Oleksandr Usyk-Murat Gassiev and THE RING cruiserweight championship
OK, let’s talk cruiserweight.
The first world championship fight took place in December 1979 when Mate Parlov and Marvin Camel fought to a 15-round draw in a battle for the vacant WBC version in Split, Croatia.
At the time, the cruiserweight limit was 190 pounds and the division was also known as “junior heavyweight.” As time passed, all four recognized governing bodies would crown “cruiserweight” titleholders, and by 2006 the division limit had switched to 200 pounds. The reason for the change was that heavyweights had grown bigger and this new number would allow smaller heavyweight fighters to participate in a more functional weight class.
This Saturday, either Oleksandr Usyk or Murat Gassiev, who are rated No. 1 and No. 2 by THE RING respectively, will become the 11th RING champion at cruiserweight. The first holder was Puerto Rico’s Carlos De Leon who was awarded the belt in early 1984. The most recent RING champion was Cuban boxer-puncher Yoan Pablo Hernandez, who retired in September 2015, leaving the 200-pound championship vacant.
Below is a retrospective on the eight fighters who have been named RING champion at 190 or 200 pounds. Ironically, the greatest cruiserweight who has ever lived, Evander Holyfield, is missing from the list, which is akin to talking great shark movies without mentioning Jaws. The reason for this is THE RING stopped recognizing the cruiserweight division in 1987, presumably because the talent pool was too shallow. Oh, how times have changed.
(Editor’s Note: THE RING championship policy was discontinued due to change of ownership in 1989 and recommenced in 2001)
Carlos De Leon (Feb. 3, 1984 – June 6, 1985) – De Leon, the WBC titleholder, had defeated Marvin Camel twice and regained the crown when he avenged a defeat to S.T. Gordon. The Puerto Rican boxer-puncher also had a win over Mexican dangerman Yaqui Lopez. THE RING awarded DeLeon the inaugural title, recognizing him as the premier fighter at 190 pounds.
Alfonzo Ratliff (June 6, 1985 – Sept. 21, 1985) – Yes, that guy who ran away from a rampaging Mike Tyson in September 1986 was a decent cruiserweight. Ratliff scored a 12-round split decision over De Leon to claim THE RING and WBC titles and his greatest triumph. However, the Mississippi native’s Cinderella story would be short-lived.
Bernard Benton (Sept. 21, 1985 – Mar. 22, 1986) – Having suffered defeats to Marvis Frazier and Donnie Long, Bernard “The Bull” Benton was far from being a household name. However, on the undercard of the first Larry Holmes-Michael Spinks fight in Las Vegas, Benton had enough to score a 12-round unanimous decision over Ratliff.
Carlos De Leon (Mar. 22, 1986 – Mar. 30, 1987) – In his first bout since losing to Ratliff, De Leon managed to squeeze past Benton with a 12-round majority decision. However, just over a year later, THE RING stopped recognizing the cruiserweight division. De Leon held the title until April 1988 when he was stopped by Holyfield in a clash for the undisputed championship.
Jean-Marc Mormeck (Apr. 2, 2005 – Jan. 7, 2006) – It had been 18 years since THE RING had crowned a cruiserweight champion. Mormeck and Wayne Braithwaite were WBC and WBA titleholders respectively when they were matched for the vacant belt. Frenchman Mormeck floored his hard-hitting rival in the seventh before claiming a 12-round unanimous decision.
O’Neil Bell (Jan. 7, 2006 – March 17, 2007) – In an oft-forgotten showdown for the undisputed cruiserweight championship, IBF titleholder Bell added RING, WBA and WBC titles to his collection with a stunning 10th-round knockout of Mormeck. The champion was behind on two cards at the time of the stoppage. Editor’s Note: This fight was billed as an undisputed championship fight despite Johnny Nelson being in possession of the WBO title.
Jean-Marc Mormeck (Mar. 17, 2007 – Nov. 10, 2007) – Mormeck managed to lure his conqueror to France for a rematch and once again it was a grueling encounter. After building up a commanding lead, Mormeck tired in the championship rounds. Bell came very close to securing a second stoppage victory in the championship rounds, but Mormeck survived to regain RING, WBA and WBC titles by 12-round unanimous decision.
David Haye (Nov. 10, 2007 – May 23, 2008) – Haye was a brash power-puncher from the U.K. who was shockingly derailed by countryman Carl Thompson in his 11th pro fight. However, “The Hayemaker” had regrouped, improved his game, captured the European championship and Mormeck was the acid test. Haye survived a fourth-round knockdown to claim RING, WBA and WBC titles with a dramatic seventh-round stoppage.
Tomasz Adamek (Dec. 11, 2008 – Feb. 20, 2010) – Haye vacated his titles shortly after defeating Welshman Enzo Maccarinelli and moved north to heavyweight. The vacant RING title would be up for grabs between Adamek and Steve Cunningham. Despite being dropped three times Cunningham boxed extremely well, however the scoring deficit was too much to overcome. Adamek claimed a 12-round split decision to claim RING and IBF crowns.
Yoan Pablo Hernandez (Feb. 4, 2012 – Sept. 29, 2015) – Like Haye before him, Adamek elected to chase the dollar signs up at heavyweight. The vacant RING title was contested between Hernandez and Cunningham. Hernandez, who had defeated the American four months earlier by technical decision, floored his man twice in the fourth and claimed a deserved 12-round unanimous decision.
Usyk and Gassiev will contest THE RING, IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO cruiserweight titles in the final of the World Boxing Super Series at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow. The victor will also receive the Muhammad Ali trophy.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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