OLEKSANDR USYK DEBUT: Did you get the answers you seek?
“Usyk is coming”; The DAZN tag line for the marketing campaign promoting the Ukrainian fighter, Oleksandr Usyk’s move from cruiserweight to heavyweight had the desired effect.
It elicited excitement about an already entertaining heavyweight division and raised a lot of questions, most prominent of which was: In this age of very big heavyweights, can a Usyk, skilled as he is, genuinely compete against the top tier fighters in the division?
Since the announcement last year, fans have waited patiently for Usyk’s first test at heavyweight, enduring a number of delays: Usyk's injury, Carlos Takam fight falling through and even a last-minute change of opponent. On October 12, 2019 however, the wait was over and Usyk stepped in the ring against Chazz Witherspoon in Chicago.
The bout started with Witherspoon on the offensive probing with his quick jab. Usyk seemed to respect Witherspoon’s power when the bigger man threw the right hand. Usyk landed a left to the body when Witherspoon came in with a right hand that missed. Usyk was content with moving around and trying to figure Witherspoon out.
In Round 2, Oleksandr Usyk picked up the pace, jabbing to the body and head, finding success. Roles were reversed in the round with Witherspoon circling to avoid the Usyk jab. Usyk got Witherspoon in a corner on two occasions but Witherspoon threw the right hand and backed Usyk up to create space.
In the third round, Witherspoon held center of the ring and worked behind the jab, catching Usyk a few times. Usyk cautiously looked for openings and landed jabs to the head and body. Usyk landed a few straight lefts and backed Witherspoon against the ropes.
In Round 4, fatigue started to show as Witherspoon was being made to expend a lot of energy moving around the ring backwards. Usyk caught Witherspoon in a corner and unloaded a 4-punch combination. Witherspoon countered with a right hand and was able to walk out of trouble. Usyk followed up with a couple of shots to the body and then landed another 3-punch combo that pushed Witherspoon against the ropes.
The fifth round saw more of the same; Oleksandr Usyk continued to find the jab and land left hands to the body and head. His movement had Witherspoon on the back foot all round and Witherspoon looked gassed in the corner after the round.
In the 6th Round, Usyk landed a four-punch combination to the head and body that put Witherspoon in the corner but Usyk did not take advantage and allowed Witherspoon to get out. Usyk started to land more power punches and threw a 5-punch combo at the end of the round but didn’t land cleanly on all of them. Usyk was cruising through the fight at this point.
In Round 7 Usyk came out stalking Witherspoon and landed a sharp left hook. Usyk got as many looks as he wanted; he landed shots to the head and body, effectively slipping Witherspoon’s occasional counters. Witherspoon took a good amount of punishment in the last minute of the round as Usyk swarmed him with combinations.
Witherspoon tried multiple times to fight back with right hands but missed on most of his counters. Witherspoon was fatigued and refused to come out of the corner for the 8th. The referee called the fight and Oleksandr Usyk won his first bout in the heavyweight division.
Usyk put in a decent showing but left many unanswered questions. Witherspoon quit on his stool out of fatigue but Usyk cannot count on such goodwill against the seasoned, well-conditioned incumbents currently at the top of the division.
Witherspoon was able to successfully push Usyk back multiple times with the right hand. Think about what a Wilder or Joshua right hand would do.
I like the high activity, high boxing IQ style of Oleksandr Usyk but still have reservations as to whether he can effectively close the distance between him and the top big men to get on the inside and score points (Notice I didn’t say “do damage” as nothing in the Witherspoon fight made me think Usyk’s power would bother any of the top heavyweights). Usyk would do well to pace himself in the division and fight a couple more tune up fights before aiming for the top draws in the division.