Opening Bell: All hail Usyk!
Since the cruiserweight division was established in 1979 -- with a 190-pound weight limit that many years later was increased to 200 -- the matter of its all-time best fighter has essentially been unchallenged.
The discussion has started and ended with the great Evander Holyfield, although there have been other excellent fighters in the weight class, including Vassiliy Jirov, James Toney (briefly), Marco Huck, Johnny Nelson, Jean Marc Mormeck, O'Neil Bell, Juan Carlos Gomez and David Haye.
Holyfield, who had come out of the 1984 Olympics with a bronze medal, roared to a cruiserweight world title in his 12th pro fight when he outlasted fellow Hall of Famer Dwight Muhammad Qawi to take his belt via split decision in 1986, one of boxing's last great 15-round slugfests.
In 1987, Holyfield knocked out Ricky Parkey in the third round to unify two titles. In 1988, he knocked out Carlos De Leon in the eighth round to unify all three major belts to become the division's first undisputed champion before moving up to heavyweight, where he became a legend.
As far as the cruiserweight division goes, however, Holyfield now has company in the discussion of best ever thanks to yet another superlative performance from Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk, who came into the pros in 2013 after winning the Olympic gold medal in 2012 and has trumped Holyfield time and again.
Holyfield's first title win over Qawi came in his 12th fight and stood as the record for fewest needed to win a cruiserweight belt for 30 years -- until Usyk did it in his 10th fight with a decision over Krzysztof Glowacki on Glowacki's turf in Poland in 2016.
Usyk's resume in the division has now also exceeded Holyfield's as he has made six defenses, all on the road and all against legitimate contenders or titleholders.
He defended against Thabiso Mchunu and Michael Hunter in the United States and then entered the first season of the World Boxing Super Series in which he knocked out Huck in his hometown of Berlin, Germany, in the quarterfinals. He traveled to Mairis Briedis' hometown of Riga, Latvia, and outpointed him to unify two belts in the semifinals, and then traveled to Murat Gassiev's home country of Russia in July and cruised to a near-shutout in a brilliant performance to win the tournament and take his two belts. That made Usyk the third undisputed cruiserweight world champion (Holyfield and Bell in 2006 are the others) but the first of the four-belt era.
Usyk's memorable encore came on Saturday, once again on the road, in Manchester, England, the home country of former titlist Tony Bellew, who was returning to the division after two knockout wins at heavyweight against Haye for what he said would be his final fight -- win, lose or draw.
Bellew put on a good performance. He won some rounds and gave it his all. But in the end, the supremely skilled and physically gifted Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), 31, a southpaw, turned out the lights with a spectacular one-punch knockout with a left hand that dropped Bellew (30-3-1, 20 KOs), 35, spread eagle with his head resting on the bottom ring rope for a knockout at 2 minutes of the eighth round.
It was a sensational ending to what has been a history-making cruiserweight run for Usyk, who has established himself as the best cruiserweight ever. He locked up 2018 fighter of the year honors and has set the stage for a move to heavyweight -- and a likely eventual showdown with unified titlist Anthony Joshua -- where he can chase Holyfield's considerable accomplishments there too.
WBSS rolls on
The quarterfinals of World Boxing Super Series' second season, which has eight-man tournaments at cruiserweight, junior welterweight and bantamweight, concluded Saturday in Chicago with two cruiserweight bouts.
Former titlist Krzysztof Glowacki (31-1, 19 KOs), of Poland, won a vacant interim belt as he methodically outpointed Russia's Maksim Vlasov (42-3, 25 KOs), 118-110, 117-110 and 115-112, in the grueling main event; and former titlist Mairis Briedis (25-1, 18 KOs), of Latvia, got a gift decision over Germany's Noel Mikaelian (23-2, 10 KOs), 116-110, 115-111 and 114-112.
Now that all six semifinals are set (and will take place in early 2019 at sites to be determined), which are the most compelling? Here's my ranking of the semifinals I am most interested in:
1. Junior welterweight Josh Taylor (14-0, 12 KOs) vs. Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12 KOs), for Baranchyk's world title.
Love this style match of Taylor's power and precision vs. Baranchyk's suffocating pressure and punch output.
2. Bantamweight Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25 KOs) vs. Zolani Tete (28-3, 21 KOs).
It's a title unification fight between power punchers. That's my cup of tea. Donaire promoter Richard Schaefer, who is also a WBSS consultant, told me he hopes to put this fight in Donaire's native country of the Philippines. "Since this (tournament) is for the Muhammad Ali trophy, I have another crazy idea for the semifinal against Tete," he said. "'Thrilla in Manila II.' Let's take the fight to the Philippines. I will do whatever I can to do it. Would be big." Sign me up.
3. Junior welterweight Regis Prograis (23-0, 19 KOs) vs. Kiryl Relikh (23-2, 19 KOs), for Relikh's title.
Prograis is never in a bad fight and Relikh has also been in some good ones.
4. Bantamweight Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15 KOs) vs. Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs), for Rodriguez's title.
Inoue is one of the most spectacular fighters in boxing and though Rodriguez is unbeaten I don't see this one being very competitive.
5. Cruiserweight Glowacki vs. Briedis.
Styles make fights. I don't think these two will mesh well and that's mainly because of Briedis.
6. Cruiserweight Yunier Dorticos (23-1, 21 KOs) vs. Andrew Tabiti (17-0, 13 KOs).
Dorticos has usually been exciting to watch. Tabiti, while talented, usually hasn't been.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
Junior welterweight Felix Verdejo (24-1, 16 KOs) KO2 Yardley Armenta Cruz (24-12, 14 KOs).
Verdejo, 25, the once can't-miss top prospect and 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian, had not looked good in recent fights and also suffered injuries. It all came to a head in March when he got knocked out in the 10th round by journeyman Antonio Lozada in a major upset. Verdejo began the rebuilding process against Cruz, 24, of Mexico, and lost his second fight in a row by second-round stoppage having also been beaten by lightweight contender Richard Commey in August. Verdejo absolutely pounded him throughout the first round and then crushed him with a left hook on the chin to knock him out 24 seconds into the second round.
Saturday at Gliwice, Poland
Heavyweight Artur Szpilka (22-3, 15 KOs) W10 Mariusz Wach (33-4, 17 KOs), scores: 97-93, 95-94, Szpilka, 96-93 Wach.
In a fight between Polish former world title challengers, southpaw Szpilka, 29, edged Wach to win his second fight in a row following knockouts to Adam Kownacki and world titleholder Deontay Wilder. Szpilka survived a knockdown in the 10th round when Wach sent him to his knees on a three-punch combination to the head with about a minute left in the fight. Wach, who lost a near-shutout decision challenging then-world champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2012, lost his second fight in a row after having been stopped by Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller in the ninth round last November.
Saturday at Tijuana, Mexico
Flyweight Joselito Velasquez (6-0, 5 KOs) TKO2 Jesus Cervantes (5-3, 1 KO).
Velasquez, 25, a 2016 Mexican Olympian and an outstanding prospect in the stable of noted manager Frank Espinoza, scored a punishing victory over Cervantes, 18, of Mexico, who lost his second fight in a row by knockout inside two rounds. The patient Velasquez scored two knockdowns, flooring him midway through the second round with a heavy left hook to the chin and again about a minute later with a left-right combination to the head. After the round, Cervantes retired on his stool.
Saturday at Tokyo
Junior bantamweight Ryuichi Funai (31-7, 22 KOs) TKO2 Victor Emanuel Olivo (15-3-1, 7 KOs), Title eliminator. Japan's Funai, 33, earned a mandatory shot at world titlist Jerwin Ancajas (30-1-2, 20 KOs) with a blowout of Olivo, 22, of Mexico. Funai dropped Olivo twice in the second round before referee Robert Byrd waved it off after the second knockdown at 2 minutes, 9 seconds.
Friday at Inglewood, Calif.
Middleweight Brandon Adams (21-2, 13 KOs) W10 Shane Mosley Jr. (11-3, 8 KOs), scores: 100-90 (twice), 99-91. In the championship match of the Epix reboot of "The Contender" reality series.
Adams, 29, of Los Angeles, who lost in the finals of the 2014 ESPN Boxcino middleweight tournament and 2015 ESPN Boxcino junior middleweight tournament, finally won a tournament (going 4-0) and the $250,000 grand prize. He dominated Mosley, 27, of Pomona, California, the son of the former pound-for-pound king Shane Mosley Sr. Adams set a quick pace, fought well on the inside and outside, had a huge sixth round and won handily. Mosley surprised many by even making it past his first bout of the tournament but did not fight well in the final.
In the co-feature, semifinalist Eric Walker (18-2, 8 KOs), 35, of Plaquemine, Louisiana, who lost to Adams in the semis, cruised to a shutout decision of Michael Moore (16-2, 7 KOs), 32, of Cleveland. Walker won 80-72 (twice) and 80-73.