Oleksandr Usyk announces his arrival in the sport’s glamour division by defeating Dereck Chisora
WHAT was widely expected to be a comfortable victory for Oleksandr Usyk over Dereck Chisora turned out to be exactly that as the Ukrainian, in his first real test at heavyweight, won unanimously on the cards after 12 absorbing rounds inside Wembley Arena.
But when used in the context of an elite boxing match,
particularly at heavyweight with Dereck Chisora in the opposite corner, the
word ‘comfortable’ is something of a contradiction. Usyk couldn’t exactly switch
off and put his feet up. Instead, those feet worked tirelessly to engineer the
openings that crafted this triumph against a 36-year-old veteran who displayed
all the ambition of a fighter on the way up. Chisora deserves nothing but
praise for the effort he put forth.
Some ringsiders in the “Del Boy” business, like manager David Haye and long-time friend Tony Bellew who both talked up Chisora’s chances beforehand, believed the Englishman deserved better than the 10th career defeat he endured. Even some in the Usyk camp, namely Igor Klimas, felt Chisora had done enough to win in the immediate aftermath. One wonders if they’ll still feel that way after they watch the fight again.
Another viewpoint, and one shared by Boxing News, was
that the cards favouring Usyk – particularly the two which read 115-113 (Jan
Christensen and Yury Kopstev) – were not kind enough. Bob Williams’ tally of
117-112 was more in line with BN’s, which had the former cruiserweight
king up by 10 rounds to two.
What this wasn’t, though, was an exhibition that proved beyond
doubt Usyk will be able to reproduce the same dominance at heavyweight he
enjoyed in the division below. He himself only gave his performance three out of
10. It was a harsh appraisal but one that no doubt speaks of how difficult life
can be as a heavyweight.
“It is a real test at heavyweight, it
is testing,” Usyk observed. “Chisora is a big guy, a hard guy. I fought his fight,
I was expecting that, even a tougher fight.”
Questions will remain as those tougher fights inevitably follow. They’re the same questions that accompanied the last undisputed cruiserweight champion’s journey into the land of the giants. Back in 1988, Evander Holyfield stepped into the banner division, then ruled by Mike Tyson, amid concerns he simply wasn’t big enough. Though he had already twice won and lost versions of the heavyweight title by the time he defeated Tyson in 1996, he had to wait until he toppled “Iron” Mike before he was truly accepted.
Approaching 34 years old, Usyk will have to move quicker. As
the number one contender in the World Boxing Organisation ratings, he’s
indicated he intends to challenge for that title in his next bout. Whether that
comes against the current WBO belt-holder Anthony Joshua, who was ringside
cheering on Chisora, remains to be seen. Joshua must first deal with Kubrat Pulev
in December before we’re told he will engage in two mouth-watering clashes with
Tyson Fury in 2021.
That Joshua will be forced to relinquish his WBO title to
face Fury underlines the impossibility of keeping all four sanctioning bodies
simultaneously on side. What it doesn’t do, however, is change the fact that
whomever wins that rivalry must be regarded as the true king. Should Usyk continue
to make progress in the meantime then he will become the leading contender.
It’s worth remembering that Daniel Dubois is the WBO’s No. 2 with his November 28 opponent, Joe Joyce, at No. 10; Usyk, then, won’t have to wait long for the chance to truly impress in a weight class in its best shape since those days of Holyfield and Tyson.
It is also a division where promises are broken and twists
and turns are commonplace. A Fury-Joshua contest, particularly in a world fighting
against a pandemic, is a long way from being finalised. Furthermore, Team
Joshua may opt to take on Usyk before he’s had any more time to acclimatise to
the division. Though it’s tempting to disregard Usyk’s chances against Joshua,
to point to his size and his perceived lack of punching power in the weight
class, it’s just as easy to predict the Ukrainian’s speed of body and mind will
be too much for “AJ”. One only has to look back at Joshua’s loss to Andy Ruiz
Jnr as evidence. Shorter by some distance, the Mexican-American employed fast
hands and feet to have success last year. The excess weight around Ruiz’s
midriff, I’d argue, had less to do with his stunning victory.
Yet the manner in which Chisora clouted Usyk to make this bout reasonably competitive will encourage Joshua and his fans. The right hand in particular regularly breached Usyk’s defences, both to body and head.
“I think I won, 100 per cent, I was pushing the pace,” Chisora said. “Yes I gave a couple of rounds away, but the judges saw it different. Pressure was landing. My body shots were landing. I am just disappointed. You have to take shots, it is a fight game, he did very well.
“I am disappointed with the result,
basically gutted. I am just gutted. I am p**sed off, I worked hard for this
That was an understatement. Chisora put
forth arguably the best showing of his entire career, both in the fight itself
and beforehand in the gym. As expected, he started quickly, winging in wide
clumps that unsettled Usyk and unquestionably won the opening round. Indeed, that
right hand of Chisora countered Usyk with such force it’s feasible it dissuaded
the Ukrainian from going all out for a stoppage when his rival was visibly
exhausted later in the bout.
The second session was another decent
one for Chisora yet by the time the bell sounded there were signs that the
southpaw had gathered all the information he needed. By the third, Usyk – if not
quite in vintage form – was not wasting anything. More than once, there was
evidence that Chisora was not doing the same. He loaded up on everything, sometimes
missing wildly as the weight of wayward hooks dragged him round in unbecoming
In the fifth, Chisora – visibly tiring
– turned southpaw. It did little to deter Usyk, who continued to move
gracefully and pepper his opponent with his right jab and left cross. Though
the underdog remained dangerous, Usyk upped the pressure in the seventh. His
movement was a problem for Chisora, suddenly he couldn’t see the shots coming
as Usyk artfully positioned and repositioned himself to attack. It was like Chisora
was suddenly surrounded; whichever way he turned there was no escape.
A stoppage looked likely and had this
been a less fit version of Dereck, a version we’ve seen before, the fight may
have ended there. But he pluckily regained his composure in the eighth and
fired back. Chisora rallied but it was clear the greater accuracy came from
Usyk, who continued to change direction and ping blows off his always advancing
In the end, the Phil Edwards-officiated
fight was won and lost by Usyk’s superior boxing brain and skillset. Chisora’s
own will to win played it’s part – particularly in a stirring 11th
when he cracked Usyk’s body up close – yet there can be no argument he deserved
more than he got.
Chisora understandably plans to fight
on. But as the division’s best and toughest stepping stone, his hard head has already
been trampled on enough. He’s nothing left to prove. The same cannot be said of
Usyk, at least not as a heavyweight with serious ambitions of greatness. This victory
only signalled the start of his quest.
On the undercard was a standout
performance from Savannah Marshall who pummelled the brave but
outclassed Hannah Rankin into submission at 1-59 of the seventh round to
win the vacant WBO middleweight strap.
This bout had been postponed for a fortnight
after Marshall’s trainer, Peter Fury, tested positive for coronavirus. It was a
welcome addition to this pay-per-view card. Without it, the undercard would
have been largely forgettable.
Rankin had a decent enough opening
round, as her jab probed Marshall’s head and body, but it wasn’t long before
the gifted Savannah was in full flow.
The Hartlepool woman, who in 2012 defeated Claressa Shields on route to winning the amateur World championships, displayed perfect footwork as she steadily broke the resistance of Rankin. By the fourth, the Glaswegian was looking ragged and perplexed by the varied attacks coming her way.
The difference in the two fighters, both
in terms of class and education, became increasingly apparent. In the fifth,
Marshall stepped back from her opponent and fired a wicked shot to the body
that was followed by a left hook upstairs. To her great credit, and under a mask
of blood and bruises, Rankin never stopped trying to find a breakthrough but that
forward motion only hastened her downfall.
She dropped to one knee, in act of
escape from the sustained pressure, before referee Mr Edwards at last stopped
the bout. Rankin went to hospital in the aftermath but insists she will rebuild
in the lower divisions. Marshall, meanwhile, looks set for a professional
showdown with Shields and, on this evidence, even the American would struggle
to beat her.
The career of Lee Selby is in the balance after he was beaten via split decision by George Kambosos Jnr. The former IBF featherweight titlist was hoping to secure a shot at lightweight king Teofimo Lopez but, in truth, both he and Kambosos Jnr looked a long way below that level.
Selby, now 33, showed flashes of class but the industry of his outspoken Australian opponent was favoured by two of the three judges. Kambosos Jnr landed the best punches of the fight while Selby’s flashy movement too often came without any substance. Mr Edwards’ card of 115-114 in Selby’s favour was trumped by scores of a generous 118-110 (Mr Kopstev) and a more realistic 116-112 (Daniel Van de Wiele). The eighth round only lasted two minutes but had no bearing on the outcome. Mr Williams was the referee.
At cruiserweight, Belfast-based Tommy
McCarthy did well to repel a spirited effort from Belgian Bilal Laggoune
to win the vacant European cruiserweight title over 12 rounds in a
McCarthy started brightly behind his
jab and firing his right through the middle. He also had success when aiming at
his opponent’s body yet he seemed to tire down the stretch. The 11th
was the best round of the fight as McCarthy was forced off his toes and into
the trenches. Both fighters gave it everything but the decision in McCarthy’s
favour was fair. The scores of 116-112 (Mr Christensen) and 116-113 (Mark
Lyson) overruled Mr Van de Wiele’s 114-114.
McCarthy hopes to challenge for a
world belt next year.
The judges couldn’t split Southam’s Amy Timlin and Liverpool’s Carly Skelly in their bout for the Commonwealth super-bantamweight title.
Skelly started as the aggressor and
appeared to build a lead before some intelligent counters from Timlin in the
second half closed the gap. The scores were 95-95 (Mr Lyson), 96-95 for Timlin
(Mr Williams) and 97-96 for Skelly (Mr Edwards). Victor Loughlin was the
Ramla Ali, from Somalia but based in London, won her debut over six rounds, displaying fluid skill along the way. But it wasn’t a pleasant spectacle; Germany’s plucky Eva Hubmayer was woefully out of her depth. She survived the six-round course before losing 60-54 on referee Mr Williams’ scorecard.
THE VERDICT Classy Usyk bosses courageous Chisora to signal his arrival as a legitimate heavyweight force.
Oleksandr Usyk (217 1/4lbs), 18-0 (13), w pts 12 Dereck Chisora (255 1/2lbs), 32-10 (23); Savannah Marshall (159 1/4lbs), 9-0 (7), w rsf 7 Hannah Rankin (158 1/4lbs), 9-5 (2); George Kambosos Jnr (134 3/4lbs), 19-0 (10), w pts 12 Lee Selby (134 3/4lbs), 28-3 (9); Tommy McCarthy (199 1/2lbs), 17-2 (8), w pts 12 Bilal Laggoune (199 1/2lbs), 25-2-2 (14); Amy Timlin (120 1/2lbs), 4-0-1, d pts 10 Carly Skelly (119 1/2lbs), 3-0-1; Ramla Ali (124 3/4lbs), 1-0, w pts 6 Eva Hubmayer (18 1/2lbs), 1-1.