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WBSS Preview: Oleksandr Usyk vs. Murat Gassiev


By: Ste Rowen

Over four weeks since the 14th June, the soccer world cup has swept Russia and the globe. Overshadowing every other sporting event that dared take place on the same day, week or even months.

Somewhat ironic then that the ‘actual’ biggest sporting event in 2018 will take place six days later and 10km from the climax of the world cup when, in the World Boxing Super Series final, Oleksandr Usyk takes on Murat Gassiev for no less than the WBC, IBF, WBO, Ring Magazine, the actual (no strings, interims or regulars attached) WBA belt, as well as the Muhammad Ali trophy and, arguably most important of all, cruiserweight supremacy.

The fight was originally set to take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia but, like most fights billed for the Middle East, plans fell through weeks after Usyk was forced into postponing the original date due to a shoulder injury. It opened the door for the more logical option of Moscow to take its place.

The Olympiyskiy Arena has hosted the 1980 Olympics, the 2009 Eurovision song contest, and in September it will be the venue for the UFC’s first ever event in Russia, but on Saturday night, the arena will house an estimated 35,000 lucky, bloodthirsty boxing fans.

It’s been a long and explosive road to get to Saturday’s final in Moscow. Way back in the very first 200lb limit quarter final, on the 9th September 2017, when he only held the WBO belt, Usyk taunted and dominated Marco Huck to a 10th round stoppage.

For many, coming into the tournament the Ukrainian southpaw was the outright favourite already, but his September performance in Berlin solidified his number one status amongst a majority of fans. There was no let up from the champ that night in Germany, his movement even more demoralising for Huck than the punches he was landing, which seemed to be every time Oleksandr threw. So, when the referee eventually stepped in, with Marco still on his feet, there were little to no complaints at all.

42 days later, it was Murat’s turn to step into the ring for his quarter final. Due to IBF mandatory commitments, Gassiev had elected to fight Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, a good test for any newly crowned cruiserweight champion. The setting was the Prudential Center in Newark and it was to be a short night as, in the 3rd round, Murat landed a wonderful left hook upstairs/downstairs combination and left the Polish veteran fighting for breath, unable to rise to beat the count.

And so, onto the semi-finals, Usyk to face WBC champion, Mairis Briedis who’d earnt a 12-round decision over Mike Perez, in the only disappointing cruiserweight fight of the whole tournament. Gassiev was to take on then, WBA ‘Regular’ champion Yunier Dorticos who’d steamed through Dmitry Kudryashov in two rounds.

In the ‘WBSS Pre-Fight’ video for Saturday’s bout, Usyk said of his semi-final,

‘‘The first thing I remember is that it was a poor training camp. I could’ve done more work, I should have.’’

And there did seem to be something different about the Ukrainian that night, though many just put it down to a step up in competition. When he took on Mairis, it was the 5th time in a row the 2012 gold medallist had fought away from home (Saturday’s final will be his 6th), and though Usyk displayed the same attempts to dominant, as in his quarterfinal, this time his opponent wasn’t afraid to take punches, to land them. With the Riga crowd screaming him on, Briedis seemed to find another wind again and again, and though Usyk spent the majority of the fight as the aggressor, the Latvian timed his counter punches well enough to keep the fight close. The bout eventually went to the scorecards and was ruled a majority decision to Usyk, now the holder of the WBO and WBC.

A week on from the first semi-final, Gassiev and Dorticos fought an early frontrunner for fight of the year. Dorticos was unafraid of the Russian contingent on his back throughout the fight and started the brighter of the two, but unlike in his quarterfinal, Yunier’s 1-2’s wasn’t having the same effect on this Russian as they did against Kudryashov. As time drew on, it was clear that Murat’s early body attacks were having the lasting effect. In the championship rounds it seemed every punch ‘Iron’ threw shook up the Cuban and in the 12th Gassiev dropped Yunier once, then twice and with 17 seconds left in the fight, rifled Dorticos through the ropes and put an end to proceedings.

It was a fight that stood up alongside past greats such as Holyfield vs Qawi 1 or Haye vs Mormeck, and like the latter, Gassiev came out with two legitimate belts, as months later the WBA would rightfully upgrade the ‘Regular’ belt to the full champion strap.

‘‘Some experts predicted the final would be Gassiev vs. Usyk.’’ said Oleksandr, during his most recent training camp, ‘‘Now Murat and I will fight to be the undisputed world champion.’’

‘‘I’ve set myself on fire. I’m burning. That’s how I characterise my training camp.’’

‘‘We’re going to Moscow. I was not surprised… It doesn’t matter for me. The important thing is to fight, and I have somebody to fight.’’

Never one to give too much away before a fight, Gassiev is keeping a level-headed approach to the final,

‘‘Same as the last camps we do some different things in tactics for a southpaw and other things, nothing changes. Same running, physical exercise, sparring.’’

‘‘Toughest fight for me, for my career. He is number one in the cruiserweight division right now.’’

Ultimately, from hardcore to casual, fans want to see the best fight the best and in terms of the cruiserweights, that’s what we’re getting. For pure, unadulterated boxing, – skill, power, speed, P4P status – this upcoming WBSS final bout is arguably the best fight that can be made right now in this ridiculous sport.

Forget Wilder/Joshua, Spence/Crawford, Inoue/Tete… at least for now anyway.

Across 285 days, 8 fighters, 4 countries, and now 2 finalists.

Ukraine’s biggest vs. Russia’s best to give us an undisputed champion is what boxing, and the world, needs.

We should all be feel. Very feel.

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Usyk Opens as 3-1 Favorite to Defeat Murat Gassiev in WBSS Final


By: Bryant Romero

The stage is set for the Crusierweight final of the Word Boxing Super Series. Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) of Ukraine will take on Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) of Russia for all the marbles of the cruiserweight division in an unusual location for a prize fight in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on May 11. Perhaps a change in location could be in the cards since its being reported that Russia is pushing hard to land the cruiserweight final. Though it would be fair to both finalists to fight on neutral soil, especially since Usyk has already had to fight on hostile territory on two occasions in this tournament.

The 31-year-old Usyk has opened as high as a 3-1 favorite to defeat Gassiev , according to the 5dimes sportsbook. Usyk is coming off a hard fought battle against Latavia’s Mairis Briedis (23-1, 18 KOs) in a good scrap between two undefeated champions. Usyk was legitimately tested for the first time in his so far brief pro career. The Ukrainian however, was able to separate himself though as the rounds progressed, showing a superior workrate, and consistently outboxing Briedis while coming forward. It was the most competitive fight of Usyk’s pro career, but he was the rightful and clear winner earning a majority decision on the scorecards.

It’s only early February but Gassiev on the other hand was already in a fight of the year candidate with Yunier Dorticos (22-1, 21 KOs) of Cuba. In an anticipated matchup between explosive punchers, it sure lived up to the hype as Gassiev and Dorticos produced a dramatic battle at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Alder, Russia. Dorticos started fast giving Gassiev problems with his range, long jab, and workrate. The 24-year-old Gassiev however, was able to turn the fight around after a slow start and slowly but surely started to pick apart the shaky defense of the 31-year-old Cuban. Gassiev would score 3 knockdowns in the 12th and final round forcing a stoppage and sealing the victory, while unifying the IBF and WBA titles in the process.

Gassiev seems very mature beyond his 24 years of age but he will have an uphill battle with Usyk who brings in a very extensive amateur background, pedigree, and a much different boxing style compared to Gassiev’s last two opponents. Usyk’s boxing style has given him the comparisons of being a cruiserweight Lomachenko and he should be the favorite coming into this bout. However, the confidence Gassiev will bring into the fight after unifying two titles and under the guidance of his coach Abel Sanchez who also trains Gennady Golovkin, we could be in for a dramatic battle of this cruiserweight final. May the best man win.

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WBSS: Semi-Final Locations Announced for Gassiev vs. Dorticos


By: Ste Rowen

The clash of the KO kings of the cruiserweight division will land in Sochi on February 3rd.

IBF champion, Murat Gassiev will face WBA ‘Regular’ champion, Yunier Dorticos for a place in the cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series final. A final signed to take place in Saudi Arabia around May next year.


Photo Credit: World Boxing Super Series

It will be Murat’s first fight in Russia since he beat Denis Lebedev to win the IBF belt in December 2016 at Khodynka Ice Palace, Moscow. His one and only defence of the belt he won that night was his quarter final body-shot KO of Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in Newark two months ago.

Along with his fight of the year contender with Youri Kalenga in Paris, this will be Dorticos’ only second fight outside of the US. The Cuban impressively knocked out quarter final opponent, and Russian Dmitry Kudryashov in California to reach the semi-finals.

The two fighters have accumulated thirty-eight knockouts in forty-seven fights between them, as Gassiev’s record stands at 25-0-0 (18KOs) and Dorticos’ to date, 21-0-0 (20KOs).

After the announcement the Russian said,
‘The location for the semi-final was not important for me but the fact that it will be in Russia and the beautiful city of Sochi makes me very glad…Dorticos is a very good, dangerous fighter. It is going to be great test of my skills against an opponent like him.’

‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos said,
‘No matter where I fight I will work hard to take my opponent out… I can’t wait to show Gassiev and the fans in Russia what ‘The KO Doctor’ is about.

The second semi-final between WBO champion, Oleksandr Usyk and WBC champion Mairis Briedis will take place in Briedis’ home town and quarter-final location, Riga, Latvia on 28th January.

Briedis, 23-0-0 (18KOs) eased to a unanimous points decision victory, in a particularly-difficult-watch quarter-final against Cuban, Mike Perez.

13-0-0 (11KOs) Usyk dominated Marco Huck in his quarter-final before stopping the German in the tenth round. It will be Usyk’s fifth fight on the road since he stopped Pedro Rodriguez in the seventh round at the Palace of Sports, Kiev back in December 2015.

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WBSS Preview: Murat Gassiev v Krzysztof Wlodarczyk


By: Ste Rowen

The final Cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series Quarterfinal between current IBF Champion, Murat Gassiev and former IBF & WBC World titlist, Krzysztof Wlodarczyk takes place this Saturday at the Prudential Center, New Jersey.

Despite the draft gala, whereby seeded fighters can choose their opponent, this bout was pre-determined as Wlodarczyk is the mandatory for Gassiev’s IBF belt.

The newly crowned IBF Champion, Murat ‘Iron’ Gassiev (24-0-0 17KOs) has had a sharp rise since his first fight in the US back in January 2015. He began working with renowned trainer Abel Sanchez in 2014, and he was kept busy as the Russian notched up three straight victories including, a scrappy but dominant affair with journeyman Terrance Smith, where Smith forced the referee into stopping the bout due to excessive holding. Then Gassiev scored stoppages over former fringe contender Felix Cora Jr in the ninth, and a second-round dismantling of Rodney Moore. His most notable fight of 2015 though came in a matchup with the then unbeaten, Isiah Thomas, when at the end of the third, Gassiev fired off two big right hands, one after the bell, and Thomas was deemed by the doctor unable to continue and the fight was called a No Contest.

Murat bounced back in devastating fashion almost five months later when he really lived up to his alias, landing an unbelievable left from the waist onto the chin of 21-0-0 at the time, Jordan Shimmell. It set up Gassiev’s biggest, and toughest fight of his career so far against fellow Russian, WBA & IBF Champion, Denis Lebedev. A combination of Lebedev’s chin and Gassiev’s power meant this bout was unlikely to disappoint. A close back and forth shootout throughout but a fifth-round knockdown via a perfect left hook body shot from Gassiev, as well as constant pressure from ‘Iron’ made the different as Murat was crowned the Cruiserweight Champion.

For some strange, incomprehensible reason that only the WBA could conjure up, Lebedev was allowed to keep hold of his WBA belt but of course, Gassiev didn’t leave empty handed from such a gruelling win. And so, the IBF strap will be on the line this weekend.

Krzysztof ‘Diablo’ Wlodarczyk (53-3-1 37Kos) is no stranger to the IBF belt now held by his Russian foe. The veteran Pole won it back in 2006 when he defeated, then unbeaten, Steve Cunningham via a debated Split Decision. He lost it however in the immediate rematch six months later. This time ‘Diablo’ was comprehensively beaten. Not for the want of trying by judge Robert Gibson though who, despite Wlodarczyk taking a ten count in round four and the other two scorecards being 112-116, 112-115, Gibson scored it a draw.

He bounced back quickly though. In the space of almost six months Wlodarczyk scored four straight wins, earning a shot at then WBC Cruiserweight World Champion, Giacobbe Fragomeni. The bout ended in a draw despite Krzysztof scoring a knockdown in the ninth, but the Pole got a second chance almost a year to the day later. ‘Diablo’ left no doubt in the rematch as he scored a TKO in round eight and became a two-time World Champion. His reign lasted for over four years and six defences until he came up against another Russian, in the form of Grigory ‘Pretty Boy’ Drozd. He was soundly beaten and down heavily on all scorecards, in a fight that included Wlodarczyk taking a knee in the eighth. Since then he’s fought and won four times against fringe contenders and earnt his path into the tournament and the chance to become a three-time World Champion.

It seems almost lazy to compare Gassiev with his gym mate, Gennady Golovkin but there are clear similarities between the two, and not just that they both train at Big Bear. He’s got a come forward, seek and destroy attitude added with his ability to cut off the ring expertly.

There’s fearsome power and accuracy in his left hand, and proved in the Lebedev fight that his chin isn’t in doubt.

For Wlodarczyk, this will be his 58th fight and 11th world title fight. He too has shown great power throughout his accomplished career. Though an over reliance in his left hand has allowed his chin to come into question more than a few times. None of the unseeded fighters in either the Cruiserweight or the Super Middleweight draw have won so far, it’s a bad omen for Krzysztof.

The winner will meet Yunier Dorticos in the semi-final of a tournament that continues to deliver.

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The World Boxing Super Series Begins


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.

WBSS

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.

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