The World Boxing Super Series kicked off on Saturday at the Max Schmeling Hall in Berlin with a clash of cruiserweight champions, Marco Huck and Oleksandr Usyk, and the end result was to further establish the Ukranian pugilist they call “The Cat” as not just the best cruiserweight in the world, but also one of the best boxers currently active, pound-for-pound. The former Olympic gold medallist is only 13-0 but, judging from his victory over Huck, he’s the man to beat at 200 pounds. Let’s analyse his performance and see how and why he was so impressive.
The first two rounds of the match were typical research rounds where both men felt each other out while establishing their roles and imposing their respective game plans. It was clear from the get-go that the southpaw Usyk was the slicker, more athletic boxer and his strategy was to use his mobility, right jab and superior ring IQ to solve Huck, whereas the German looked to cut off the ring on Usyk, land the right hand and trap Usyk into the ropes or in a corner. Huck needed to avoid a chess match and turn the duel into a brawl.
But it was Usyk who took control quickly, circling Huck, controlling the distance and alternating between soft, grazing shots and harder, crisper blows. But Huck has been competing at the championship level for more than six years and he was determined to compete regardless of his technical and athletic shortcomings. He even backed Usyk up a few times to land a few shots, punches which Usyk immediately repaid in kind. At the end of round three Huck backed Usyk into the ropes and unloaded but the WBO champion was a patient hunter; he landed his own punches, pulled away, and then “hopped on his bicycle” to run down the clock.
In the fourth Usyk switched to “cruise control” and Huck forced him to the ropes and fired a volley of punches, his best moment in the fight so far. However, Usyk finished the round strong and started the fifth the same way, not only outboxing the former cruiserweight champion, but also displaying more aggressiveness by forcing Huck to backpedal. Huck did have a few opportunities to work on the inside but could not capitalize on them.
By the mid-point it was clear Usyk was in full control of the fight, having easily won the first five rounds. Huck wasn’t out of it, but he needed to do much more to turn the tide in his favour. Both pugilists started the sixth trading body jabs and while Huck was still competing and retaliating, the punches he took in the first half of the fight began to tell on his face. He also showed signs of slowing down while Usyk seemed to have plenty of gas left in his tank.
The Ukranian entered the seventh knowing the fight was his. All he needed to do was keep boxing intelligently and avoid trading shots at mid-range with Huck, who would get more desperate as the fight progressed. That said, Usyk also knew his adversary was beginning to slow down. Smelling blood, “The Cat” stalked and trapped his “prey” in the final moments of the round in an attempt to put Huck out of his misery.
The challenger started the eighth round strong with a 1-2 combination to the body, followed by a left hook upstairs and a cross but none of these punches bothered Usyk, nor did they deter him from changing his tactics in any way. The German had to know he needed a knockout to win but in the final 30 seconds of the round it was Usyk connecting flush several times as Huck fumbled in the corner. As Usyk prepared to give Huck the coup de grâce, the champion lost his footing and fell on the canvas. Huck, seemingly frustrated by the overall outcome of his predicament, proceeded to strike Usyk while he was down, prompting referee Robert Byrd to deduct a point.
Be it the illegal punch or simply the fact that he felt his German foe was ready to be put down, the Ukrainian champion started the ninth like a ferocious lion, attacking Huck at the bell. Desperate and overwhelmed, Huck resorted to yet another illegal tactic, this time holding and hitting. Once again, Byrd intervened to remind the German that boxing is a gentleman’s sport but no point was deducted.
Huck wasn’t completely out of it and he did land some good shots, but for every solid blow he managed to land, Usyk found a way to answer him back threefold. By the tenth, Huck’s fate was sealed; it was time for the denouement. Usyk saw a chance to call it a night before the final bell and he took it. And this time, unlike in the third round, the reigning champion didn’t feel the need to pace himself or hold anything back. “The Cat” closed the show with a volley of unanswered punches which gave referee Robert Byrd no other choice but to step in and stop the fight.
I don’t think anyone in their right mind truly believed that Marco Huck was going to pull off the upset against Oleksandr Usyk. But despite being shut out completely, the underdog still deserves credit for making the fight competitive and worth watching. That being said, the German’s shortcomings were glaring and it was evident he could never dream of defeating Oleksandr Usyk. He pinned Usyk on the ropes a few times but never capitalized on the chances he had to work on the inside and hammer Usyk to the body.
Like his Ukrainian counterpart Vasyl Lomachenko, Usyk is blessed with many talents that will enable him to reign for quite a while if management plays their cards right. He may not be as fast, flashy or as eclectically skilled as “Hi-Tech” ( his style is actually very East European: high guard, preference for long-range boxing and straight shots), but his footwork, intelligence, and composure are all very impressive. Like Lomachenko, he always appears calm and in total control and simply makes everything look so damn easy. He is precise, possesses great timing and anticipation skills, and controls distance perfectly to land his punches and gracefully glide away from danger.
Except for the so-called fans who wrongfully enjoy involving race and nationalism in boxing discussions, I don’t see how you cannot appreciate Usyk’s talent. His detractors would probably counter me by claiming that he doesn’t possess monstrous power (ironically the same detractors who also hate on Lomachenko and for the very same reasons) or that he hasn’t met his greatest challenge yet. That may well be true. And I would love to see him and devastating puncher Gassev Murat, the present IBF cruiserweight champion, clash in the near future. A pugilistic artist versus a banger who used to drink horse blood after training in his native Russia? That could be a fight for the ages. — Simon Traversy