BERLIN BRAWLING: Whatever glories or debacle may unfold when cruiserweights Oleksandr Usyk and Marco Huck collide September 9th, opening night of the World Boxing Super Series promises a big bang kick off.
Whether related noise comes from the substantial underdog Huck making a real fight of it or from his torso slamming onto the canvas, there will definitely be decibels of destruction.
A majority of fans and oddsmakers expect Usyk’s name to be announced as the winner; in loud and clear English for the Showtime audience, and quite possibly inside the 12 round distance.
The bout for Usyk’s WBO laurels is exceptional in terms of star power and location and means another step toward further paydays and the freshly minted Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Undefeated southpaw Usyk, 12-0 (10), appears destined for elite pound for pound status, and despite recent setbacks Huck is still probably the most high profile boxer in the tourney.
Huck, 40-4-1 (27), bears the most combatively accrued mileage of anyone in the tournament. Huck has won some close decisions that some observers felt were undeserved, but he’s also been on the losing end of controversial calls.
Huck could tilt the applecart if he can equal his 2012 losing effort versus Alexander Povetkin. In what may have been Huck’s best performance, many observers felt Huck rightfully earned a chunk of the heavyweight title pie.
While offering no certainties, recent relative results against common opponent Krzysztov Glowacki seem to back up the current odds. Glowacki rallied to stop Huck in 2015 for the WBO title, and subsequently lost the belt to Usyk by a wide unanimous decision last September.
The series trumpets an impressive combined participant record of 423 wins with only 17 losses. Almost a quarter of those total setbacks belong to Huck, whose four defeats are the most of any participant in a format that definitely favors youth.
That point is not to detract from Huck’s achievements or criticize his inclusion. Huck deserves to be here as much as anyone, if not more so, based on a proven track record. Recent defeats were against the some of the division’s best in Maris Briedis and Glowacki.
One positive attribute that has remained for Huck is durability. Briedis, another tournament entrant, had a reputation for carrying explosive gloves, with a highlight reel implosion of Huck’s amigo Manuel Charr as one of many concussive calling cards.
Huck withstood some big shots from Briedis last April without showing ill effects. Huck also has enough defensive parrying skill to avoid many punches, though his philosophy leans much more toward throwing shots than blocking or picking them off. His lackluster showing against Briedis may have been due to excess caution.
If Usyk gives Huck a taste of something evil, we might see the underdog go into a protective shell, and if Usyk is content with a sure decision the tournament’s most potentially explosive contest could devolve into one of the dullest.
The odds against that are about as much as the tournament’s opening odds against Huck, who seems to understand he is once again just a win away from previous prestige. He will probably go out on his shield.
With semi-finals already scheduled, nobody looks to win a war of attrition. Since wear and tear may be the deciding factor in the finals, getting opponents out of there quickly may be the prevailing strategy.
At a somewhat shopworn 32 years old, Huck was already 27-1 as a pro around the time of Usyk’s professional debut. Since then, Huck has gone 14-3-1 while beating solid opponents like Denis Lebedev, Ola Afolabi and Firat Arslan.
30-year-old Usyk hasn’t fought nearly the amount of upper level foes as Huck, but he also hasn’t taken any of the associated punishment. Huck has rumbled in over 250 more rounds than Usyk (338 to 83 respectively).
The only concern for Usyk’s camp could be in regard to making weight. Full contractual conditions on what procedure occurs if a contestant fails to make weight were unavailable, but at this point everything and everyone involved in the tournament appears to be first class so that’s not likely to be an issue.
What matters is how hard it is for each fighter to get under the limit. For some people, staying below 200 pounds can be just as demanding as a lightweight dropping into the bantams.
The times I’ve seen Huck weigh in, including his most recent bout in April, he’s hit the scales looking like it was no problem. I don’t know one way or the other if that’s the case with Usyk.
Ukrainian Usyk won the heavyweight gold medal in the 2012 Olympics and competed in that division as an amateur, including gold (’11) and bronze (’09) at the world championships. His professional career began in November 2009 with a 5th round TKO of Felipe Romero in Kiev.
Usyk weighed over 200 in his first four fights and has come in on average listed at around ½ a pound under the limit after that. The deep water of late rounds in a tough fight is the only area in which Usyk has yet to prove himself supreme.
Berlin is a pretty good fight town and one of the premiere cultural and historic destinations to be seen, but Max Schmeling Hall will probably not be the most pronounced of a so-called home advantage.
Local fans are generally more reserved than places like the Americas or UK, and often much more critical. Huck was widely derided for his effort against Briedis, and will have to create sparks if he’s going to really get fans behind him.
One proposition that won’t be on the wagering boards is that a small pocket of well-dressed Ukrainian supporters waving little blue and gold flags may make more noise than the rest of the arena.
The contest’s result comes down to a pair of questions. First and primarily, does Huck have anything left? The answer to that leads to the next key point: what happens if Usyk is severely tested going into the final frames? So far he’s always finished as strongly as necessary, but never under consequential pressure.
Expect Usyk to fight tall, standing straight with his arms high as he waits to counter Huck’s sporadic charges. Listed slightly bigger than Huck, at 6’3 with a 78’ reach, Usyk typically weaves traps positioned directly ahead of whatever offense he’s faced with to respond accordingly, toe to toe.
The initial danger for Huck comes from walking into a counter right as Usyk bends to avoid punches. Michael Hunter had some success against Usyk with multi-angle combinations, indicating Huck must swarm repeatedly, while throwing a lot more leather than he did against Briedis.
Various websites and sports books list Huck as the biggest underdog in either tournament field. Those odds may be justifiable, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a shot.
When he lost to Glowacki, Huck was one win away from breaking the record for cruiserweight title defenses and making a splash in the States. Sharing accolades with Johnny Nelson isn’t terrible, but it isn’t what setting a new mark would have been. Desperation can be a strange ally. In this game, lost causes are a sure thing.
Still, the most likely scenario is that Usyk makes a strong opening statement and scores an ugly stoppage around the 9th or 10th frame. The chances of Huck getting knocked out may be greater than the likelihood of him winning, but don’t be surprised if he makes a decent, dramatic stand.
It’s often wise to play or wager based entirely on statistical percentages. In this case, opening a top dollar, multi-staged event with what constitutes a predictable, one-sided match on paper is actually very solid scheduling.
It’s a pretty safe bet that in Usyk vs. Huck the World Boxing Super Series has picked exactly the right fight to open the tournament.
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