Will Oleksandr Usyk break Evander Holyfield’s record?
On July 12, 1986, Evander Holyfield fought his 12th fight as a professional, just over a year-and-a-half since he had left the amateur ranks after the 1984 Olympics, in which he won a bronze medal. On that night in Atlanta, Georgia, he’d go on to beat Dwight Muhammad Qawi over 15 rounds in a classic fight, winning the WBA world cruiserweight title in the process. To this day, no one has won a world title at cruiserweight as quickly as Holyfield. That could all change on Saturday, Sept. 17.
On that evening in Gdansk, Poland, Oleksandr Usyk will challenge the reigning WBO world cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Glowacki. Usyk, a star in his native Ukraine, attempts to break Holyfield’s record. It’s just Usyk’s 10th fight as a pro and yet, he’s the sizable favorite. In this writer’s opinion, rightfully so.
The flamboyant Ukrainian had a storied amateur career, winning Olympic gold in 2012, as well as gold at the World Championships in 2011. However, he didn’t just decide to turn professional right after Olympic glory like many fighters do. After London 2012, he participated in the World Series of Boxing. Five rounds, no headgear, pro-style scoring. At the time, this was all relatively new and was before the overhaul of the amateur ruleset in mid-2013. The WSB had been operating for a few years but, after the 2012 Olympics, was Usyk’s first foray into a new – by his standpoint – realm of fighting.
At the start of 2013, he began his campaign in the WSB for the Ukraine Atamans, who, at the time, had still retained Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. The twist is Usyk fought at super heavyweight, the equivalent of heavyweight in the pro game. Not just average competition either. He fought and defeated Joe Joyce, Magomedrasul Majidov and Mihai Nistor, three Olympians from this past August and three experienced, quality fighters in their own right. Despite being smaller, Usyk’s skills paid the bills and he outboxed all three of them. Nistor, a rugged and relentless, southpaw pressure-fighter was the one who gave him his toughest fight.
All in all, Usyk went undefeated in seven fights in the WSB in 2013 before turning pro in November of that same year with K2 Promotions.
Some of his fights in the WSB were probably harder than any of the pro fights he’s had thus far. That’s the benefit of being able to fight against unpicked, top-level amateurs, those with a size advantage, no less. So going into his pro career, there was already some valuable experience under Usyk’s belt. Turning pro at almost 27 years of age, it was expected that he could be moved quickly, due to his decorated amateur background and WSB experience. It was evident that he could incorporate his style into a pro fighting environment.
For a guy with only nine pro fights, the competition he’s faced has been relatively alright. He fought a 10-rounder in his fifth fight and, so far, has only gone into the ninth round, stopping all of his opponents. He’s not a KO artist but he picks opponents apart and breaks them down, certainly not lacking power to go along with his sublime boxing ability from the southpaw stance. Glowacki’s competition, prior to winning his world title, was around a similar level, despite having more than double the fights of Usyk.
As far as defense goes, Usyk can get hit from time to time. Against anyone below world-class, that hasn’t mattered. He was able to take shots from big strong super heavyweights in the WSB.
Glowacki is, by far, the toughest test of his pro career to date. The Pole burst onto the scene in 2015 with a come-from-behind, 11th round stoppage win of perennial titleholder Marco Huck in a “Fight of the Year” candidate. Glowacki was down and badly hurt in the sixth round. In his most recent fight, he dropped Steve Cunningham four times but did get wobbled and tired down the stretch.
The southpaw champion will be enjoying home advantage in Poland, which always has a chance of being a factor. Usyk has never gone the distance in his pro career and won’t want to for the first time here. Especially with Glowacki’s counterpunching style, some rounds could be quite close without much in them. Usyk likes to work at range and create openings while is good at sitting back and unleashing counters.
This fight has been in the making for quite some time, as Usyk was the mandatory. A tune-up fight earlier in the year against Stephen Simmons was canceled due to an injury. His most recent fight being in December of last year, this will be the longest layoff of his pro career. Will it matter?
In the lead-up to this fight, Usyk has held his camp in Bukovel, Ukraine, which has a bit of altitude, ranging from 3,000 to 4,501 feet. There, one of the sparring partners has been Rostislav Arkhypenko, a super heavyweight amateur on the Ukrainian national team with a lot of WSB and international experience. Glowacki has been sparring with undefeated Swedish pro heavyweight Otto Wallin. Both southpaws, of course.
Despite lacking the pro experience of Glowacki, there’s a reason Usyk is favored by the bookies to win this fight. When he went pro, he was seen as an elite level talent who could be fast-tracked. He’s had hundreds of rounds with elite amateur fighters and in the WSB and he certainly passes the eye test so far as a pro in enough rounds for a guy with nine fights under his belt.
Usyk has talked about breaking Holyfield’s record ever since he turned pro and, politics aside, probably would’ve been capable of attempting this sooner if he had the type of backing like Lomachenko did. Nonetheless, he fought a bunch of fights for a minor WBO belt, became the mandatory and now, at 29 years of age, gets his chance to create a new record.
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.