By Jake Collins (@MelancholyFolly)
I don’t think anyone of us truly expected the Cruiserweight tournament to have the line-up it has. I’ll be truthful, I expected a couple of good fighters and the rest to be ‘so-so’. And I was really quite content with that; boxing has given us insidious trust issues and nice things rarely happen. But this is the year 2017 and it’s been excellent so far, with much more to come. So for those who dwell under the most ignorant of rocks, the confirmed line-up is thus:
- Oleksandr Usyk
- Mairis Briedis
- Murat Gassiev
- Yunier Dorticos
- Marco Huck
- Krzysztof Wlodarczyk
- Dmitry Kudryashov
- Mike Perez
Yep, pretty mouth-watering isn’t it? If I’m being overly fastidious then I wouldn’t mind swapping Huck for Glowacki as no one is in a hurry to see Briedis-Huck again but all the same, if someone elects to stand in front of Huck even at this stage of his career it’ll probably still be quite a fun watch. The surprise inclusion for me was Mike Perez. It was hard to see where he was going after getting utterly blitzed by Povetkin but here he is looking to make some waves in a very, very exciting division. Just to exclaim the depth of this division, that list leaves out the likes of Bellew, Glowacki, Makabu, Lebedev and Mchunu! Shame Drozd doesn’t exist anymore really. If you want to pretend Dorticus has the real WBA belt instead of Lebedev (who really shouldn’t have it following the loss to Gassiev) then we also have all 4 world titles in the mix too.
The bookies have Usyk as the favourite going into this and I think it’s hard to argue that. He had some criticism for his performance against Hunter but I feel that’s a little unjust. He won pretty clearly and Hunter isn’t exactly a bad fighter himself. Usyk’s biggest problem is his tendency to start pretty slow, although that perhaps allowed him that massive rally in the 12th against Hunter where the fight could really (and perhaps should) have been stopped. His opened hesitantly against Mchunu as well but again wore his man down and got the stoppage against another very adequate fighter, so again I don’t see any major issues. The least likely is – rightly – Wlodarczyk who recently scraped past German prospect Noel Gevor. It’s hard to realistically see him winning this outright at all. Maybe if he had the frankly terrifying power of Kudryashov you could see the upset coming but it’s really, really unlikely.
I think Dorticus is an exciting dark horse in this. The Cuban is 21(20)-0 and scored an impressive win against Kalenga in his previous outing. He’s been inactive since then (that was May 2016) which won’t help matters but he doesn’t have the hype or momentum about him, so that’ll keep his odds very reasonable. For what it’s worth, Mike Perez has also looked in terrific shape since burning down to Cruiserweight. Of course he hasn’t had anything in the way of a competitive fight since the Povetkin loss either but he mentally seems to be in a good place. The tragedy that followed Perez’s fight with Abdusalamov was awful and would naturally cause dismay to a fighter. Perez is technically a very polished boxer but never really had the size required to mix it at Heavyweight, though of course there’s no shame in losing to Jennings and Povetkin.
Just glancing at the names above and it’s hard to imagine any dull fights. We did assume Briedis-Huck would be an absolute war but annoyingly Briedis elected to box instead of trading with Huck which makes him a very selfish individual in my eyes. My understanding is that the top seeded boxers (so you would assume that’s the champions) get to choose their first fights. Wonder if there will be a flurry for Kudryashov? It very much depends on how things work out but I will go ahead and predict a Usyk-Dorticus final, with Usyk coming out on top. He’s as fleet-footed a Cruiserweight as I’ve seen for some time and I think he’s one of those guys who will raise their performance with level of competition. If that’s true then we will surely see what Usyk can offer to the boxing world. We really can’t wait for this to get underway.by