Usyk vs Witherspoon: Oleksandr Usyk is a threat but what did we learn about his heavyweight hopes?

Usyk vs Witherspoon: Oleksandr Usyk is a threat but what did we learn about his heavyweight hopes?

There was a little graze under the right eye of Oleksandr Usyk, nothing to worry about, but something that might be food for thought for the heavyweight elite.

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The new kid on the block, former undisputed cruiserweight champion Usyk, successfully debuted as a heavyweight but what would Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and co think of his performance?

There are reasons, and now the first pieces of evidence, to believe Usyk is already one of the top heavyweights, just one fight into the latest chapter of a glory-laden career which has already brought him Olympic gold, the World Boxing Super Series and every major belt at cruiserweight.

But there are also chinks in the armour, or so his new rivals will believe. The Joshuas and the Wilders will smell blood.

Usyk toyed with Chazz Witherspoon on Saturday night in Chicago, out-boxed him at will, and forced him to retire after the seventh round. In a year of troublesome heavyweight fights, where Andy Ruiz Jr did the impossible then Tyson Fury had to overcome a bad cut to beat Otto Wallin, it was a welcome stress-free night for the newest challenger in the division.

But like a high-stakes poker player Usyk might have shown his hand to the champions, or at least revealed more information about himself, the type that fuels debate and prediction and either means he will dominate one-handed or inevitably get knocked out.

He will not be a puncher at this weight, that much is clear. Witherspoon, a 38-year-old who accepted his biggest ever fight on a few days’ notice, took a peppering but never hit the deck. He was forced to remain sat on his stool after seven rounds but Usyk threw the kitchen sink at him in the closing stages and couldn’t knock him over.

Murat Gassiev, Mairis Breidis, Michael Hunter and Krzysztof Glowacki were all out-boxed and outpointed but not knocked out by Usyk. Bigger lumps in the heavyweight division won’t fear his brute force.

David Haye said pre-fight: “He is not a one-punch specialist, he throws clusters of punches. He is a southpaw so is tricky to hit clean. He punches from different angles.

“This will be enough to beat 90 per cent of heavyweights but whether he can do it against someone who is 6’6” remains to be seen.”

What this means is that the hardest punching heavyweights, like Wilder and Joshua, will know that they have 12 rounds to land one good punch, whereas Usyk has to box and move perfectly for 36 minutes without error.

“His chin is up in the air sometimes and if that continues then it might get caught,” former foe Tony Bellew said beforehand.

Witherspoon found Usyk’s chin, and marked his face, with some desperate but hurtful counter-punches. This will be par for the course as Usyk’s heavyweight adventure unfolds but absorbing these shots from Witherspoon or from the division’s elite is a different ball game.

“Landing that shot is going to be hard because he’s such a brilliant defensive fighter, but I think if you can find the target then there’s a good chance he could go,” said Bellew.

That means if he becomes world heavyweight champion, he will have to do it in a way that nobody else in the modern era has done.

Weighing below the 16st mark he will routinely concede two stone of weight to his opponent, but other fighters like Haye and Wilder who weigh a similar amount had punch power to rival anybody’s. Usyk doesn’t.

Witherspoon ultimately wilted due to the pressure poured on by Usyk’s never-ending movement which gave him the chance to punch and avoid a reply.

What can Usyk learn from the past? Haye won his heavyweight debut then, in his very next fight, beat Nikolai Valuev to become world champion. Evander Holyfield, the first cruiserweight champion to then win heavyweight gold, had six fights in the top division before challenging for the belt. Usyk, aged 32, wants to follow Haye’s example.


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