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.
The World Boxing Super Series Begins
By: Matthew N. Becher
Over the past weekend, the newly created World Boxing Super Series held its very first draft, for its very first tournament. The premise of the new tournament is an open competition for any professional boxer that is ranked in the top 15 of the major sanctioning bodies systems.
In theory the best fighters would face off against one another, until the last man was standing, thus making him the #1 boxer in that weight class. Simple. That is the easy part, the hard part is getting the best fighters to all participate in such a tournament, with everyone having different promoters and so forth. Fortunately, it seems to have worked out for the initial Cruiserweight Tournament.
The seeding of the tournament went as follows. The top 4 fighters were ranked 1-4 by the WBSS, with the four belt holders getting the top rankings.
1: Oleksander Usyk (WBO)
2: Murat Gassiev (IBF)
3: Mairis Briedis (WBC)
4: Yunier Dorticos (WBA)
Then from 1-4, the fighter was allowed to pick or draft his opponent from a group of 4 boxers, for their first round fight. (An exception was made for Gassiev, who had a mandatory against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. That fight was picked for him)
The first round of the tournament looks like this.
Oleksander Usyk (12-0 10KO) v. Marco Huck (40-4-1 27KO)
Murat Gassiev (24-0 17KO) v. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1 37KO)
Mairis Briedis (22-0 18KO) v. Mike Perez (22-2-1 14KO)
Yunier Dorticos (21-0 20KO) v. Dmitry Kudryashov (21-1 21KO)
Literally the best of the best in the Cruiserweight division will be competing against each other, until one is standing with all the belts, the inaugural Muhammad Ali Trophy and possibly a $1 million dollar bonus for advancing though semifinals and the championship round.
The tournament is slated to begin in early September and rap up by Mary of next year. The location of the fights have yet to be determined and will be placed in locations that match up well for each fight.
“To unify a division and spotlight a division that has clearly been underappreciated, even though the fights in the ring are always among the most exciting in the sport, irrespective of the division, that those four champions, if you look at the record – they are all undefeated. Most of their wins, the vast majority have come by knockout. So these are all big punchers, undefeated. I’m really excited,” said Richard Schaefer, the Chairman of the Americas for Comosa, who helped put this field together alongside fellow promoter Kalle Sauerland (the Chief Boxing Officer for Comosa).
This is a very exciting tournament for boxing and especially for the roll out of the new World Boxing Super Series. With formats like this, expect many division to start falling in line and possibly getting to see the best match up against the best in the near future.