By Jake Donovan
The first step has been taken towards paring down Oleksandr Usyk’s stranglehold on the cruiserweight division.
The 2018 Fighter of the Year and reigning World cruiserweight champion will likely begin the process of relinquishing his collection of titles by as soon as the end of the month. Usyk was ordered by the World Boxing Association (WBA) to make a mandatory title defense versus “Champion in Recess” Denis Lebedev, with the bout now heading to a purse bid hearing.
According to a statement, “The World Boxing Association (WBA) Championships Committee has scheduled the auction for the fight between the Super Cruiserweight Champion Oleksandr Usyk and challenger Denis Lebedev next Thursday, March 28th, at the offices of the Ocean Business Plaza, the Aquilino de la Guardia Avenue, in Panama City.”
All promoters currently registered with the WBA are permitted to participate. The minimum acceptable bid for the fight will be $400,000—assuming there’s a fight on which to bid, which will likely not be the case.
Usyk (16-0, 12KOs) is already penciled in for a May 18 DAZN date which will mark his heavyweight debut. Neither an opponent nor even a finalized venue in Chicago has yet been announced, although the WBA’s announcement doesn’t figure to make them break stride.
Representatives at K2 Ukraine, Usyk’s primary promoter declined comment to BoxingScene.com other than to note an official announcement is forthcoming. Official action has yet to be taken with any of the other three sanctioning bodies—IBF, WBC, WBO—whose titles are still in his possession.
Usyk became the first truly undisputed cruiserweight champion in the four-belt era—and just the fifth boxer in history, male or female, to simultaneously possess all of the major hardware in the same division—following his 12-round whitewash of Murat Gassiev last July.
The win netted Ukraine’s 2012 Olympic Gold medalist the top prize in the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament as well, having previously unified two titles in a win over then-unbeaten Mairis Briedis last January. Usyk followed up the feat with a resounding 8th round knockout of Tony Bellew last November to cap his Fighter of the Year campaign.
In preparing to make his heavyweight debut, Usyk will begin the process of severing ties with the cruiserweight division. He’s held at least one belt since a Sept. ’16 win over then-unbeaten titlist Krzysztof Glowacki on the road in Poland. Six of his seven title fights have come in his opponent’s home country, including all three of his WBSS appearances.
Should he vacate his WBA title—the likely scenario, barring a late exemption—Lebedev will go on to face the next highest rated available challenger. Of course, exactly for which title he will contend isn’t quite as clear.
Usyk currently owns the WBA “Super” cruiserweight title, one of four belts currently assigned to the division just within the sanctioning body. Russia’s Lebedev is a former titlist who was granted “Champion in Recess” status which entitled the 39-year old to a title shot any time he so chose, which apparently is present day.
A title consolidation fight between “Regular” titlist Beibut Shumenov and “Interim” beltholder Arsem Goulamiriiam is already in the works, although still awaiting an official date and venue.
Regardless of which version of the title Lebedev ultimately vies for, what’s clear is that by month’s end it will be one less belt in Usyk’s grasp.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox