Former undisputed cruiserweight champion Aleksandr Usyk finally made his long-anticipated heavyweight debut with a seventh-round stoppage of Chazz Witherspoon last Saturday in Chicago. Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), who hadn’t fought since knocking out Tony Bellew last November, needed a few rounds to warm up against the 38-year-old veteran but once he got into his rhythm the Ukrainian southpaw displayed the skills and athleticism that earned him all four major 200-pound world titles (plus the Ring Magazine belt) and the consensus 2018 Fighter of the Year honor.
Usyk, who tipped the scales at 215 for Witherspoon and was outweighed by 37 pounds, was the dominant force at cruiserweight. Whether he can dominate at heavyweight remains to be seen. Usyk was initially scheduled to make his heavyweight debut on May 25 against experienced gatekeeper Carlos Takam before a torn biceps forced him to withdraw from the date. Takam, who has mixed it up with several notable heavyweights, including Anthony Joshua, Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin, would have likely asked more questions of Usyk than Witherspoon did.
So, what did beating Witherspoon, a former prospect who had won eight bouts vs. nondescript opposition since being stopped by Seth Mitchell in 2012, prove? For starters, it means Usyk is officially done with cruiserweight, so the Ring Magazine championship is once again vacant (at least until Mairis Briedis and Yunier Dorticos, the Nos. 1- and 2-rated cruiserweights fight in the World Boxing Super Series final).
His No. 5 spot in the pound-for-pound rankings, which was earned by winning the first WBSS cruiserweight tournament, remains unchanged.
But does Usyk deserve a spot in The Ring’s heavyweight top 10? Most of the Ring Ratings Panel said no. Anson Wainwright was the lone contrarian.
“Usyk forced Witherspoon’s corner to pull him out at the end of the seventh round,” noted Wainwright. “He didn’t show any effects from the injury or inactivity.
“Of course, he doesn’t have the body of work of others at heavyweight but I’d like to see him come in at No. 10. I can completely understand keeping him out – original opponent Tyrone Spong or late-sub or Chazz Witherspoon, who even now isn’t the best fighter in the family – aren’t all that, but Usyk is a top, top fighter.”
Panelist Adam Abramowitz kept his input simple:
“I would not rank Usyk in the heavyweight division until he beats a credible opponent.”
Associate Editor Tom Gray agreed with Abramowitz.
“I’m with Adam here. I strongly believe that Usyk is a heavyweight champion in waiting, but he should enter the rankings when he beats a top 10 or top 15 guy,” Gray said. “We brought David Haye back into the top 10 for beating two unheralded opponents and, with the benefit of hindsight, that turned out to be a mistake.”
Added Panelist Martin Mulcahey:
“Usyk belongs on skills, but still has to beat a formidable heavyweight to get in. He’s a slow starter who is not going to score sensational stoppages, but he will be a top 10 force in a year’s time.”
Panelist Michael Montero, who covered the Usyk-Witherspoon card for RingTV.com, had the last word on the Olympic gold medalist’s heavyweight status.
“I agree that Usyk can’t enter the heavyweight ratings until he beats a ranked guy,” Montero said. “I’m curious to see if/how his power and punch resistance will look against the division’s elite. In terms of skills, he’s the best heavyweight on earth already.
“Having been in Chicago for fight week, speaking with fans, there is definitely buzz in the Ukrainian-American community for Usyk. He’s already a star in their eyes. Can that translate over to the casual American fan? Only time will tell.”
RING RATINGS UPDATE – October 5-12
Pound for Pound – Usyk remains at No. 5. Gennadiy Golovkin, who fought on October 5, remains at No. 7.
Heavyweight – No changes.
Cruiserweight – The championship is vacated now that Usyk is campaigning at heavyweight. No. 2-rated Murat Gassiev, inactive for more than a year due to injuries and slated to make his heavyweight debut soon, also exits. Battle-tested Polish veteran Michal Cieslak enters at No. 10.
Wainwright suggested once-beaten Alexsei Papin. Mulcahey proposed Constantin Bejenaru, Lawrence Okolie and Cieslak, and suggested 9-0 prospect Aleksei Egorov. I thought Cieslak’s resume was slightly better than the rest.
Light heavyweight – Dmitry Bivol holds No. 3 spot after outpointing Lenin Castillo in defense of his WBA title on the Usyk-Witherspoon undercard.
Middleweight – Golovkin remains at the No. 1 spot after narrowly outpointing Sergiy Derevyanchenko in a hard-fought 12-round battle for the
vacant IBF title on October 5 in New York City. Derevyanchenko, who some observers believe performed well enough to deserve the decision, advances one spot, from No. 6 to No. 5. No. 8-rated Kamil Szeremeta stayed busy with a second-round stoppage of Oscar Cortes on the Golovkin-Derevyanchenko undercard.
“Golovkin stays at No. 1,” said Mulcahey. “I thought he edged fight, but with more certainty than others, with Derevanchenko, and, just as importantly, he made that separation in championship rounds.
“I agree that Derevanchenko deserves to move ahead, over (Ryota) Murata, who runs hot and cold. I also agree that Szeremeta needs a better opponent for move into better neighborhood.”
Junior welterweight – Ivan Baranchyk remains at No. 4 following a fourth-round stoppage of unrated gatekeeper Gabriel Bracero on the Golovkin-Dereveyanchenko undercard.
Featherweight – Josh Warrington holds the No. 2 spot after a stay-busy second-round KO of unrated veteran Sofiane Takoucht on October 12 in his native Leeds, England.
Flyweight – Japan national champ Junto Nakatani advances one spot, from No. 10 to No. 9, after stopping former junior flyweight titleholder Milan Melindo in six rounds on October 5 in Tokyo.
Junior flyweight – Champion Hiroto Kyoguchi defended his Ring and WBA titles with a unanimous decision over game, Ring-rated veteran Tetsuya Hisada on October 1 in Osaka. Melindo exits 108-pound ratings. Mexican prospect Daniel Valladares (21-1, 13 KOs) enters at No. 8.
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