By Paul Mason
Eight men entered, and now only two remain in the Cruiserweight edition of the excellent World Boxing Super Series. After rapid completion of the quarter-finals and semi-finals, the final of both this and the Super Middleweight competition have been trickier matchups to make. Thankfully, this Saturday, Ukraine’s standout amateur, and WBC and WBO Champion, Oleksandr Usyk, steps into IBF and WBA (Super) Champion, Murat Gassiev’s back yard in Moscow, Russia, with the Muhammad Ali Trophy, and all four sanctioning bodies’ belts on the line. It’s a mouth-watering contest for the Boxing connoisseur.
It’s a testament to the formula of the tournament that we end with one undisputed Champion. It doesn’t get much better than this. Both men are unbeaten, and both have looked impressive throughout the competition so far. UK viewers will have to shell out £9.95 in order to watch the fight on ITV Box Office. Here I preview the final.
Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, KO11) v Murat Gassiev (26-0, 1NC, KO19) – 12 Rounds For The WBC, WBA (Super), IBF & WBO Cruiserweight Titles, World Boxing Super Series Final
Before the birth of the World Boxing Super Series, the belt landscape in the Cruiserweight division was fractured. Come Saturday night in Russia, one man will hold all four Titles on offer, as well as winning the prestigious new tournament and Muhammad Ali Trophy. Two men have made it to the final, and have shared the belts between them along the way. Each man will bring two Titles to the ring at the Olympic Stadium, Moscow this Saturday night.
Oleksandr Usyk is yet another decorated Ukrainian destined for big things. A European Champion in Liverpool in 2008 at Light Heavyweight, World Champion in Baku in 2011 and finally an Olympic Champion at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Heavyweight, Usyk won every major amateur honour.
Professional status was inevitable, and he turned over under the Klitschko brothers’ K2 Promotions banner in summer 2013. His debut came in Kiev in September that year, stopping Felipe Romero in five rounds. He extended his record to 9-0 with eight fights in his native Ukraine, before stepping into the WBO Champion, Krzysztof Glowacki’s Gdansk, Poland backyard in September 2016. Glowacki was 26-0 at the time but Usyk handled him with ease to win a World Title in just ten fights, via wide unanimous decision.
In his first defence, he made a USA and HBO debut, knocking down South African, Thabiso Mchunu three times before stopping him in nine. Next came American Michael Hunter in Maryland. After a slow start, Usyk dominated the contest, dropping Hunter in the last round, before winning handily on the cards.
This win lead Usyk to entering the World Boxing Super Series, and his quarterfinal opponent would be former long-time WBO Title holder, Marco Huck in Berlin. Germany. Usyk was rarely in trouble even though Huck was game throughout. Usyk eventually stopped Huck in the tenth round after a barrage of unanswered blows forced the end of the contest. This win set up a semi-final with Mairis Briedis, the WBC Champion, and the fight was set for Briedis’ hometown of Riga, Latvia in January this year. The fight was a barnburner, and Usyk was tested perhaps for the first time in his pro career. Usyk managed to eke out the win via majority decision to unify, and he again arrives in an opponent’s backyard this Saturday as he bids to make Cruiserweight history by holding all four belts simultaneously.
Murat Gassiev, however, will be no pushover and will arrive in Moscow full of confidence and focused on all of the belts remaining in Russia. Gassiev turned over in 2011 after a short amateur career. He beat journeymen on his way up, well known to British fight fans. Ivica Bacurin, who has fought Joe Joyce and Tony Bellew was outpointed over ten in December 2013, and Danii Peretyenko, who fought the likes of Tyson Fury, Dereck Chisora and David Price, amongst others, was stopped in a round six months later as Gassiev moved to 17-0.
Three fights later he made a quiet US debut, stopping Terrance Smith in the fourth of a six rounder in California. Two more USA knockout wins followed, before the only blemish on Gassiev’s record. In an IBF Title eliminator, Gassiev hit Isiah Thomas after the bell to end the third round, and Thomas was unable to continue. The bout was ruled a no contest.
Gassiev hasn’t dwelt on that since, in fact, he has gone from strength to strength. After knocking out Jordan Shimmell in the US in a round, he captured the IBF Cruiserweight Title by beating his countryman, Denis Lebedev via split decision in Moscow. Lebedev was the WBA (Super) Champion as well as the IBF World cruiserweight champion coming into the fight. Gassiev was unable to win the WBA title, due to Lebedev’s handlers submitting a request to the WBA to recognise the fight with Gassiev as a “non-title” encounter. The WBA had no issue with approving their application, because Gassiev was not their mandatory challenger, robbing Gassiev of a second Title belt.
He entered the World Boxing Super Series, and knocked out Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in his Quarter Final in New Jersey, defending his IBF Title for the first time. In his semi-final in Sochi, Russia, he added the WBA (Super) Title to his IBF strap by stopping Yunier Dorticos in the last round, in another tense and enthralling clash, and he goes into the final against Usyk full of confidence.
This is a great 50/50 match up, and should be a cracker. I feel Usyk has the edge though, due to his amateur schooling and he excels under pressure. If Usyk can keep the contest at range and his pace, I think he can edge Gassiev out on the cards.