Those pruning the previously lustrous blooms of their expectations of Oleksandr Usyk are very obviously still reading from a script the Ukrainian long since tore up and rewrote. Despite the interest surrounding his heavyweight debut and the apparent modesty of opposition, Usyk was never likely to win this fight by early stoppage.
To expect him to comply with the traditions of heavyweight debuts, given his personality and the nature of his boxing style was a misguided notion. True, Chazz Witherspoon was a less dangerous opponent than widely anticipated when Usyk opted to move up to the more lucrative division, but, like any man North of 200 pounds, he still represented risk. Usyk, for all his formidable ability and gargantuan self-belief remains a studious and respectful prize fighter.
Seven rounds with Chazz Witherspoon, although essentially semi-retired, was more valuable than two, despite the bolder font a quicker win would have earned in the ensuing coverage.
Traditionally, headlines are made, fans acquired, by knockout artists and this is particularly true in the heavyweight division. Fight fans will need to accept that Usyk is unlikely to discover single-punch, fight ending power against men 40-50 pounds heavier than those he beat at Cruiserweight when he wasn’t ‘cold-cocking’ fighters there either, and certainly not with a solitary shot.
He will win heavyweight fights by stoppage but his style, if he is to use his more compact 215 pound, 6’3 height to his advantage, suggests knockouts will be achieved progressively, over rounds, rather than spectacularly or early. Against today’s giants of Wilder, Fury and Joshua his technical ability, rather than his power will be key. It may not be enough, but particularly against fallen champion Joshua and WBC belt holder Wilder, there will be opportunities to punush the bigger men with superior technique.
Fury poses problems precious few from the present or the past could overcome with ease, Usyk will find those same issues, negating a long reach disadvantage and an opponent with similarly quick feet and notable skill will be harder than Wilder or Joshua would prove.
The fight with Witherspoon also reiterated that Usyk will not be pressured by expectation or the occasion and will ensure his advantages, such as they are, have the fullest time to lead him to victory. As Lennox Lewis once commented, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Don’t give your an opponent a chance he doesn’t have’.
To that end, expect more of Usyk building pressure, using footwork to frustrate opponents and countering around their offence. As he climbs the heavyweight ladder, that offence will become more powerful, more accomplished and more forthcoming than it was on Saturday night, but, beyond power, there are few things any of them will do better than the division’s newest star.
Apologies to Alan Rickman.