Peter Wells is back this week with his official Oleksandr Usyk vs Murat Gassiev prediction ahead of a fight that for the first time will see one man in the cruiserweight division unify the belts.
As wallets will be emptied for next week’s fringe world-class Heavyweight clash between Dillian Whyte and Joseph Parker, there will be far less of the casual fight fans paying for the privilege to watch the two finest Cruiserweights on the planet put all their respective world title belts on the line in a contest that will be unable to resist itself from exceeding expectations.
It’s not a knock against anyone, it is just the way the world works. Whyte and Parker are more recognisable names, and it is easy for Eddie Hearn to chuck a number of other known names onto the undercard – in fights that are more 80/20 with the bookies – and claim the fee you pay is for the full card and not just the main event.
But in this World Boxing Super Series final, live on ITV Box Office, fans will be paying for a main course, and one that will fill you to the brim.
Oleksandr Usyk 14-0(11KO’s) and Murat Gassiev 26-0(19KO’s) put their WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF championship belts – the former two belong to Usyk and the latter two are held by Gassiev – on the line in arguably the most anticipated event of the year.
The Eastern European juggernauts have brought shine back to a division that has always produced excitement.
In Russia’s Gassiev – fighting out of Big Bear, California – you have the perfect blend of destructive power and intellectual boxing skills. When in full flow one does not know whether to wince with the pain he is inflicting on his opponent or applaud in admiration for perfect precision of his punches.
Since beating Denis Lebedev (SD 12) – once the division’s leader – he has grown from a marginal outsider to a man on the brink of stardom. Mandatory Krzysztof Wlodarczyk was wiped out in 3 rounds to start this tournament with a bang, before he added to his collection when ousting WBA champ Yunier Dorticos in an early fight of the year candidate this February, scoring a stunning victory in the 12th and final round.
His record may suggest he is a puncher, but Ukraine’s highly skilled amateur-turned world champion is a boxer at heart. But outside of these slick skills and smart judging of distance, Usyk has a mean streak to him which changes the game completely.
It was never about if Usyk would become a world champion, it was all about when. It didn’t take long before he dethroned Krzysztof Glowacki on points before less impressive wins over lesser opponents came against Thabiso Mchunu (KO 9) and Michael Hunter (UD 12). But Usyk looked his mean self again when he pummelled the ageing Marco Huck (TKO 10) before his epic battle with Mairis Briedis (MD 12) in January.
Both are as ready to take the final step in Cruiserweight domination as they could ever be. But this is far from being a fight that can be defined in the simple terms of boxer vs puncher. This is the full package facing off against the full package.
Gassiev will be buoyed by home advantage in Moscow, but Ukrainians will decent upon the arena in high numbers, making an atmosphere that both can equate to.
There is the slight feeling that Usyk will better grasp the ability to manage the fight, making this a fight that abides to his rules. But with both fighters so capable of coming on strong late, this could well come down to who makes the first incisive move early on.
Likewise it could be determined by who sets the pace higher and who can ride it out better.
While the belief is that Gassiev will be the one who notches the tempo up, it may be Usyk who comes on the strongest down the stretch.
I do not expect Gassiev to start as slowly as he did against Dorticos, and while that will ensure he does not slip into a large early deficit, it does mean that he may not be in such a great advantage as he was in that fight in the latter stages.
Dorticos felt the pace and Gassiev was hitting the gas, but with less in reserve – thanks in part to a more active start – then Usyk will be the one with more in the tank come the championship rounds.
A stoppage is possible in the final quarter – but for this writer it is unlikely. Neither will gas out to a point where they are a sitting duck, and both have more than enough about them defensively to avoid being the subject of excessive damage.
The pick therefore is for Usyk to once again find a way to turn the fight in his favour, despite losing ground in the mid-rounds. Gassiev will be relentless in his pursuit of breaking the marginal favourite’s rhythm, but it will not quite be enough to convince all three judges that he has done enough.
With little in it, Usyk will go on the offensive late, ensuring he walks away with all four belts on a split/majority decision verdict.