In the world of boxing’s big men, all roads lead to Anthony Joshua.
And Ukrainian cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk, the sport’s burgeoning superstar, attempts to set out on that path on Saturday.
But first he must get past Tony Bellew, who is desperate to end his career in epic fashion and become the first man to be crowned an undisputed world champion in a British ring.
Usyk, the four-belt ruler of his division and an Olympic heavyweight gold medallist in 2012, is looking to step up in the immediate future and take on the undefeated Joshua. It is a glittering prospect for a boxer who has had just 15 professional fights but is already ranked fifth in the world by The Ring magazine.
But it does not mean that his clash with 35-year-old Bellew at the Manchester Arena is just a stepping stone. Instead, this is a mighty battle between a champion determined to create a legacy at his current weight and one hoping to find out for himself how good he really is before retirement.
The fight is a compelling meeting of a technically supreme eastern European with a big-hitting, smart and never-say-die Brit. At the centre of it all is promoter Eddie Hearn, who boasts: “This is the greatest fight I have ever put on and I include Anthony Joshua versus Wladimir Klitschko last year in that. It’s the first I’ve done where you can say the winner will be king of the division. No arguments. It is the absolute elite of the elite at work.”
Usyk, 31, hit the big time last July in Moscow when he defeated Russia’s Murat Gassiev in the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament. In the process, he also added the WBA and IBF belts to the WBC and WBO versions held, making him the first undisputed cruiserweight champion in history.
He is trained by the father of fellow Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko, the lightweight champion rated as the world’s No1 by The Ring.
Hearn has signed Usyk to his Matchroom stable, which is why he can offer him a potential pathway to his new stablemate, the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion Joshua.
“We have signed him because he in everybody’s top five in the world,” Hearn added. “For some people, he’s top three. For others, even No1. As an amateur he was a genius. In Ukraine, he is a God. Technically, he is a cruiserweight Lomachenko.
“But then you listen to Tony and he is so convinced he will beat him.
“Bellew says this is his last fight and I believe him. So he is putting his whole, deep-down soul into it. He said to me this week, ‘If he is as good as everyone says he is, this will be an absolute war. But I honestly believe I will knock him out.’
“No doubt, Usyk is technically much better. He will pepper Bellew with punches all night but Tony believes he will rough him up. And then every time he gets within distance, he will throw the kitchen sink at him.
“That’s his chance. Everyone knows Tony is not afraid to do that. He has to knock him out at close quarters because he isn’t going to outbox him. There are loads of ways he can lose. But there is only one way he can win it. It’s just a question of whether he can do it.”
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