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Since man first fought for sport, the spectacle of the heavyweight bout has been the most lauded. In boxing, the heavyweight world title has garnered the most prestige, the greatest financial reward and even turned the best fighters into icons.
On July 21, Oleksandr Usyk beat Murat Gassiev to unify the cruiserweight division, becoming undisputed champion. To hardcore fight fans this put Usyk somewhere among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Despite this, Usyk’s name does not ring out across the world. To the wider public the southpaw master is unknown, an unfortunate symptom of one of boxing's least popular weight categories.
The cruiserweight division, which sits directly under heavyweight, was introduced in 1979 and adopted by all boards by 1983. Previously, anyone above light-heavyweight (12st7) was considered a heavyweight.
As people grew larger, this became a serious issue. Where once the average heavyweight bounced around the 13st mark, decades later most heavyweights weighed in excess of 16st.
To make a comparison, the average weight of Rocky Marciano's opponents was roughly 13st6. Over half a century later, the opponents of Anthony Joshua average in at a whopping 17st.
The lure of gold and glory has consistently pulled top cruiserweights up into the heavyweight ranks, to mixed results. Evander Holyfield successfully moved up after unifying the cruiserweight division to become the undisputed heavyweight champion, a phenomenal feat never before achieved.
David Haye reigned over the cruiserweight ranks and moved up and, despite gaining the WBA world title, was unable to dominate the way he had at the lighter weight, coming unstuck against Wladimir Klitschko.
The transition was even less fruitful for Glenn McCrory and Dwight Muhammad Qawi who were knocked out by Lennox Lewis and George Foreman respectively.
Rumours are now building that Usyk will move up to take on the big boys, his sights set on Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tony Bellew.
Generally, fighters with good skills and movement fare better when moving up than punchers or brawlers, owing to the fact that any hope of using pure physicality is dashed when facing much larger men.
In this regard, Usyk may do well with his fast reflexes and impressive footwork.
With an announcement looming, I wonder, is the champ good enough or are his eyes too big for his belly?
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