It’s getting repetitive, but at the same time it bears repeating: 2018 is proving to be an excellent year for professional boxing. The number of high-calibre, high-stakes matches is well beyond what fans have become accustomed to and we still have a number of great tilts slated to happen before the year is out. We could likely wile away many an hour speculating on why and how this is happening, especially when we consider the number of elite-level pugilists who continue to be woefully inactive and the fact that this has certainly not always been the case, especially in recent years.
But without getting too verbose about it all we might content ourselves with simply pointing out that the World Boxing Super Series has proven to be a major boost for the fight game. The entire sport owes a debt of gratitude to Sauerland Promotions and Richard Schaefer for launching these divisional tournaments which have thus far resulted in a series of excellent matches at both super middleweight and cruiserweight. New tournaments for the bantamweight and super lightweight divisions have recently been announced and we look forward to more compelling “best vs best” duels which only bring renewed interest and excitement to boxing.
All this to say, the final match in the WBSS cruiserweight tournament is happening this weekend and it is, without question, one of the most intriguing clashes of 2018. Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev will meet to decide who is the best cruiserweight in the world on Saturday and it promises to be a dramatic 12 round struggle. These are two formidable pugilists: rugged, skilled, powerful and fearless and this has all the makings of a thrilling battle. And so, naturally, the fine minds at The Fight City are happy to offer their fearless predictions as to who will prevail. Usyk vs Gassiev. “The Cat” from Ukraine vs “Iron” from Russia. Who will take it? See what our contributors have to say.
Gassiev showed tremendous versatility against Cuban puncher Yunier Dorticos, but Usyk is a different calibre of fighter altogether and I suspect he will prove too agile and clever to be outboxed or worked into a corner by the “Iron” man. Usyk will use his footwork to unbalance Gassiev and hinder his ability to generate power, while the southpaw’s rangy, high-volume offense should contain the Russian long enough for him to score and then get away without reply. Usyk by decision. — Lee Wylie
Usyk by TKO. — Manny Montreal
Although both boxers have impressive KO records, Gassiev is the heavier-handed of the two. He is a dangerous puncher, who dispatched former champ Krzysztof Wlodarczyk with a devastating body shot in only the third round of their fight. If Gassiev can carry out his trainer’s game plan, I see a stoppage or knockout for “Iron” in the late rounds. — Ralph M. Semien
Truth be told, I had Dorticos winning this whole Cruiserweight tournament (shows what I know). Gassiev delivered a great, Marciano-style ending to his bout with the Cuban a while back, but I think he’s just too flatfooted to beat Usyk. I have the Ukrainian by decision. — Sean Crose
Gassiev is a skilled, calm stalker; not the fastest feet, but he will track you down, find you, and break you. While he is a puncher, he mixes up his offense very skillfully and is a terrific body puncher. Usyk, on the other hand, tends to stay on his toes and focuses more on scoring than hurting his foes. Although he doesn’t always throw the most conventional punches, they are voluminous, from odd angles, and hard to counter. He’s also adept defensively; he can pick off shots or use head movement and footwork to stay out of the way. Overall, I think Usyk brings a little more to the table and has more experience against top class cruisers. I expect him to win a close decision, but it won’t come easy. — Alden Chodash
Usyk is the more polished boxer, and while his technical advantages should give him the early edge, there’s something truly ominous about Gassiev’s destructive power. In what should be a fascinating contest, the hunch (and it’s truly nothing more than that) is that “Iron” walks through some fire to halt Usyk in the late rounds. — Zachary Alapi
It’s tough to find a more appropriate match-up in any division, and each fighter’s tendency to retaliate when things get tough mean we’re probably in for a fight that will turn violent quickly. But often in the kinds of bouts that promise mayhem, the fighter with better focus and boxing ability finds a way to win. That is, of course, ignoring the bombs that Usyk and Gassiev are bound to land on one another at some point. Tentatively, Usyk by decision. — Patrick Connor
I was big on Usyk as the favourite coming into this tournament but his stock took a hit when he was taken to the wire by Briedis. Meanwhile against Dorticos, Gassiev impressed me a lot with his efficiency and patience. He didn’t waste energy or allow himself to get caught-up in his own success by over-reaching or becoming greedy. That said, Dorticos looked a more static target than I’m expecting Usyk to present. I think Usyk will have to fight smart and stay mobile. He can’t afford a moment’s lapse if he’s to avoid the short, heavy hooks and uppercuts that the Russian employs to sickening effect but I’m tentatively expecting Usyk on points in a hard-fought contest with Gassiev coming on strong in the latter rounds. — Damien Burton
The fight is in Russia and Gassiev is Russian. The politics of a Ukrainian fighter going up against a Russian in Moscow may not be a huge deal over here, but it’s naive to think it won’t get the attention of the powers-that-be in Dragoland. I don’t know how or in what form, but I expect some sort of chicanery or weirdness before this one is over and I think Gassiev is going to come out with the win, whether it’s totally legit or not. Besides, the guy has power to spare and 12 rounds is a long time to avoid his heavy shots. Especially when someone spiked your water bottle. Gassiev by late round TKO. — Robert Portis
The Usyk-Gassiev cruiserweight unification title tilt is expected to be one of the best fights of the year. Some observers are down on Usyk due to his less-than-overwhelming performance against Mairis Briedas and high on Gassiev after his stoppage of Yunier Dorticos. But my bet is that Usyk controls the pace of the match and does enough down the stretch to outpoint the Russian. Usyk by decision. –Thad Moore
I picked Usyk from the outset of the WBSS and I’m sticking with him, though I do so with less confidence now. Gassiev is far too good to write off. He will pose danger throughout and make things very uncomfortable for Usyk, especially later in the fight. I just fancy Usyk’s boxing skills will allow him to keep the fight at long range for enough rounds to see him through on points. Usyk by decision. — Matt O’Brien
Gassiev by TKO late. — Rafael Garcia
Usyk by unanimous decision. — Jeffrey Fuss
It’s always exciting when the two top guys in a division face off, and Usyk vs Gassiev has all the hallmarks of a modern classic. I suspect we’ll see a tactical battle rather than a firestorm though, for neither is the type to swing for the fences while neglecting defence. For me, Usyk is slightly superior in most areas and I reckon he’ll use his length, mobility and counter-punching to good effect, with Gassiev having his moments. Usyk by close decision. — Ronnie McCluskey
On ability, Usyk comes out on top. If he uses his feet and distance he can win on points, but we have already seen his willingness to trade heavy shots and I believe he will do so on Saturday. Gassiev’s fighting style can be described as thunderous. He is not as mobile but has power to spare. I think Usyk will win the early rounds but Gassiev is going to land a shot that changes the context of the fight. Usyk isn’t going to back down and will dish out equal punishment but Gassiev’s is more brutal, more destructive, and because of this I pick him to stop Usyk in the final round. Don’t miss this fight. — Shaun Brown
I don’t share the negative takes out there on Usyk’s performance against Briedis, who is a tricky and difficult out for anyone. That said, “The Cat” will need to be sharper and more assertive against Gassiev and I’m certain he knows that. My read is Usyk is the boxer with more tools in his toolbox. I envision him beating Gassiev to the punch and finishing most of the exchanges and otherwise keeping his opponent at bay with his busy jab. Usyk by decision or late round stoppage. — Michael Carbert