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Heavy lifting: Oleksandr Usyk debuts at heavyweight Saturday

Written By | Oct 11, 2019
Chicago Bulls mascot Benny the Bull meets Oleksandr Usyk during a Chicago Bulls practice this week ahead of Usyk’s fight Saturday night at the Wintrust Center in Chicago . Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Chicago Bulls mascot Benny the Bull meets Oleksandr Usyk during a Chicago Bulls practice this week ahead of Usyk’s fight Saturday night at the Wintrust Center in Chicago . Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 11, 2019 – Nothing about life seems heavy for Oleksandr Usyk. The former unified cruiserweight champion from Ukraine floats through the world light as a feather. It might be hard to imagine about someone who hit the scale Friday at 215 pounds until you observe Usyk yourself.

Face it: Oleksandr Usyk works out for media and fans ahead of his heavyweight debut Saturday night at the Wintrust Center in Chicago . Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Face it: Oleksandr Usyk works out for media and fans ahead of his heavyweight debut Saturday night at the Wintrust Center in Chicago. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Usyk has the rubbery face of Jim Carrey complete with the googly eyes, unafraid to express himself and have a good time. His trip to Chicago for his long-awaited heavyweight debut has provided daily opportunities to seize the moment in front of media and fans. He even indulged a fan on Twitter who spotted him this week through a window, responding on video with some world-class clowning around. Who wouldn’t want to ride along? Only his top opponents in the heavyweight division.

Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) won’t be messing around Saturday as he takes on last-minute replacement opponent Chazz Witherspoon of New Jersey (38-3, 29 KOs). He is eager to make a statement with his debut in the division. Usyk knows the world’s elite heavyweights will be watching his arrival with interest and anticipation. And, depending on his performance, a little dread.

The full card streams live on DAZN USA, with the first bell at 5:15 pm ET/2:15 pm, and the three fight main event starting at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

Oleksandr Usyk didn’t panic in the early rounds, working behind his jab to take out former heavyweight Tony Bellew. Will he have it as easy against the rest of the division starting Saturday? Photo: DAZN USA

Usyk was our hands-down 2018 Fighter of the Year. No matter what your criteria for picking a FOTY are, Usyk checks off every box.

Usyk remains undefeated, wrapping up his participation in the World Boxing Super Series tournament by winning the Muhammad Ali Trophy. In the process, he became the undisputed champion of the cruiserweight division. It wasn’t easy; not since Evander Holyfield has the division been such a hotbed of talent. He is the very first cruiserweight to achieve this accomplishment in the modern four-belt era. He capped off the year with a blowout win over Tony Bellew.

Usyk’s delayed debut nearly derailed by failed VADA test

Oleksandr Usyk and Chazz Witherspoon pose after weighing in for the October 12 fight card in Chicago. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Usyk was originally scheduled to make his division debut in May against Carlos Takam but withdrew due to an arm injury. He feels his transition into the division has gone smoothly.

“I simply moved to the heavyweight division, and that was it,” said Usyk. “Virtually nothing has changed in my training; we’ve simply started doing even more work. Different, and hard work, which is practicing with big guys who pose a great threat.

“We’re working hard, smiling, going crazy during the training camp, and doing our job. Everyone who is in my camp does their job 100 percent, meaning that they give everything so that I feel comfortable. My team is looking after all of it, and we are working hard together.

Usyk was slated to face former kickboxer Tyrone Spong, but he failed VADA testing for a banned substance. Witherspoon stepped in on Tuesday.

Chazz Witherspoon works out for media and fans ahead of his unexpected assignment Saturday night. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

“I can’t wait to face Usyk in Chicago,” said Witherspoon. “I have been in training ready for a big fight, and it doesn’t get bigger than this. Oleksandr is stepping up to heavyweight – and he’s going to find out that it’s a totally different game.

“I’ve won my last eight fights, and I really feel that I’ve been waiting in the wings for a huge opportunity like this, and I am going to put every ounce of myself into the fight on this massive stage.”

Witherspoon’s biggest fight was a unanimous decision loss to Marcus Browne. He presents an ideal test for Usyk. He’s likely to focus on defense, and Usyk can do what he does best: use his footwork to put himself in the right position to deliver the power shots he needs to announce his arrival. Count on the rest of the heavyweight division to be watching Saturday night.

Dmitry Bivol bides his time waiting for unification opportunity

WBA light-heavyweight champion Dimitry Bivol works out for media and fans with trainer Gennadiy Mashianov. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

WBA Light Heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11 KOs) of Russia stays active against Lenin Castillo of the Dominican Republic (20-2-1, 15 KOs). Bivol starts a month of title defenses by all four division champions. WBC and IBF champions Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev fight next weekend in Philadelphia. Two weeks later, WBO champion Sergey Kovalev faces Canelo Alvarez in the Mexican star’s bid to become a four-division champion. Bivol hopes to face one of the winners next on the path to becoming a unified champion.

Bivol’s problem is that he’s become the most avoided champion in the division. If the better option becomes a fight with Alvarez at super middleweight, he’s ready. “Canelo? Of course! It’s a good fight for me,” said Bivol. “I’m taller than him, I have good boxing skills and enough experience to box a guy like him … I can also make 168 pounds. I have talked about this many times because I am not a big guy, so I could make Super-Middleweight for a big fight.” In the meantime, enjoy one of the most skilled fighters in the heavier weight divisions with some of the best speed and footwork of any champion.

Hometown heroine Jessica McCaskill defends dual titles

WBC/WBA super lightweight champion Jessica McCaskill and Erica Farias get personal posing after their weigh-in Friday in Chicago. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Hometown favorite Jessica McCaskill (7-2 3 KOs) and Erica Farias of Argentina (26-3, 10 KOs) wind back their all-action fight one year ago in a rematch with McCaskill’s WBC and WBA World Super Lightweight titles on the line. This is an old school grudge match. Both women have a score to settle. McCaskill wants to prove the first fight wasn’t a gift decision, while the veteran Farias wants to show she’s the superior talent.

Both fighters are 35 years old and know the clock is ticking. Farias has faced big names including Cecilia Braekhus and Delfine Persoon; McCaskill has a loss to Katie Taylor. “I feel right now I am the game-changer,” said McCaskill. “There are people that have been in the game that I am dethroning. I’m on a fast-track; I’ve won two world titles and fought for three in just nine fights. I feel like I am the wildcard, and people are watching to see what is going to happen next.”

TJ Doheny, Anthony Sims Jr. among undercard fights worth watching

TJ Doheny sizes up Jesus Martinez during their faceoff Friday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. Photo: Melina Pizano/Matchroom Boxing USA

On the undercard, T.J. Doheny of Ireland returns to the ring after opening the year with an early 2019 Fight of the Year candidate against Daniel Roman, losing a narrow decision. Living and training in Australia, Doheny (21-1, 15 KOs) would love to avenge his first loss to Roman, but until then, he takes on Jesus Martinez of Colombia (26-9, 13 KOs). Expect the pair to bring it and give the fans a fun action fight. Doheny will use the fight to get back into his rhythm before tackling a more challenging opponent in the division.

Anthony Sims Jr. and Morgan Fitch pose after weighing in for the Saturday Matchroom Boxing USA fight card at the Wintrust Arena. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Also worth watching is super middleweight prospect Anthony Sims Jr. from nearby Indiana (19-0, 17 KOs). He will face Morgan Fith of Pittsburgh (19-3-1, 8 KOs).

The full card streams live on DAZN USA, with the first bell at 5:15 pm ET/2:15 pm. Doheny vs. Martinez is a time certain start at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT; with McCaskill vs. Farias kicking off the three-fight main event at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

Oleksandr Usyk shows off his Chicago Bulls jersey, looking for his 17th professional win in Chicago Saturday. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

READ MORE: Too much drama: Golovkin wins disputed decision over Derevyanchenko

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Copyright © 2019 by Falcon Valley Group





Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.