One Night in Moscow: Usyk Outclasses Gassiev


By: Ste Rowen

We have a new undisputed champion and king of the cruiserweights. Oleksandr Usyk outclassed the previously unbeaten, Murat Gassiev to claim supremacy of the 200lb division.

The ring walks, the atmosphere, but maybe not the fight itself. Everything we hoped would be tonight almost was. Usyk’s class showed but Gassiev’s quality went missing.


Photo Credit: World Boxing Super Series Twitter Account

The first bell rang and one of the most important fights of this decade began. Gassiev, in metallic-black shorts with a white stripe, seemed to be going with the same tactics as the beginning of his semi-final bout with Yunier Dorticos, allowing Usyk the centre ground and see what he had to give. Usyk, in the white, gold and blue of Ukraine, stalked Murat around the ring, patiently firing off the jab. The two clearly respected the other’s skillset.

It took a minute of the 2nd round for ‘Iron’ Gassiev to show his Ukrainian foe what he was about, landing a heavy head and body combination, which got the crowd going. Usyk was the more active of the two but it was clear, as most predicted, that Murat’s power was a massive influencer in the way Oleksandr was fighting.

It was thought by many that the Russian’s boxing aptitude was underrated heading into tonight, but it was undoubted, even from the early rounds, no other big man moves like Usyk. Heavyweight, Tyson Fury perhaps comes closest, but the Ukrainian has displayed this kind of fluidity consistently against the best of his division. Through rounds 3 & most of 4 it was on show again. It’s testament to Murat that he kept his composure and didn’t allow himself to show frustration early on. However, at the end of the 4th, ‘Iron’ landed a massive right hand from the waist that clearly shook the Ukrainian, enough for Usyk to come in close and hold until the bell.

Usyk proved he was prepared for his opponent’s power though, as he resumed his jab and move tactics into the next round and showed no signs of weariness from that right hand. Into round 7, and the WBC & WBO champion was into his rhythm now, comfortable with his razor sharp 1-2’s and move. Even if he lacked the power his opponent held, Usyk was fighting as if it was an Olympic event.

Gassiev needed to disrupt his rival’s flow. It was clear by the 8th, the Ukrainian was on top. The stablemate of Gennady Golovkin, even with the occasional, cleanly shot, right hook couldn’t force the 2012 Olympic gold medallist back.

By the start of the 10th Usyk was well on top. Murat just looked as if he had no answers, as if Usyk was a step too far. Oleksandr by now had added a nastiness to his shots, they seemed to be taking a little more out of ‘Iron’ than before. In between 9 & 10, Gassiev’s trainer, Abel Sanchez was heard saying,

‘’You’ve got 3 rounds…You’re not going to get the decision unless you put this man on the floor.’’

But what could the Russian do? The southpaw in Usyk was too elusive, too demoralising in every punch he landed. He tapped on Gassiev’s guard and then was gone by the time Murat looked up
In the championship rounds of the WBSS semi-final between Gassiev vs. Dorticos, Murat had the upper hand, it was by no means a formality but ‘Iron’ had the momentum and the lead. Tonight, in round 11, it was one-hitter-quitter time for ‘Iron’.

Does Murat only respect power? He knew Lebedev and Dorticos had it, as well as a world class chin that’s why when they met, Gassiev’s output was high and his boxing measured. Tonight? Not even close. Maybe the Ukrainian just has Gassiev’s number.

As round 12 was upon us, it was now or never, and Abel Sanchez was audibly telling his fighter that in the corner. Usyk never veered from the game plan, firing off fast paced three-punch point scoring combos. They weren’t testing Gassiev’s chin, they were testing his mentality, and with a minute left of the 12th, Murat looked done.

The final 10 seconds, an Usyk Ali-Shuffle, and then the final bell. How fitting for one of the greatest boxing displays in a long time.

The three were from the US and Belgium, we can trust these guys, right? Turns out we could, unlike some of tonight’s undercard bouts. There was no doubt, and the scorecards returned as 120-108, 119-109, 119-109 all in favour of the WBC, IBF, WBA, WBO, Ring Magazine and the Muhammad Ali Trophy champion of the world, Oleksandr Usyk.

Speaking post-fight, the now beltless Gassiev, and now 26-1 (19KOs), was complimentary to his opponent,

‘‘I want to congrats Usyk’s team. I want to thank all boxing fans. This is a very good experience for me…Every fighter is different, and you never know what will happen, you just do the best job you can do. In cruiserweight division you have a chance from first round to the last round. I listen to my corner and do my best.’’

Usyk, now 15-0 (11KOs), was obviously in a much more jubilant mood, loosely translated, the cruiserweight king said,
‘‘Thanks God. Thank you to everyone in my training camp. I was this good in the ring because of my team…The first thing I thought when my hand was raised, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ.’.’’

‘‘We need to take a rest, after that… I heard Tony Bellew is looking for a fight. Tony Bellew, are you ready? If he doesn’t wanna go down, I will go up.’’

Whatever happens next, for the first time in cruiserweight history, all four belts now belong to one man.

The undercard…

Cecilia Braekhus vs. Inna Sagaydakovskaya

Fighting for every belt conceivable in the women’s game, Cecilia Braekhus retained her undisputed status by defeating unbeaten challenger Inna Sagaydakovskaya via 10-round decision.

From the first bell, and as expected, Braekhus looked the more comfortable of the two boxers, Inna 7-0 (3KOs), wasn’t afraid to let her hands go and attempt to gain the early respect from the ‘First Lady’ but, the Norwegian was efficient with her punches. When Sagaydakovskaya threw – and missed – three shots, Cecilia landed cleanly with one.

In round three, with Braekhus on top, the undisputed champion slipped and as she was down, the Russian helped herself to a free shot. It did nothing but anger Cecilia. The overhand right from the Norwegian seemed to be landing every time. ‘Ice Queen’ Sagaydakovskaya, though persistent, was unable to stop the power punches landing.

By round 7, the ‘First Lady, trained by Jonathan Banks, was proving her class. The latest challenger to her throne was very game but ultimately a level below. Round 8 seemed to epitomise the fight.

The Colombian-born, Braekhus, went through the motions, making every shot, every manoeuvre seem simple, as the ‘Ice Queen’ struggled to find a way in and land a bout-changing punch.

Sagaydakovskaya’s conditioning is to be applauded. She was relentless in her offense, even in 2-minute rounds, and so obviously behind. Braekhus almost took her Russian foe out before the final bell as she put her foot down in the 10th, but even though she didn’t get Inna out of there early, it was mightily impressive from the welterweight.

The final scorecards weren’t revealed, but Braekhus was announced as the winner by unanimous decision and still, the WBC, IBF, WBA, WBO & IBO welterweight champion of the world.

Fedor Chudinov vs. Nadjib Mohammedi

Fighting for the WBA ‘International’ super middleweight strap, Fedor Chudinov scored a controversial 12-round split decision victory over Nadjib Mohammedi.

The two fighters made a tentative start to the bout, both choosing to fight off non-committal jabs, and it was close heading into round four, if a little too slow for the crowd’s liking. Chudinov seemed to have the edge though. His punches were having more of an effect on Mohammedi than the Frenchman’s were having on Fedor.

‘Flat footed’ is something that is continuously used to describe the Russian, and in little bursts of the fight, Chudinov was victim to brief, quick-handed assaults from his opponent that a more agile boxer would’ve avoided.

The bell for round 6 seemed to flick a switch in Mohammedi, who headed into tonight with a 40-5 (23KOs) record, as he came out swinging, trying to gain the initiative in a fight lacking sustained action. Whilst Chudinov did regain control of the pace of the fight, he continued to use his head as his best defence, and even through rounds 7 & 8, when the Russian was on top, Nadjib was landing point scoring counters which the judges should’ve noticed.

Mohammedi, who built his career fighting at light heavyweight, was unbeaten as a super middle and in rounds 9 & 10 he looked the brighter and more comfortable of the two. By now, Fedor had been resigned to wild, hopeful swinging. The championship rounds gave us more of the same from the Frenchman, specifically in the 10th as he teed off on his Russian foe’s face. There wasn’t even any urgency from Fedor as the bell rang for the 12th round, he was robotic in his movements – if the robot was slowly shutting down.

The fight went the distance, and it felt as if only ‘hometown’ judge’s cards stood between Nadjib and the victory. Sadly, this is boxing, and that’s exactly what we got. The judge’s scores came back as, 115-113, 111-118, 116-112, officially, a split decision victory in favour of Chudinov. Even Fedor, now 18-2 (12KOs) couldn’t disguise his surprise in having his arm raised. The Moscow crowd booed the result and then cheered Mohammedi as he protested in the ring.

The only semblance of justice now is for an immediate rematch to be called, don’t expect Mohammedi to return to Russia anytime soon.

Mairis Briedis vs. Brandon Deslaurier

World Boxing Super Series semi-finalist and former WBC cruiserweight champion, Mairis Briedis of Latvia scored a run of the mill 10-round unanimous decision victory over no-hoper Brandon Deslaurier.

Briedis, tonight’s main event injury reserve, went in for the kill straight away. His height and ring presence forcing Deslaurier onto the back foot immediately. It was clear from his physique and array of head and body punching that Mairis had taken training as seriously as if he was fighting in the final against Usyk or Gassiev.

Every now and then ‘The Gypsy Bomber’, Deslaurier landed a single punch that, for half a second, gave Briedis something to think about, but through to round 3, there was only one man winning this fight. More of the same continued into the 5th but, Brandon looked more comfortable now, fighting off the backfoot, maybe believing, at some point, the 3rd best cruiserweight in the world would tire.

He didn’t, and even though Deslaurier proved more resilient than he looked, into round 8, Mairis donning a pretty impressive handlebar moustache, was proving two or three levels above his French foe. Deslaurier is of course not even close to the challenge that Briedis faced when he took on tonight’s WBSS finalist, Usyk, but it does make you wonder, if the Latvian had started a little more liberally, a little less jab-and-hold at times against the Ukrainian, maybe he would’ve been fighting a very different kind of fight tonight.

The 10th and final round didn’t change either fighter’s tact. The former WBC champ beat and bullied the Frenchman around the ring, but it seemed as if he was holding something back. Briedis seemed happy enough with his performance by the final bell, and after all, the result was never really in doubt. The final scorecards were all of course, in favour of Mairis.

Now, 24-1 (18KOs), there are so many great matchups to look forward to for Briedis. Whether it be Usyk or Gassiev, fellow defeated semi-finalist Yunier Dorticos, or any of the other Ring Magazine’s top 10 200lb fighters. You have to seriously go out of your way to make a bad fight at cruiserweight.

In the non-televised bouts…

– The latest in a long line of rising Ukrainian prospects, Serhii ‘El Flaco’ Bohachuk, fighting at junior middleweight, moved to 10-0 (10KOs) with a stoppage victory over Georgian, Nikolozi Gviniashvili.

– In another 154lb bout, Konstantin Ponomarev, 34-0 (13KOs) heading into the bout, tasted his first professional defeat as he dropped a split decision to fellow Russian, and now 7-0 (6KOs), Sergey Vorobiev. 94-96, 97-94, 96-94 were the final scorecards after 10 rounds.

– The early surprise on the card, middleweight, Magomed Madiev, now 11-0-1 (4KOs) fought out a 10-round split decision draw with Argentine, Guido Nicolas Pitto. Mediev was expected to take the WBA ‘Asia’ and IBF ‘International’ belts up for grabs, but the final scorecards returned as, 96-94, 94-96, 95-95.

– Former junior amateur world champion, Vladimir Shishkin moved to 7-0 (4KOs). The super middleweight stopped Russian southpaw, Gasan Gasanov in the 5th round to claim the WBA ‘Continental’ strap.

– Denis Shafikov moved to 40-4-1 (20KOs) thanks to an underwhelming 10-round unanimous decision victory over Filipino journeyman, Jhon Gemino.

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