By Cliff Rold
Oleksandr Usyk remains the king at cruiserweight.
That will only last so much longer. Usyk was supposed to make his move to heavyweight a few weeks back but an injury messed up the timeline. His arrival will come.
His hold on belts in his division is ending a hair slower. The WBA already put Denis Lebedev back in place as their top titlist. The WBC belt is now vacant and will be filled this weekend. The IBF and WBO belts still belong to Usyk. Usyk, the lineal king of the class after winning the first World Boxing Super Series at cruiserweight and unifying every belt that mattered, can take his time. He earned it.
The IBF and WBO are working around Usyk for the time being, with the WBO already installing an interim titlist and the IBF joining them this weekend.
200 lbs. is moving on. There’s just apparently no need to be impatient.
The WBSS, chapter two, allows for breathing room.
See, while Usyk is preparing for his chase of the heavyweight crown, most of the best of the class he leaves behind signed up for another round of elimination warfare. Quietly, and amongst hardcore fans a bit overshadowed by the bantamweight and Jr. welterweight tournaments this time, cruiserweight generated another stacked field.
The 2019 semi-finals might not be as hotly anticipated as last year’s version. It makes sense. Last year, we had all four major titlists and all of them were undefeated. It was one of the best tournaments ever hosted in boxing. The sequel isn’t as dynamic on paper but consider with Usyk leaving, and Murat Gassiev making his move to heavyweight in July, what’s left is the next four highest rated fighters in the TBRB top ten and four of the next five at Ring.
By the time this round of eight is over, it’s very likely the WBSS winner will have three of the four major sanctioning body titles and near consensus recognition as the new king of the cruisers.
Both semi-final bouts will stream live Saturday on DAZN with undercard action beginning at 2 PM EST.
In the main event for fans on site, Mairis Briedis (25-1, 18 KO) has home court in Riga, Latvia as he attempts to regain the WBC strap he lost to Usyk. He’ll face Poland’s former WBO titlist Krzysztof Glowacki (31-1, 19 KO); Glowacki won the interim WBO belt in his quarterfinal win over Maksim Vlasov. It makes this basically a unification fight where both men have lost only to Usyk.
The other semi-final could be a show-stealer. Cuban-born former WBA titlist Yuniel Dorticos (23-1, 21 KO) faces Chicago’s Andrew Tabiti (17-0, 13 KO) for the interim IBF belt and a slot in the finals. Dorticos is regularly in good fights, his battles with Youri Kalenga and Gassiev among the best cruiserweight battles of the decade. Tabiti, at 29, has the least miles on him of anyone in the semi-finals but also the most to prove.
There will be plenty of proofs to be had as the remainder of the tournament plays out and one can hope this weekend helps to reengage fans on what is happening at 200 lbs.
As good as this doubleheader looks on paper, the lost momentum of the WBSS isn’t just a matter of the other two fields. The funding delays and issues around all the tournaments mean that we’re about eight months and change removed from the quarterfinals. Tournaments work when they deliver good matches on a good schedule.
The first WBSS was pretty good on both. We’re just getting good matches this time but if the finals happen on a reasonable timetable the gap between round of eight and round of four will feel shorter. One thing no one can take away from these almost heavyweights is they make it happen in the ring. With two straight years of tournament play, and a couple tough matches shortly before the start of the first WBSS, it’s hard to think of another weight class with as much action amongst consensus top ten contenders as cruiserweight has delivered.
Is again, is still, delivering.
This weekend is the next step in finding the man who will replace Usyk at cruiserweight but it’s also business as usual as high praise. Cruiserweight is boxing as sport done right.
Some of the comments from Bob Arum about Andy Ruiz-Anthony Joshua read a little like sour grapes about letting Ruiz get away…Finally getting around to the last seasons of Daredevil and Punisher and both are shows gone too soon…ESPN+ has boxing three different times on Saturday, with Josh Warrington and Tyson Fury center stage in the later two shows. It’s a lot from any platform on a single day but not too much fro a fight fan with free time…If it’s Alvarez-Golovkin III, sounds good. If it’s both against someone else of quality, sounds good. If it’s a Fielding or Rolls type for either next, that doesn’t sound good…For those who don’t know: next Wednesday is the Kazuto Ioka-Aston Palicte fight on UFC Fight Pass. It might not be a great fight but it’s available and that’s so 2019.
Cliff Rod is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]