For everything undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk has accomplished through just 15 professional fights, it’s only the tip of the iceberg toward what the unbeaten Ukranian has planned for the future.
In July, Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs) became the first cruiserweight — and just the fourth fighter overall in the four-belt era — to unify all recognized world titles in a single division when he won the World Boxing Super Series tournament. On Saturday, he will look to add to that history when he attempts to become the first to defend all four titles as he faces Tony Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs) in Manchester, England (DAZN, 1 p.m. ET).
Should the 2012 Olympic gold medalist be victorious, however, his lofty plans will only escalate from there. The 31-year-old Usyk plans to move up to the heavyweight division, and he has a specific target in mind.
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“I am on my way to the fight with Anthony Joshua,” Usyk said Tuesday through a Russian translator during an interview with Radio Rahim of Seconds Out.
The idea of a future fight against Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), holder of the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles, recently became more realistic when Usyk signed a deal with Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, who also promotes the 29-year-old Joshua.
“My company which I belong to, K2 Promotions, has signed a co-promotional deal with Matchroom for several fights, and I think they did discuss this opportunity or are in the process of discussing at this moment,” Usyk said. “It’s not actually my responsibility talking on future fights, but I am confident that this fight is definitely under discussion.”
A 6-foot-3 southpaw who came up in the same Ukrainian amateur system as current pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko (whose father Anatolyi is Usyk’s trainer), Usyk scored a trio of star-making victories in the WBSS over the last year, with all three bouts coming in his opponent’s home. Usyk stopped former champion Marco Huck in Germany last September, edged Mairis Briedis via majority decision in a January thriller in Latvia and outright dominated Murat Gassiev during their July bout in Moscow. The latter two wins came against unbeaten champions in unification fights, which has set up Usyk as the favorite for fighter of the year should he defeat Bellew on Saturday, once again taking place in his rival’s backyard.
“I had a goal to become the undisputed champion in cruiserweight, and I achieved this goal,” Usyk said. “That’s 100 percent but it’s not the full stop for me, it’s just the end of one stage because I want to improve myself, I want to distinguish myself in other spheres and other sections. All I have now, thanks to the Lord, is something that stays behind me and each coming fight is the new stage that stays in front of me and I enjoy improving myself.”
With his eyes set on the heavyweight division, critics have been torn whether he has the chin and power to dominate as convincingly. Should he prove physically able to handle himself, however, Usyk could find himself as the kind of Kryptonite that most opponents in this super heavyweight era simply aren’t prepared for due to his speed, movement and technique.
“I am interested in the heavyweight division and I’ll tell you why: Many experts say that I shouldn’t go up in weight, that I’m too small for it,” Usyk said. “My size does not allow me to be victorious in this division. But all my life I have been hearing the skepticism that you should not do this and you will not succeed in this. But the Lord tests me and says, ‘Go Sasha, go.'”
Usyk’s goals, however, don’t begin and end with a single title or a victory over one opponent. Just like at cruiserweight, he wants it all.
“I need to become the undisputed heavyweight champion,” Usyk said. “As soon as I become, I will turn back and say, ‘Guys, thank you very much for your participation. Thanks everyone.’ I will thank the Lord, I will go to the ground and say farewell and I will go home.”
To help him prepare for Bellew, a former cruiserweight titleholder who is moving down from heavyweight, Usyk has enlisted the help of former unified champion and countryman Wladimir Klitschko as an occasional mentor and sparring partner. Usyk has called their time together nothing short of an honor, and has praised the 42-year-old Klitschko for how much he has taught him.
As far as what happens when WBC champion Deontay Wilder faces fellow unbeaten lineal champion Tyson Fury on Dec. 1 in Los Angeles, Usyk wasn’t interested in sharing his pick.
“It’s not a good thing to be a predictor,” Usyk said. “I wish they would both punch each other at the same time and fall down together. Anyway, it’s going to be a spectacular fight and I plan on watching.
“[As far as Joshua-Wilder,] I like Joshua better because he doesn’t speak that much. I actually don’t like boxers who talk too much.”
In just five years as a professional, Usyk has let his quick hands do the talking en route to history. Should he get past Bellew on Saturday, big goals and even bigger challenges await him.
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