For all the belts: Usyk vs Gassiev preview
Callum Rudge previews the eagerly awaited WBSS cruiserweight final between Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev in Moscow...
After 41 rounds of boxing over 6 fights (including four knockouts), the cruiserweight section of the revolutionary World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) reaches its conclusion this weekend with a final involving two undefeated and unified world champions as Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) takes on Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) in Moscow, Russia. At stake will be the Muhammad Ali Trophy but, more importantly, the title of undisputed (and lineal) cruiserweight champion of the world.
The WBSS has changed the landscape of boxing and has shown that tournament boxing is viable at the elite level. While some have criticised the fact that the final has been delayed (it was originally scheduled for 11 May), the fact is this tournament will have concluded quicker than 2009/2010’s Super Six World Boxing Classic which lasted 427 days compared to the cruiserweight WBSS’s 316.
This weekend’s final matches two fighters who have yet to taste defeat or to touch the canvas in their careers and because of this the bookies are finding it hard to split them, with Usyk a razor thin favourite over Russian favourite Gassiev, who hails from Ossetia.
Starting with the favourite, Usyk has had the tougher run to this weekend’s finale. The Ukrainian opened the tournament by stopping the legend that is Marco Huck in September 2017, before out-pointing then undefeated Latvian Mairis Breidis in January. Usyk had to overcome away territory to win both these contests and will need to do so again this weekend if he is to be crowned cruiserweight king.
Usyk didn’t have it all his own way in the semi-final against Breidis and appeared to be hurt more than once during the contest. In the build-up to this weekend’s bout, the WBC/WBO titlist has cited a poor training camp for his under-par performance against the Latvian and will expect to perform to a higher standard this weekend. Usyk has changed trainers several times throughout his pro career and has asked Russ Anber, his Canadian cutman, to be in his corner for this bout.
Looking at Gassiev’s previous two bouts you could be fooled into thinking that the WBA and IBF champion has had it all his own way with stoppage victories in both his quarter and semi-final bouts. While it is true that he did walk through longtime WBC titlist Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in three rounds, the Pole didn’t offer much resistance compared to Gassiev's tough semi-final with Yunier Dorticos.
The Cuban ex-pat was seen as a knockout artist going into the contest with 20 stoppages from 21 wins and was able to outbox Gassiev for large spells of the bout, keeping the Russian at range with his jab, especially during the first half of the fight, before Gassiev's fantastic body punching and greater accuracy forced a final round stoppage.
However, Dorticos’ successes that night will give confidence to southpaw Usyk, who has a slight reach advantage and will not stand in front of Gassiev like the Cuban did at times. While Usyk complained of a poor camp for his semi final, Gassiev has been trained for the last four years by ‘2017 Trainer of the year’ Abel Sanchez, and will thus arguably hold the advantage when it comes to cornermen.
While Gassiev has the more accomplished trainer and hometown advantage, a ring is a ring and Usyk is a master of his craft. While this is a fight that could truly go either way, my pick is for Usyk to box Gassiev at range, using his greater feet and variety, to eek out a close and possibly controversial decision.