by Cliff Rold

It’s down to three.

Last weekend, Oleksandr Usyk earned his trip to the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight final with a career best win, a hard fought and competitive decision on the road over a game and tough Mairis Briedis.

The fight exceeded expectations.

Expectations were not as high as those for this semi-final match. We have two proven punchers striving for the chance to be not just tournament winners but stars. It would be a surprise if this one missed.

It would be a joy if they blew past expectations the same way Usyk and Briedis did.

Let’s get into it.

Stats and Stakes

Murat Gassiev

Age: 25

Title: IBF cruiserweight (2016-Present, 1 Defense)

Previous Titles: None

Height: 6’3

Weight: 199 lbs.

Hails from: Vladikavkaz, Russia

Record: 25-0, 18 KO

Rankings: #2 (TBRB, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, Ring), #4 (BoxRec)

Record in Title Fights: 2-0, 1 KO

Last Five Opponents: 134-14-3 (.897)

WBSS Seed: 2

Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Denis Lebedev SD12; Krzystof Wlodarczyk KO3


Yunier Dorticos

Age: 31

Title: WBA cruiserweight (2016-Present, 1 Defense)

Previous Titles: None

Height: 6’3

Weight: 200 lbs.

Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Cuba)

Record: 22-0, 21 KO

Rankings: #3 (Boxing Monthly), #5 (ESPN, BoxRec, Ring), #7 (TBRB)

Record in Title Fights: 2-0, 2 KO including interim title fights

Last Five Opponents: 148-53-2 (.733)

WBSS Seed: 4

Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 0

The Case for Gassiev: Gassiev has the fight in his native Russia and being in Russia didn’t bother him in his biggest fight to date against fellow countryman Denis Lebedev. Gassiev stepped up there and won a close, hard fight. In terms of professional experience, Gassiev has fought the more established cruiserweights to date. Most comfortable stalking opponents, Gassiev has quick hands and puts them together in good bursts. Sometimes his offense can be deliberate, but he places punches well and doesn’t waste his offense. Dorticos is often flat footed and hittable; Gassiev’s straight right hand and body attack could push Dorticos towards the ropes where Gassiev’s power could be even more dangerous. His biggest problem will be stopping Dorticos from establishing a jab. If he can do that consistently, Gassiev has a road to the final.

The Case for Dorticos: This is the shortest distance between fights for the Cuban since 2015. From December of that year to September of 2017, Dorticos fought only once. It was at least a memorable night, winning a war over Youri Kalenga that created a buzz amongst those who saw it. Dorticos had a short night in the opening round and his record is littered with knockouts inside the first four rounds. Some of the most recognizable names of those were naturally smaller men well past their prime. Gassiev, on paper, is far and away his biggest fight to date. Dorticos will need his biggest advantage: length. More than power, Dorticos can rely on a significant edge in reach. Like Gassiev, he tends to come forward but he does it behind a long, steady jab. Dorticos can be open to return fire but he tends to stay relaxed in the ring at all times and the right hand he whips behind the jab is hard to the body, over the top, and as an uppercut. If Dorticos can take what gets through from Gassiev, he will find a fighter who is often wide open. Lebedev landed a lot of jab-straight combinations in their fight and Dorticos can do it with greater space.

The Pick

Any time a fighter is at home, there is a tendency to think a close decision favors them. In this case, it might be hard to imagine a fight that goes the distance but, if it does, the judging in the tournament to date has appeared fair. Gassiev is the more compact puncher; Dorticos the more fluid. Both men have shown hittable, a byproduct of offensive mindsets. Gassiev has the more proven chin, having taken some big shots from a Lebedev who has always been capable of ending things early. The Russian has also continued to improve from fight to fight. What he hasn’t done is see the sort of constant, educated jab Dorticos threatens him with. Gassiev may have some big moments but it will be tough to establish a consistent offense. Dorticos is the choice to win in what should be a fantastic encounter. Expect the Cuban to pay heed to his defense while beating Gassiev to the punch too often and outlanding him enough to win a fight that ends up going the distance or is stopped late.

Rold Picks 2018: 2-0

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at