Commentary: Don’t let low blow controversy obscure how special Oleksandr Usyk is
On a rainy evening in Wroclaw, Poland, several hours drive from Ukraine’s border, Oleksandr Usyk thrilled over 40,000 fans, many of them Ukrainian, by stopping Daniel Dubois in nine rounds to retain his Ring, IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles.
However, that only tells part of the story. The 36-year-old defending champion dominated large swathes of the first three rounds, using his nimble footwork to create openings with his sharp jab and pinpoint left crosses.
The younger, bigger Brit had a few successes in the fourth round, but it was early in Round 5 when he threw a body shot that landed on the beltline dropping the Ukrainian to the seat of his pants. Usyk was clearly in discomfort. Experienced referee Luis Pabon instantly ruled it a low blow and gave Usyk — per the rules — up to five minutes to recover. The wily veteran took most of the allotted time to catch his breath and compose himself.
If Dubois was going to pull the upset this was his moment. Initially, Usyk moved around the ring before recalibrating and stepping on the gas late in the round to land several damaging shots.
Although Dubois had some moments, mostly to the body, he wasn’t winning rounds and Usyk did “Usyk things” and wore his opponent down before stepping things up late in round eight to get the knockdown. Dubois was saved by the bell. It proved a temporary stay of execution and Usyk turned the screw and concluded matters in the ninth round beating what was left out of Dubois.
Since then, the legitimacy of the body shot has been talked about ad nauseam long into the night and will rumble on for a while yet. If you’re Team Dubois, you’re screaming blue murder that it wasn’t low, if you’re Team Usyk, you’re shouting it was low. Everybody’s got and opinion. Everybody.
The truth of the matter, for me at least, is what Pabon had said in his pre-fight instructions to both fighters. What did he deem low and what did he say was acceptable.
Some are saying Dubois was robbed. That seems a little fanciful. Had Pabon counted Usyk may well have risen and still done what he did. We won’t know and never will, but the fight was largely one-sided, and it doesn’t feel like we need to see a rematch. Of course, Dubois’ promoter Frank Warren was calling for one.
Usyk has come a long way. He was a standout amateur, winning gold at the 2012 Olympics as well as a slew of other medals. But for all his ability he was often in the shadow of his otherworldly talented friend Vasiliy Lomachenko. His case wasn’t helped by turning professional at cruiserweight, which is highly unfashionable in America, compared to Europe.
Without a big U.S. based promotional powerhouse behind him he signed with K2 Promotions and was expertly maneuvered by Alex Krassyuk.
I can remember attending the Wladimir Klitschko-Kubrat Pulev fight in Hamburg, Germany in November 2014. Usyk was 5-0 (5 KOs) at the time. He wasn’t on the undercard but was in attendance. I spotted him at ringside and believed he had a bright future. I sought him out and what stuck with me was his obvious talent and career trajectory, he was on the outer bowl, not credentialed or even given ringside access. Even then he was classy and happy to talk.
Over the next couple of years, I followed his progress and saw how he would go into an opponent’s backyard and beat them. He did it to Krzysztof Glowacki in Poland to win the WBO title. Beat Marco Huck in Germany, Mairis Briedis to add the WBC title in Latvia, whitewashed IBF and WBA beltholder Murat Gassiev in Russia to become Ring, undisputed cruiserweight champion and World Boxing Super Series winner.
Usyk completed his cruiserweight run by taking out Tony Bellew in England before stepping up to heavyweight. Injuries and Covid-19 threatened to blight his career, he was further hampered by mediocre performances against Chazz Witherspoon and Derek Chisora, which tapered expectations.
He found his form just when he needed it and the old magic returned as he painted something of a masterpiece comprehensively beating Anthony Joshua for the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles again on the road in England.
Usyk repeated the trick, though less emphatically, in a rematch — this time in Saudi Arabia. He had to ride through a difficult moment in Round 9 — again from a body shot — before, like he did against Dubois, turning on the afterburners and showing his class to add the vacant Ring championship to his ever-growing collection.
The hourglass maybe starting to whittle down, but it will still take a huge effort to unseat him. That man may be Tyson Fury but the two have so far been unable to broker a deal for a myriad of reasons. The proposed April 29 date felt like the fight’s moment to happen and both men have stuck to their guns since and gone in other directions. IBF mandatory Filip Hrgovic has said he wants his shot and is next in the mandatory sequence for Usyk and isn’t prepared to wait around further.
Either way, it feels as though the charismatic Ukrainian magician only has a few more fights in him before hanging up his gloves and heading to Canastota, where he’ll join his classy countrymen the Klitschko brothers.
Enjoy him while you can. He’s exceptionally talented, brings huge honor and hope to his war-torn country at a time they need any inspiration they can get. If you can’t like and support this guy, you really can’t support anybody.
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