I admire the heck out of Oleksandr Usyk.
I was impressed by the way he ran through the World Boxing Super Series at cruiserweight. I respected the success he had in his early days at heavyweight. And I was surprised, along with most other people, by how easily he schooled Anthony Joshua across 24 title-fight rounds.
In fact, I’d drop a couple bucks on him against nearly any big man in the world.
But there are limits to my appreciation.
Though he’s certainly earned his position among the best of the best in his division, there’s one mountain I simply don’t see any chance that he’ll climb successfully.
And with all due respect to Lennox Lewis – who certainly has forgotten more about heavyweight boxing than I or many others will ever know – it seems as close to a “walkover” as it can get.
The most recent undisputed king of the heavies went on record after Fury’s defeat of Derek Chisora on Saturday, lauding Usyk’s qualities as a champion.
“This man is dedicated,” Lewis told BT Sport. “He puts everything into his training and his will to win."
Certainly, a 78-inch wingspan and 220 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame – not to mention sublime footwork and attention to angles – would be a boon to the Ukrainian against nearly every heavyweight in the rankings. But the prospect of mingling with a guy holding huge advantages in every category, not to mention a substantial skill set of his own, doesn’t seem to be a fair fight by any measure.
Lest anyone forget, Fury is six inches taller, would have a seven-inch edge in reach, and would likely enter the ring with something approaching a 50-pound edge in weight. That’s a lot.
But it’s not just about size. Fury is also a credible boxer with methodical punishing power.
He’s hardly a ballerina but moves far more fluidly than many contemporaries. And it’s difficult to envision even Usyk’s splendid tactics getting him close enough often enough to dissuade the WBC champ from rolling competitively over him like a snowball down a mountain.
Is Fury unbeatable? No. But given his ability to push consecutive strongmen like Chisora and Dillian Whyte around at will, it’s hard to see Usyk – who was hardly dominant in beating the former two years ago – having much more success unless he develops a Deontay Wilder-level punch overnight.
And given that Fury rose each of the four times Wilder dropped him, even that might not do it.
“It can most simply be put,” ex-HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley said, “too big and too good.”
The early stage oddsmakers agree.
BetOnline has established Fury as a minus-280 favorite should the fight occur before the end of 2023, meaning it’ll take a $280 outlay to generate a $100 windfall if he wins. Usyk, meanwhile, is a plus-220 underdog, so it’d take a $100 wager to make a $220 profit if there’s an upset.
Only a handful of the 29 men he’s beaten have managed to last the scheduled distance and none has been any closer than three points on a scorecard. Wilder did win on one card in their split draw in 2018 but many have suggested Fury deserved the nod there and he did fill out the trilogy with two KOs.
Other than the 12th-round knockdown against Wilder from which he rose like a zombie, it could be argued that Steve Cunningham had him closest to a defeat in their 2013 bout – dropping him with an overhand right in the second round and leading on two cards before he was stopped in Round 7.
It was Cunningham’s last great moment as a pro before the 4-3-1 stretch that prompted his retirement.
But it’s not enough to sway Randy Gordon’s opinion either.
“Fury has much more skill than we ever gave him credit for,” the former Ring Magazine editor and New York State Athletic Commission boss said. “When he is right, when he is ready, nobody is better.
“Oh, and size matters.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF featherweight title – Leeds, United Kingdom
Josh Warrington (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Luis Alberto Lopez (No. 1 IBF/No. 17 IWBR)
Warrington (31-1-1, 8 KO): First title defense; Held IBF title at 126 (2018-19, three defenses)
Lopez (26-2, 15 KO): First title fight; Eighth fight outside of the United States (6-1)
Fitzbitz says: Lopez has won nine straight with seven KOs, but he’s been fattening up on the flab of the featherweight division. Warrington should have more than enough. Warrington by decision (95/5)
WBO welterweight title – Omaha, Nebraska
Terence Crawford (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. David Avanesyan (No. 6 WBO/No. 10 IWBR)
Crawford (38-0, 29 KO): Sixth title defense; Nine straight wins by KO (71 total rounds/7.89 average)
Avanesyan (29-3-1, 17 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Fourth fight in the United States (1-2)
Fitzbitz says: The stench off this one is similar to Fury-Chisora. In the absence of Crawford-Spence, it would have been nice if this Omaha homecoming was more competitive. Crawford in 6 (99/1)
Last week's picks: 3-0 (WIN: Estrada, Fury, Martinez)
2022 picks record: 39-15 (72.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,248-407 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.