SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 12, 2019 – Alexandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) opened the door to the big boys clubhouse Saturday night – AKA the heavyweight division – invited himself in and took a seat.
The former unified cruiserweight champion stumbled through a few mishaps including injury and a last-minute opponent change but found his way clear to a seventh-round stoppage victory over American Chazz Witherspoon of New Jersey (38-4, 29 KOs).
“Listen guys, thank you so much,” said Usyk to a crowd full of fans waving Ukrainian flags. “I am feel, I am very feel, I am very happy.
“I was waiting for this moment. We had some little difficulties because we have to change opponent. I didn’t show to nobody, had some bad fortune to my hand. I prayed to him, ‘please help me,’ and it looked like he helped me,” said Usyk.
Usyk slow-rolled the first few rounds, moving in to land body shots on the much bigger Witherspoon. Witherspoon offered some minimal offense of his own, nothing that threatened Usyk.
Usyk began picking things up in the third round with two straight left hands, the same punch that decked Usyk’s last opponent, Tony Bellew. Usyk circled Witherspoon, getting into a rhythm like his many dance videos circling the internet. He threw the rising straight left from different angles, trying to catch Witherspoon unaware. The first big punches of the fight landed at the end of the third round.
Usyk kept up a solid but not blistering pace. He began wearing down Witherspoon as much as he was landing harder shots. Give Witherspoon credit, he stayed in with Usyk, and did his best to trade. It was just enough for the referee to let the fight continue.
In both the sixth and seventh rounds, Usyk put Witherspoon against the ropes and delivered solid combination punching to head and body, hurting but not dropping Witherspoon, then backing out before finishing the bigger man off.
It was death by a thousand cuts, or if you prefer, being nibbled to death by ducks. Witherspoon might have described Usyk’s power punches in stronger terms, but there wasn’t a lights out punch.
Usyk didn’t need one. He was steadily, strategically rolling up damage. After seven rounds, Witherspoon’s corner took the decision into their own hands, informing officials they were stopping the fight.
“I did what my trainer told me to do, I followed the orders,” said Usyk. “We had a plan; the plan was to box, and I did box. If had the opportunity, I would use the opportunity.”
Asked if he felt the difference fighting as a heavyweight, Usyk said, “Yes, there is a little bit of difference. But I used to fight as a heavyweight in the amateurs. Yes, there is some difference.”
Usyk’s long-term fight plan being field-tested Saturday
Usyk won’t score Fighter of the Year honors as he did in 2018 based on this single fight in 2019, but it’s not what the matchup in Chicago Saturday was all about. It was about testing himself after injury and with 20 more pounds on his frame, hitting men like Witherspoon who are 30 pounds heavier.
This is precisely what Usyk will need to do against the much bigger champions in the division like Andy Ruiz Jr., Tyson Fury, and Deontay Wilder. He’s always going to be the smaller man, so he needs to be the faster, more agile man to deliver the same kind of damage by attrition he did against Witherspoon. But it will be far more difficult, and for fans far more exciting to watch when that day comes.
Is Usyk ready yet for a Ruiz Jr vs. Joshua winner, or Wilder or Fury? “If they want to give it to me, of course I‘m going to take it … I love all these people, and I’m fighting for them.”
Dmitry Bivol delivers master class in decision win over Lenin Castillo
WBA Light Heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) of Russia delivered the slick boxing skills he’s become known for, dominating Lenin Castillo of the Dominican Republic (20-3-1, 15 KOs) in a shutout unanimous decision. Scores were 120-107, 119-108, a shutout on one card, and 11 rounds to one on the other two.
“The performance, maybe someone can say ‘you are a boring fighter’ or something like this. But I win,” said Bivol of his victory.
Bivol put on a master class in all the fundamental skills of boxing, taking away Castillo’s counter-punching threat with ease behind an educated jab and solid footwork. He kept Castillo in perfect position to be hit, and avoided getting hit. Bivol rolls up rounds this way, although admittedly it doesn’t always thrill fans who crave more action.
Fans saw Bivol’s power in the sixth round when he met Castillo with a counter right hook, dropping him backward onto the canvas. But he would rather go for the sure victory than risk his sure path.
“I saw his many fights. He’s really good in counter-attack,” explained Bivol. “All 12 rounds, I tried to punch like it was not enough distance. If it was shorter distance I could do it (knock him out). But If I lose today, it was bad. Now I keep my belt, I still have a chance to fight for my dream: to fight for another belt, to fight Kovalev, Beterbiev, or Canelo. I can fight because I won today.” No one can argue with Bivol on this.
Bivol is the first of the four light heavyweight division champions to defend his title in the next month. WBC and IBF champions Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev fight next weekend in Philadelphia. Two weeks later on November 2, 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 these winners next on the path to becoming a unified champion.
Bivol has trouble getting opponents, and his fight Saturday kept him the mix but did not help his cause. He’s avoided because he’s so difficult to fight, but the reward isn’t great enough to take the risk because he’s become an acquired taste for only the most avid fans who appreciate his skillset. Bivol has made it clear he’s also willing to drop to the super middleweight division, and he may find much better hunting there. He is a small light heavyweight and for the right opponent, he’ll drop to 168 pounds.
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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.
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