed bag of success and defeat at heavyweight with Cole having the roughest go. Cole lost a staggering 15 times but still managed some decent wins. Haye was able to make some noise in the division but when he went for his unification was shut down by a near perfect performance by Wladimir Klitschko (64-5, 53 KOs). The next round of cruiserweights are now primed to fight some of the best heavyweights and Oleksander Usyk posses’ the exact tools to make a case, but will he be able to make a case against the big 3.
Usyk is waiting to make his case again in the heavyweight division as he brings his own tools of speed, mobility, technique and power to the division. However, is his power enough power to keep a top heavyweight down? He would clearly pose a threat to most heavyweights, but the only worry is if he gets in there with the likes of a top contender can he handle the bigger man, upwards of 270lbs laying on him round after round. The division is full of much taller and stronger men than when his predecessors took on this challenge. Usyk came in at 215lbs for his debut at heavyweight and although it wasn’t a perfect performance, he still showed off his abilities in a good first fight. There is much left to be seen and he will need to fight younger and stronger opponents. The good news is that if he can continue to win, he will get his shot at Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) as the mandatory challenger and this will be his true test. If he can accomplish this feat, then he will find himself in short company with the likes of a true great, Evander Holyfield.
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