By: Eric Lunger
The Quarter-finals of the World Boxing Super Series tournament opened last night at the venerable Max Schmeling Halle in Berlin, where long time German Cruiserweight champ Marco Huck took on heavily favored Ukrainian WBO belt holder Oleksandr Usyk, the former Olympic champ and teammate of Vasyl Lomachenko.
In the opening round, Usyk showed incredible footwork for a 200 pounder, moving in and out, changing range and angles, even toying with changing stance.
Huck, no rookie, patiently waited for a chance to set his feet and throw a punch, but had little opportunity. Huck did manage to get inside once, where he held Usyk’s head with the left while throwing right hooks – a professional tactic, to put it charitably. Nonetheless, Usyk scored with jabs to the body and head. First round to Usyk, 10-9.
The second round saw better work from Huck, who started to time Usyk and land counter rights to the body. Usyk took over in the second half of the round, however, using his considerable reach to establish a double jab, for which Huck had no answer. Usyk pinned Huck against the ropes late in the round, but the veteran German knew enough to extricate himself at once. Usyk 20-18.
Usyk came out in the third determined to up his tempo and punch output, but Huck is not easy to intimidate. Despite some good counters and some offense from Huck, the Ukrainian champ dominated the round with his foot work and hand speed.
Moments before the bell and sensing some fatigue in his opponent, Usyk slipped to his right and landed a punishing left hook that seems to stun Huck. Usyk 30-27.
In round four, Huck came out aggressively and found a way through Usyk’s guard with a good left hook. But Usyk fired back immediately, following his jab and scoring with his left. Huck continued to look for his straight right, even to the point of leaning in, and was duly punished by Usyk, who pounced on the error. Nonetheless, a close round, maybe with the edge to Huck. Usyk 39-37.
In the fifth, the Ukrainian seemed to realize that Huck, though tough and still throwing punches, was not a threat, and Usyk began to let his hands go, looping big shots with both hands. Conditioning also became a factor in this round, as Huck slowed down in the last 30 seconds of this and the following rounds, while Usyk continued to pressure and put combinations together. Usyk 49-46.
The sixth round was defensive and calculating from both fighters, with the champion content to box behind a high guard, dancing and moving out of range of Huck’s short overhand right. Huck took what was offered and began to attack the body, but drew a warning from referee Robert Byrd for a low blow. The German ended the round with a good combination, however, drawing a grin and grimace of frustration from Usyk. Usyk 58-56.
Having essentially taken a round off, the Ukrainian champ came out in the seventh with higher energy and much more focus. While game and always willing to throw back, Huck had no answer for Usyk’s jab, reach, and hand speed. When Usyk put those three elements together, Huck simply covered up and had to weather the storm. In a reverse mirror image of the last round, Usyk ended it with an effective and emphatic combination. Usyk 68-65.
The eighth began with Huck dangerously letting Usyk come in and then throwing clever counters with both hands. Either Usyk had excellent sparring or he had studied Huck’s style carefully, because he never went for the bait. While Usyk dominated the round, he went down on a slip, and Huck followed him, landing a punch while Usyk was on his knees. Although Huck has been known as a “rugged” fighter, this appeared a reaction more than a foul, but referee Byrd deducted a point. Usyk 78-73.
The fight exploded at the bell to start the ninth, as though Usyk had decided to go for a knock out. Huck, to his gritty credit, blasted back, but was immediately warned for holding Usyk’s head down.
Amazingly, Huck then crawled back into the round, landing a sneaky right hook — probably his best shot of the fight. Usyk answered, but Huck showed the savvy and fortitude that fueled his thirteen strait title defenses. A very close round, I gave it to Huck. Usyk 87-83.
The tenth began tactically, with Usyk still fresh, bouncing on his feet, and Huck trying to walk him down. But suddenly Huck slowed down, momentarily resting on the ropes. Usyk pounced, landing a stinging left hook that staggered the tough German. A blizzard of blows followed, with Usyk’s white gloves pouring through Huck’s guard.
Taking punishment and unable to throw, referee Byrd stepped in to save Huck from further punishment.
Huck fought a tough, clever, and resilient fight, as he has throughout his career. But Usyk is a special boxer; he possesses a rare talent and makes this brutal sport look elegant and, at times, easy. With more to come in the World Boxing Super Series, Oleksandr Usyk will have future opportunities to redefine excellence in the cruiserweight division.