13 October 2019 01:54
As far as heavyweight debuts are concerned, Oleksandr Usyk has had a difficult time making the kind of resounding statement many anticipated following a consensus fighter of the year campaign. Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), who capped off 2018 by becoming the first four-belt undisputed cruiserweight champion and sending Tony Bellew to retirement via knockout, has seen his much-hyped move up to boxing's glamour division routinely slowed by injury and happenstance. A native of Ukraine, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist finally returns Saturday (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET) at Wintrust Arena in Chicago against a late replacement in 38-year-old Chazz Witherspoon (38-3, 29 KOs) who does anything but elicit the idea of danger or hectic competition. Still, Usyk's assault on the heavyweight division has fans interested due to his lofty intentions after this weekend. Usyk, a 32-year-old southpaw, certainly brings good size to heavyweight at 6-foot-3 yet the real intrigue will be seeing how his sublime boxing skills mesh with the best in the division considering he's not known as a huge puncher.
Subscribe to our podcast--State of Combat with Brian Campbell--where we take an in-depth look at the world of boxing each week. Originally, Usyk had talked about moving quick and making a splash by facing someone the caliber of former secondary titleholder Alexander Povetkin. Talks quickly shifted to another durable veteran in Carlos Takam until a torn right biceps injury forced Usyk to pull out of their originally scheduled date of May 25. Usyk was ultimately forced to settle for Tyrone Spong, a former kickboxing star with power and an unbeaten record, until a failed drug test for the banned substance clomiphene saw him pulled from the fight on Monday. Given the extreme late notice, Witherspoon brings both a name and a decent record as the second cousin of former heavyweight titleholder Tim Witherspoon but not much more.
Although Witherspoon is 8-0 since 2012, the level of opposition he has faced has been dismal. Among those defeats was a 2012 TKO loss against Seth Mitchell who ultimately failed his attempt to convert from a college football background to become a serviceable heavyweight. Usyk kept his words short and sweet when asked about Spong's failed test during an interview this week with IFL TV, saying, "I don't even want to talk about this, I think this is very dirty stuff." He had even less to say about Witherspoon. "I'm going to say a few words from a bible which says, 'prepare your horse for the war and winning will come from the God,'" Usyk said. What Usyk is hoping for is a title shot in his next bout and has been steadfast since he first announced a move to heavyweight that he wants the biggest challenges possible. Although it's possible he could loom as a candidate to face the winner of the Dec. 7 rematch between Anthony Joshua and unified champion Andy Ruiz Jr. (particularly if Joshua wins given that Usyk fights on DAZN), Usyk would prefer unbeaten WBC champion Deontay Wilder. "Of course I want to fight [Joshua and lineal champion Tyson Fury] but right now at this point, the most I want to fight, I want to fight Wilder because he has a belt in green and green is my most important color," Usyk said. "I challenge Wilder. I am ready to fight him in his hometown." "He says I'm not a threat to him, so I'm ready to show him what I am. He [will] not even win a round with me, I am the best in the world." Wilder remains busy, of course, having scheduled rematches against Luis Ortiz on Nov. 24 and Fury for Feb. 22. "The Bronze Bomber" also made headlines earlier this month by saying Usyk "isn't a threat to me" and that "he's too small." In the co-main event, Dmitry Bivol puts his WBA light heavyweight title on the line against Lenin Castillo. The 28-year-old from Russia will be looking to make his fifth defense of the strap after securing the full belt by first-round knockout in 2017. Fight card Fight Weightclass Oleksandr Usyk vs. Chazz Witherspoon Heavyweights Dmitry Bivol (c) vs. Lenin Castillo WBA light heavyweight title Anthony Sims Jr. vs. Morgan Fitch Light heavyweights Usyk is simply on another level when it comes to footwork, hand speed and angles against bigger fighters and that should only be amplified at heavyweight. While he still needs to prove his chin and durability can last in a higher division against elite talent, we simply aren't likely to find that out against Witherspoon. Look for Usyk to pick apart his plodding opponent with ease before ultimately stopping him. It may have taken longer than expected to get to this point, but Usyk will still be able to deliver a strong opening statement in a long-awaited heavyweight debut. Pick: Usyk via TKO6 Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine is set to make his heavyweight debut against Chazz Witherspoon (Picture: Getty) Oleksandr Usyk believes he is already living in Deontay Wilder's head ahead of his eagerly anticipated heavyweight debut. The Ukrainian fighter has dominated the cruiserweight division but has not fought for almost a year since defeating Britain's Tony Bellew in brutal and convincing fashion at the MEN Arena last November. Usyk has won all 16 of his professional fights and will retain his status as the mandatory challenger to the WBO heavyweight title holder should he extend his unbeaten record against American Chazz Witherspoon this evening. Wilder, however, believes Usyk, who is four inches shorter, is too small to challenge the established heavyweight order which also includes the likes of Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. 'He's not a threat to me,' WBC champion Wilder told Sky Sports. 'He's too small for me. Oleksandr Usyk hasn't fought since beating Tony Bellew at cruiserweight since last November (Picture: Getty) Responding to Wilder's barbs, Usyk said: 'I really don't care what he's saying. Actually, I like that he's talking about me because it means I'm already into his head. 'He's a champion and knows what it takes. I like that he's thinking about me.' Bellew, meanwhile, who lasted eight rounds against Usyk, believes the 32-year-old would represent a significant threat to Wilder, but would struggle against both Joshua and Fury. Asked which heavyweight Usyk would stand a chance of beating, Bellew said: 'Wilder, and that's an easy answer. Don't get me wrong, if Wilder lands on him then it's not going to end well for Usyk, but you can say that about any heavyweight who Wilder lands on. 'I just think [Joshua and Tyson Fury] are too big for him. Fundamentally, he's a much better boxer than all of them, and I include Fury in that, but he's just too small to compete with them for 12 rounds. I think the size of Fury and Joshua would be a massive advantage and I don't think Usyk could overcome it. 'If he was to fight Andy Ruiz tomorrow, then I think he'd win that fight by just being himself and doing what he does best. There are only a few guys I don't see him winning against, but he's by far the most skilled fighter in the division and that will always give him a chance.' MORE: Triple H drags away Braun Strowman as Tyson Fury announces WWE match in Saudi Arabia MORE: Eddie Hearn praises Tyson Fury's WWE appearance but can't see Anthony Joshua following suit