Fight picks: Oleksandr Usyk vs. Murat Gassiev
An undisputed cruiserweight champion will be crowned on Saturday when WBC/WBO titleholder Oleksandr Usyk meets IBF/WBA counterpart Murat Gassiev in the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament in Moscow. The Ring’s vacant cruiserweight championship will be on the line when the unbeaten dual beltholders meet.
On paper, Usyk-Gassiev looks can’t-miss and appears to have the makings of a potential Fight of the Year. Usyk is a wonderfully gifted boxer, who was an elite amateur, while Gassiev, a brutal puncher, has come into his own and excelled over the past couple of years and has taken the step up in class like a duck to water.
Usyk (14-0, 11 knockouts) is the naturally more skilled fighter. He won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London before seamlessly transitioning to the professional ranks in 2013, and winning the WBO strap in just his 10th fight. The 31-year-old Ukrainian has since made four successful defenses, including a stoppage of Marco Huck in the former titelholder’s homeland of Germany in the opening round of the WBSS. In the semi-final he edged Mairis Briedis in his home country of Latvia.
Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) possesses brute strength and excellent power. He turned professional in 2011 after just 25 amateur bouts. His path was less celebrated but he gradually learned the nuances of the sport under the expert stewardship of Abel Sanchez. He broke out in 2016 with a vicious first-round knockout of then unbeaten Jordan Shimmell. Since then the 24-year-old Russian has won the IBF title from grizzled veteran Dennis Lebedev in a terrific fight, wrecked usually durable former two-time beltholder Krzszstof Wlodarczyk in three brisk rounds, and then posted arguably the most impressive performance of the WBSS tournament so far in the semi-final when he showed impressive poise stopping Yunier Dorticos in the final round to add the WBA title to his name.
On-line gambling group bet365.com can’t split either man and list each at 10/11 (-110). Usyk is favored to win on points 6/4 (+150); while Gassiev is favored to win inside the distance 3/1 (+300) with the draw price 20-1 (+2000).
Here’s how the experts see it:
THE RING STAFF
MICHAEL WOODS: USYK UD
I want to go to my default and pick experience to win out. Oleksandr Usyk has fought soooo many rounds, and I do think he’s seen attributes like Gassiev’s before and dealt with them. But this Gassiev… after 25 amateur fights, and this amount of pro experience, he’s fighting at THIS level? Might he be more special than Usyk? Might be, might be. But Gassiev will PROVE IT if he downs Usyk… If the power Abel Sanchez says will be the difference-maker speaks loudest, then I will be ALL IN on the Gassiev train. I’m already practically there, my ticket is bought and paid for… but it’s not in the VIP section, up front. But Usyk is ever so clever, and his skill set is well rounded. Experience wins out… I think. But I don’t know, so you bet your butt I’m anticipating seeing how this plays out. Usyk by tight UD.
GARETH A. DAVIES: USYK
Gassiev carries the greater power and more danger all the way to the end of the championship rounds but my sense on this fight is that Usyk will be faster to the punch use his footwork to find angles and ultimately – maybe even after a scare as Gassiev goes for broke – wins on points. It should be a classic. Hope it is … it would be in keeping with this WBSS tournament. Delighted U.S. streaming deal on DAZN for second season. Usyk on points, split or unanimous decision.
LEE GROVES: USYK
Usyk has beaten good fighters on their home turf, not only during the tournament (Marco Huck in Germany, Mairis Briedis in Latvia) but also through his extensive amateur career that ended in Olympic gold. He has the height, reach, work rate and discipline to maintain his game plan, which is to score points while on the move. The tough semifinal win over Briedis should serve as excellent preparation for what he will face in the final, and I believe he will do what he must to nail down the points victory.
TOM GRAY: USYK UD
Despite Gassiev’s proven quality, I’ve always liked Usyk in this matchup. At his best, the Ukrainian has terrific movement, his long game is excellent and he’s tricky out of that southpaw stance. From what I can see, Gassiev excels at close-to-mid range, but I just think he’ll struggle to slip past Usyk’s thrusts. The Russian power-puncher will have his moments, but I envision Usyk boxing his way to a close but clear unanimous decision. I don’t think either man can knock the other out – they both look bulletproof.
NORM FRAUENHEIM: USYK SD
Two unbeaten fighters, both with pound-for-pound aspirations and each with skills that are different yet equal. This one is headed for a photo finish. Murat Gassiev appears to have more power. His aggressive, come-forward style can always result in a stoppage. But the left-handed Usyk has more options in his versatile skill set and just enough power to keep Gassiev off of him. He’ll have to. This figures to go the cards over 12 rounds that could be determined by differences as narrow as Usyk’s two-inch advantage in reach.
TOM GERBASI: USYK UD
Gassiev is the kind of fighter who is dangerous enough to keep Usyk focused for all 12 rounds. And a focused Usyk is a top-level fighter who will rise to the occasion. And on the way to the final bell, the potential is there for a Fight-of-the-Year candidate.
MARTY MULCAHEY: USYK UD
This is one of the best match-ups in all of boxing, which means it is also one of the hardest to pick. Usyk has again ceded hometown advantage, giving Gassiev an intangible positive that is difficult to quantify. Given the evenness I have to go with Usyk; he has shown himself up to the task from his earliest amateur days displaying the mentality and skill set of a champion. Usyk is a slow starter, but I believe he will even the fight up in the mid and later portion of the bout then win it in the championship rounds by a close unanimous decision.
ANSON WAINWRIGHT: USYK SD
The two best cruiserweights in the world for all the marbles, with the added cherry on the top of The Ring belt being on the line. The fight I’m most looking forward to in all of boxing has all the makings of a classic. As I’m writing, I’m still on the fence, can easily make a case for both guys. Usyk is the more
skilled guy, while Gassiev looks physically the stronger. Gassiev vs. Yunier Dorticos was the most impressive performance by anyone in the tournament so far. He looked formidable on that evening. If he can build and somehow improve on that Gassiev could well win. At the start of the tournament, I liked Usyk and I’m sticking with that prediction. Like he has in the previous two rounds, going to Germany to beat Marco Huck and Latvia to beat Mairis Briedis, he’ll be in his opponent’s backyard again. What I think may be key is Usyk’s amateur pedigree, that experience will be key and see him home by close split decision. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if they fought a draw and they had to use the extra judges to decide the winner. Sign me up for the rematch.
FRANCISCO SALAZAR: GASSIEV KO
The Usyk-Gassiev fight could be a candidate for ‘Fight of the Year.’ It will be a cautious start, but do not be surprised if the action is blistering after the opening bell. I would not be surprised if both fighters get dropped early, but I think Gassiev is the more heavier handed of the two. Gassiev stops Usyk by Round 10-11.
PAULIE MALIGNAGGI (FORMER TWO-WEIGHT WORLD TITLEHOLDER/TV ANALYST): GASSIEV KO
I edge towards Gassiev. I think it’ll be a great fight but I have Gassiev by late stoppage.
VADIM KORNILOV (MANAGER): UNDECIDED
I think Gassiev is stronger and Usyk is more technically sound which will make this clash of styles very interesting and exciting. I cannot pick. It’s a lottery.
MATTY ASKIN (BOXER): USYK
I think that Gassiev is very good but a little one dimensional whereas I think Usyk has a good boxing brain and a better technical boxer so I’m going for Usyk. It should be a great fight but I’m going for Usyk by points decision.
KATHY DUVA (PROMOTER): USYK
Obviously, this is a very close fight. I would be inclined to go with Usyk, if not for the venue. As I think he is stronger and more experienced in high pressure situations. Putting the fight in Russia, however, may not be to Usyk’s advantage. I will still pick Usyk, because I think he is very talented. But I would not be shocked if Gassiev manages to pull it out.
TONY TOLJ (MANAGER): USYK
I see as a razor-close fight. There will be a hostile vocal crowd for the Soviet showdown as Ukraine takes on Russia in Moscow. Both fighters are warriors and won’t die wondering for the bragging rights of kingpin in the cruiserweights. I can’t wait to see it. Oleksandr Usyk to be the better fighter on the night, who gets the decision is a different story.
KEVIN LERENA (BOXER): GASSIEV
I’ve said Gassiev from day one. Dorticos in the last fight with Gassiev was putting on a lot of pressure without finding his mark, Gassiev can crack. Having said that Usyk is a terrific boxer, with tremendous skill but he can get caught and he can make mistakes, if Usyk fights Gassiev like he fought Briedis, he’ll lose.
ANDREW TABITI (BOXER): GASSIEV
First I had Usyk favorite. Now I’m looking at the tournament, I’m starting to respect Gassiev’s boxing
skills. I thought he was just a come-forward fighter, just hard punching, trying to get you out of there but when he fought Dorticos he was actually boxing real smart. Dorticos was the aggressor in the first half of the fight and he was boxing well in the later rounds he knocked him out. I can see the fight going either way, it could be 50-50. I feel Gassiev had a tough time – even though he beat Lebedev – with Lebedev, Lebedev was boxing Gassiev pretty good, southpaw, shorter. Usyk is a taller southpaw, Olympic gold medalist is gonna give Gassiev a hard time but he could knock him out too. That’s what I love about boxing, you never know who can win, it’s a toss-up. If I put my money down on the harder puncher and would put my money down in Gassiev because he’s the harder puncher.
JOLENE MIZZONE (MATCHMAKER): USYK UD
I think Usyk is just the better boxer and will rise to the occasion in this one.
ERIC BOTTJER (MATCHMAKER): GASSIEV
Terrific match between two guys who will eventually make noise in the heavyweight division. I love both fighters, but I see something special in Gassiev, who will find a way to win a decision.
DUKE MCKENZIE (FORMER THREE-WEIGHT WORLD TITLEHOLDER/TV ANALYST): USYK MD
The WBSS is the best thing to happen in a long time to boxing fans. We have a unification title fight in record time. Gassiev vs. Usyk is in my opinion fight of the year. Why because to unbeaten fighters both holding two belts each and you can make an argument for either winning. I think Usyk should squeeze home via a points victory, however, Gassiev is a predator more than just a puncher, whoever wins this would have had to go to hell and back to earn there win. MD Usyk.
PETER SMITH (TRAINER): USYK UD
This is going to be an epic fight. I am going with Usyk his movements make it very difficult for Gassiev to pitch his big bombs. Yes, Gassiev does have obviously the punchers chance if Usyk defense becomes leaky. As I’ve seen with Breidis. But this fight is has everything on the line for both and Usyk is a dangerous man when he finds his rhythm. Gassiev need his opponent to settle to be effective but also Gassiev is not busy enough and waits on his heavy hand so do the damage. I am leaning toward Usyk. Can’t wait for the two best cruiserweights in the world right now.
SEAN GIBBONS (MATCHMAKER): GASSIEV SD
It’s a tremendous matchup of huge puncher vs. boxer. Add in the hype of all the belts!! It is a match early on where Usyk will use his boxing skills with good success…But At the end of the night I think the power of Gassiev will be the difference in a very close fight. Split 12 Gassiev.
MARCO HUCK (BOXER): GASSIEV KO or USYK UD
I think this will be a very good and interesting fight for boxing. Both are very tough competitive fighters, Both of them are strong and have good fundamentals. This fight will be beautiful to watch. Gassiev and I sparred in 2014, I know him well and he is a good boxer. I think this fight will be very competitive and both competitors are equally good to me. My prediction is either an early knockout win for Gassiev or Usyk wins by going the distance.
Final tally: 14-6 and two undecided in favor of Oleksandr Usyk
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter