Undisputed cruiserweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk has long been expected to move up to the heavyweight division this spring as a prelude to a likely shot at unified heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua, but now that move has officially begun.
He will begin his heavyweight campaign with a spring fight against former world title challenger Carlos Takam, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, Usyk's co-promoter, told ESPN on Thursday.
"The Takam deal is done," Hearn said. "We are just finalizing the date with DAZN."
Usyk on Wednesday sent the WBA a letter to formally vacate that organization's world title belt and in that letter, according to the organization, he said the reason was because of his desire to fight as a heavyweight.
On Thursday morning, Egis Klimas, Usyk's manager, told ESPN that the fighter was indeed going to have his next bout as a heavyweight.
"That's what this is all about," said Klimas, who added that Usyk has not yet vacated the other three major sanctioning body belts he holds.
The WBA belt was vacated first because of a time crunch Usyk faced from the organization, which had ordered him to make a mandatory defense against former world titlist Denis Lebedev and scheduled a purse bid for Thursday at its offices in Panama City, Panama. With that purse bid looming and Usyk having no intention of participating in the bout, Klimas said the decision was made to vacate the title. The purse bid has been canceled.
Hearn has regularly discussed Usyk's move to heavyweight and a likely showdown with Joshua, whom he also promotes, next spring -- as long as both keep winning.
For Usyk's heavyweight debut, Hearn had told ESPN the plan was for him to fight on May 18 in the main event of a DAZN card at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago with Takam as the likely opponent. Takam (36-5-1, 28 KOs), 38, a Cameroon native based in France, challenged Joshua for his belts in October 2017 and got knocked out in the 10th round.
Klimas told ESPN that Takam was an acceptable opponent to him and Usyk but that the date would "99.9 percent move" so as not to conflict with a far higher-profile fight the same night -- heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder's mandatory defense against Dominic Breazeale in a Showtime-televised main event from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Hearn said he would like to have Usyk face Takam in the main event with contenders Alexander Povetkin and Michael Hunter fighting in the co-feature with the winners to face each other in the fall. If Usyk were to beat Takam and the Povetkin-Hunter winner, Hearn said it would almost certainly propel him into the fight with Joshua.
Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), 32, a southpaw and 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist from Ukraine, won the eight-man World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament last July to unify all four major 200-pound belts in final by taking two belts from Murat Gassiev in a one-sided decision victory on Gassiev's turf in Moscow.
Not long after that fight, Usyk and K2 Promotions signed a co-promotional deal with Hearn, and Usyk defended the undisputed title by crushing eighth-round knockout of former world titlist Tony Bellew in November in Manchester, England.
Since Usyk turned pro, his stated goal was to unify the cruiserweight titles and then move up to try to do the same at heavyweight as had been done previously only by Evander Holyfield, who did it when only three belts were needed to be an undisputed champion.