Can Oleksandr Usyk Bring Back Cruiserweight Glory?

OLEKSANDR USYK. Cruiserweights get a monster boost with the addition of Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk who defends his world title next month in the City of Angels.

Where did all the good cruiserweights go until now?

WBO cruiserweight titlist Usyk (10-0, 9 KOs) will defend against Thabiso Mchunu (17-2, 11 KOs) on Saturday Dec. 17, at the Inglewood Forum. It’s the only world title fight on the card anchored by Bernard Hopkins farewell fight against Joe Smith Jr. and will be televised on HBO. Golden Boy Promotions, K2 Promotions and Main Events are the promoters.

It’s been a while since cruiserweights made an impact on the boxing world. Those undersized but over 175-pounders don’t seem to fit in anybody’s dream fights.

Usyk, 29, won gold in the 2012 London Olympics and was picked up by K2 Promotions. Ukraine has been providing incredible boxing talent for the past two decades and like his smaller compatriot Vasyl Lomachenko, the cruiserweight Usyk has no shyness about taking a fight in any country or city.

“Usyk went to Poland and won the title from (Krzysztof) Glowacki,” said Tom Loeffler, director of K2 Promotions. “He doesn’t care where he goes. So we’re real excited about his potential.”

Cruiserweights don’t always catch the attention of boxing fans. They’re under-sized heavyweights who usually are too thin or too short. But every so often you come across a gem.

One of the earliest cruiserweight stars was perhaps the shortest: Dwight Muhammad Qawi, formerly known as Dwight Braxton, who was also known as the “Camden Buzzsaw.” He stood in his bare feet around seven inches past five feet. That’s not even a tall lightweight let alone a heavyweight. But Qawi was a pocket-sized destroyer.

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you can recall Qawi’s destructions of ultimate warrior Matthew Saad Muhammad in two all-out wars. Until that time Muhammad was the comeback kid who was able to overcome any losing situation. But when he met Qawi in their light heavyweight battles it was quickly apparent that Muhammad was unable to beat the strong fireplug of a man.

Qawi was a monster in the light heavyweight division and then ran into one of the all-time greats in Michael Spinks. At the time Spinks was still a 175-pounder though he stood 6-foot, 3-inches in height. He would later move into the heavyweight division and defeat Larry Holmes. Qawi just could not beat Spinks.

When the cruiserweight division was formed around 1982 it was perfect for Qawi. In 1985 he met the titleholder Piet Crous of South Africa who held the WBA cruiserweight title. Little by little Qawi broke down the taller man until he was completely broken by the 11th round.

Qawi defended the title a couple of times before he came across another legendary fighter in Evander Holyfield in 1986. At the time Holyfield (11-0) was moving up in weight and not everyone was convinced he could hang with Qawi. Their encounter was everything fans thought it would be as each battered the other and refused to give in. The blows they exchanged and absorbed made fans wince. Holyfield grabbed the title by split decision. It was that close of a fight.

Holyfield would defend the cruiserweight title numerous times before departing for the heavyweight division in 1998. Other cruiserweights would follow in his footsteps fighting as cruisers before moving into the heavyweights. Boxers like Juan Carlos Gomez of Cuba and James “Lights Out” Toney found success as cruiserweights before moving into the big boy division.

Today, Usyk hopes to follow in the footsteps of previous prizefighters that won cruiserweight titles and had the potential to become world champions as heavyweights.

Usyk definitely has company too.

Another cruiserweight that can handle just about any heavyweight trains in Big Bear with Abel Sanchez. His name is Murat Gassiev and most experts feel he can move up to heavyweight too. Could he meet Usyk in the near future?

Gassiev meets Denis Lebedev for the WBA and IBF cruiserweights titles on Dec. 3, in Moscow. It’s a clash of epic proportions.

“That’s a great matchup with Lebedev. The cruiserweight division is very deep,” said Loeffler. “You have Tony Bellew, you have Lebedev, Mchunu, lots of talent in the cruiserweights. Usyk is going to want to show that he is the best in the division.”

Loeffler explains K2 is using the same tack with Usyk that it used to promote middleweight world champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin when he first arrived on American shores.

“I can see a similar thing happening with Usyk. It’s the same thing, he is willing to fight anyone anywhere,” said Loeffler who was the brains behind Golovkin’s ascent to stardom. “I can see Usyk becoming the next star. He is a national star in the Ukraine. He sells out arenas. If he performs well on HBO we’ll see a lot more exposure here.”

Can Usyk follow in Triple G’s footsteps?

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