Heavyweight Oleksandr Usyk, the unbeaten former undisputed cruiserweight world champion, is in a mandatory position to challenge three-belt titleholder Anthony Joshua but has no plans to sit around waiting for that fight, which would not happen until this fall, at the earliest.
So while Joshua attends to another mandatory defense against Kubrat Pulev on June 20, Usyk will risk his status against longtime contender and former world title challenger Dereck Chisora.
The fight, long expected, was made official by Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn on Wednesday and will take place May 23 at the O2 Arena in London. DAZN will carry the fight in the United States and it will be a Sky Box Office pay-per-view in the United Kingdom.
Hearn said the Usyk-Chisora could be “heavyweight blockbuster that can only be full of drama. Usyk, who has become a U.K. fans favorite in his own right, did it all at cruiserweight, becoming undisputed world champion in just 15 fights.
“Now he attempts the same feat in the glamour division, with the big boys. Has he bitten off more than he can chew with ‘Del Boy,’ who has consistently proved the doubters wrong and become one of the toughest, explosive heavyweights in the game? Anything can happen on May 23.”
Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), who ranks No. 6 in the ESPN poll of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters, became the first undisputed cruiserweight world champion of the four-belt era when he easily outpointed Murat Gassiev to unify all the belts in the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament in July 2018 on Gassiev’s turf in Moscow. After one defense of the undisputed title, a massive eighth-round knockout of former titlist Tony Bellew in Manchester, England, in November 2018, Usyk vacated the belts and moved up to the heavyweight division.
A torn biceps delayed his first heavyweight fight. The southpaw Usyk, 33, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, was out of action for 11 months before he made his debut in the weight class in October in Chicago and knocked out Chazz Witherspoon in the seventh round of a one-sided fight. Usyk also had gambled his mandatory position in that fight but Chisora is a far more highly regarded opponent.
“Boxing in Manchester in 2018 was an amazing experience, now I get to do it in London at the famous O2 Arena and I can’t wait to fight in front of the British fans once again,” said Usyk, who was the consensus 2018 fighter of the year. “As a cruiserweight, I reached the highest heights as undisputed champion and now I am following the same path as a heavyweight.
“I expect a real test in Chisora. He is strong, tough and resilient. I recall being an amateur and watching his fight with [then-heavyweight titlist] Vitali Klitschko [in 2012]. It seemed so big and far away. Now I am myself taking a fight against Chisora. I am working hard in my training camp to show a spectacular performance on May 23.”
Chisora (32-9, 23 KOs), 36, of England, has faced a who’s who of the heavyweight division and been in several exciting fights but he has usually lost when facing elite opponents, including twice to Tyson Fury, twice to Dillian Whyte, Klitschko and David Haye, who is now Chisora’s manager.
But Chisora has won three fights in a row since being stopped in the 11th round of a rematch with Whyte in December 2018 at the O2 Arena and aims to derail Usyk’s heavyweight dreams.
“War is coming,” Chisora said. “Usyk reckons he can step up and survive with the big boys. He may be the [former] undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world but on May 23 he will find out what it feels like to be hit by a real heavyweight. He is coming to my backyard. I’m going to remind him exactly why he hid in the cruiserweight division and also get revenge for my boy, Tony Bellew. This will be war.”
If Usyk defeats Chisora and Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) defeats Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs), Joshua-Usyk likely would take place in the fall.