By Jonah Dylan
Aleksandr Usyk made a successful heavyweight debut this weekend when he beat short-notice replacement Chazz Witherspoon by 7th round stoppage. We learned nothing, because this was basically just a showcase. But let’s project Usyk’s chances against the top heavyweights, because he’s heading for big things in 2020.
Here’s the thing: there’s no one who can withstand the punch Wilder destroyed Dominic Breazeale with. If he lands that, against anyone in the world, it’s over. That’s why I rank him No. 1 and would favor him against any heavyweight.
And for the record, Tyson Fury did not take that same punch. Wilder hit him with two good shots, and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how Fury got up. But it wasn’t the same punch.
Still, you’d have to think Usyk would have some success against Wilder. They’re both small heavyweights and would probably come in at similar weights, but Usyk would have a huge speed advantage. While we don’t know how Usyk’s chin will hold up against heavyweights, his performance against Murat Gassiev – a huge puncher at cruiserweight – is certainly an encouraging sign. Wilder telegraphs his punches, so Usyk’s speed and footwork would allow him to stay out of danger, at least early on.
If this fight made it to the final bell, Usyk would almost certainly be the winner. And I’d give Usyk a better shot than anyone outside Fury to go the distance with Wilder. But Wilder’s power makes him the clear favorite here.
This is the fight that the purest of boxing fans are salivating about. Fury is an anomaly in so many ways, especially against heavyweights: his head movement, activity and defense are just in another world. Sound like someone we know?
Usyk would be much, much smaller, and Fury would lean on him all night. This fight would in all likelihood go the distance and would come down to which guy was more effective at neutralizing the other guy’s jab. Usyk would have the quickness advantage, but Fury’s size would be a major problem.
Usyk might be the most skilled fighter in the world this side of his good friend Vasiliy Lomachenko, but he wouldn’t have much of an advantage against Fury. This probably wouldn’t be a very fun fight for casual fans to watch, but I see Fury as having enough success with his size advantage to get the nod.
We’ll obviously learn a lot more about Ruiz after he fights Anthony Joshua in their rematch on Dec. 7. Ruiz has elite hand speed and showed he can punch in the first Joshua fight, but there are still a lot of unknowns with him. I also don’t see a lot of scenarios where he faces Usyk in the near future, regardless of what happens in the Joshua fight.
Against Joshua, Ruiz is clearly the more active fighter. Against Usyk, he wouldn’t be, and I’m not sure he has the power to really keep Usyk on his toes. We haven’t seen Ruiz in with anyone like Usyk (really, is there anyone like Usyk?), so projecting this type of a fight isn’t an exact science.
Usyk would find a way to outwork Ruiz, who wouldn’t have the ability to end things with one punch. And Usyk would neutralize Ruiz’s hand speed with his movement, leaving Ruiz to spend most of the night trying to find him.
This is the fight Eddie Hearn had in mind when he first signed Usyk to a co-promotional contract last year. Every plan Hearn had for Joshua temporarily went off the tracks on June 1, but this fight comes back into play if Joshua can regain his titles in the Ruiz rematch.
This is a really interesting style matchup. Joshua can get outboxed for long stretches, but he usually finds a way to land enough big shots to get a stoppage. He clearly has serious problems with his defense and chin, but I’m not sure Usyk – who wasn’t really a big puncher at cruiserweight – would have the ability to hurt him.
Joshua needs to figure out how to use his jab, something that was MIA against Ruiz. If he can control Usyk from the outside, he could make things really difficult for the Ukrainian. Again, we don’t know if Usyk’s chin will hold up against huge punchers like Joshua, but there’s a path here for Joshua to control the fight without necessarily knocking Usyk out.
Still, it’s easy to see how Usyk would outbox Joshua and avoid getting hit. This would be a great matchup and would be very tough to project. I’d give Usyk the slightest of edges, but a lot depends on what adjustments Joshua makes in the Ruiz fight.
For what it’s worth, Usyk is the WBO mandatory challenger and can fight the winner of Ruiz-Joshua II if he wants. It’s also very possible that the winner of that fight will vacate the WBO belt, which would leave Usyk to fight the next highest rated contender for the belt. After Usyk, the top fighters in the WBO rankings are Fury, Joshua and Joseph Parker. So if he does fight for a world title in his next fight, it won’t be easy.
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