SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 1, 2019 – It’s the easiest choice in at least a decade choosing the 2018 Fighter of the Year. As much as most boxing journalists and their readers love to have endless debates, there’s nothing to argue about this year.
Unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk is the hands down 2018 Fighter of the Year. No matter what your criteria for picking a FOTY are, Usyk checks off every box.
Usyk is currently undefeated in 16 professional fights, with 12 of the wins by knockout. In 2018, Usyk wrapped 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.
Usyk didn’t have an easy road to the top. Not since Evander Holyfield has this division been such a hotbed of talent. Usyk defeated Mairis Briedis on the road in Latvia in the semi-finals in January, picking up Briedis’s WBC title to add to the WBO title he won from Krzystof Glowacki in his tenth bout, also in Glowacki’s home country of Poland.
Usyk then headed for a showdown in the finals against powerhouse Russian Murat Gassiev, who had destroyed Yunier Dorticos in a Fight of the Year candidate in his WBSS semifinal. Gassiev held the WBA and IBF titles, so the championship fight was for all the marbles. In Moscow, Usyk took Gassiev apart in front of the hometown fans in a masterful performance against a tough foe.
Usyk first cruiserweight to unify in the modern era
He is the very first cruiserweight to achieve this accomplishment in the modern four-belt era, and he is the only male boxer who is currently a unified champion since Terence Crawford, who dropped his four junior welterweight belts to start the process over as a welterweight.
Usyk had FOTY in the bag by this point. But why not put an exclamation point on your year? Once again, Usyk hit the road, facing British heavyweight hero Tony Bellew, a former cruiserweight champion who came down in weight for what would be his final fight.
Usyk demonstrated what makes him one of boxing’s few undisputed champions. Bellew won the first few rounds of the fight. But as Bellew began to run out of tricks, Usyk’s pure boxing skills began to take over. He started to close the distance. He used his above average speed and exceptional timing to start catching even the craziest shots Bellew threw.
And then, just like that, it was over in round 8 courtesy of a perfectly placed left hook to Bellew’s head. He went down hard to the canvas, and there was no need to count him out. Bellew had nothing but praise for his victorious opponent after the fight.
“I tried to go for it, I tried to get him,” said Bellew. “I don’t even know what he caught me with. He’s so hard to pin down. I fought my very very best, he’s just better than me.
“You’ve got to accept it. Oleksandr Usyk is pound for pound material. He’s slick, he’s strong, and he’s exceptional. Give him him credit … I have nothing but respect for him,” said Bellew.
Boxing’s ultimate road warrior
Usyk proved himself to be the ultimate road warrior. Most “A-side” champions shun going into the challenger’s territory. Not Usyk. Now based in Oxnard, California at the famed Boxing Laboratory alongside fellow Ukrainian talents Vasiliy Lomachenko and Alex Gvozdyk, he didn’t have a single fight in the U.S. this year.
Manager Egis Klimas (who has a lock once again on 2018 Manager of the Year) makes the case for Usyk.
“Only one thing can keep somebody away from not voting for him as the fighter of the year and that’s because he didn’t fight in the United States this year. All of his fights were outside of the United States — Latvia, Russia and the U.K.,” said Klimas.
“He fought on the road all of his fights and he won them all. He made history. It was the best year for him. He won the Muhammad Ali Trophy. He unified all four titles. He never fought in his backyard, always on the road. I don’t see another name that can compare to him.” Egis, you won’t get an argument from me on this one.
Usyk intends to follow in Bud Crawford’s footsteps, moving up a division to test himself at heavyweight. Usyk says he’s confident he will be competitive despite being on the smaller side of the heavyweight division.
Make no mistake, Usyk took the Bellew fight as part of a long term strategy. After the bout, Usyk said, “I did enjoy my stay in the UK. Now I know the citizens of Manchester. My best loved country is England. Most of my dreams came true here. I became an Olympic champion, and fought at cruiserweight,” said Usyk. If all goes as planned, he’ll be a more familiar foe when he inevitably steps into the ring against British boxing hero Anthony Joshua.
The heavyweight division is calling in 2019
Promoter Alexander Krassyuk of K2 Promotions believes the sky is the limit with Usyk. “We can do much in boxing. Bringing Usyk to heavyweight will bring new spirit to the heavyweight division, and he definitely needs to fight Anthony Joshua.” When quizzed again about the prospect, Usyk said, “Of course, I will have another extra pasta for dinner.”
“We are just common human beings. We need to put goals in front of us, and we need to head toward them,” explained Usyk.
Honorable Mentions: Lomachenko, who won a third-division title with a TKO victory over Jorge Linares, and Gvozdyk, who won the WBC lighth heavyweight title with a knockout win over Adonis Stevenson, made it another sensational year for the Boxing Laboratory and Klimas. There are others we could add, but we’re content flying the blue and yellow flag in 2018.
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