Oleksandr Usyk to make defense against Thabiso 'The Rock' Mchunu

Cruiserweight world titleholder Oleksandr Usyk will make his first defense -- and his United States debut -- against Thabiso "The Rock" Mchunu on Dec. 17 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, K2 Promotions announced on Wednesday.

Usyk-Mchunu will be televised on HBO's "World Championship Boxing" (10 p.m. ET/PT) and open a tripleheader that will be headlined by the previously announced farewell fight for 51-year-old legend Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs), the former middleweight and light heavyweight world champion, who will end his 28-year career against Joe Smith (22-1, 18 KOs) in a 12-round light heavyweight contest.

"This is a great opportunity," Usyk said. "I'm very excited to fight for the first time in the United States and on HBO. After winning the world title in September, fighting in America was the next goal and I promise the fans in Los Angeles and those watching on HBO a great performance."

Ukraine's Usyk (10-0, 9 KOs), a 29-year-old southpaw with a big personality, won the Olympic heavyweight gold medal in 2012 and has moved quickly as a professional.

On Sept. 17, Usyk traveled to Poland and won a unanimous decision against hometown fighter Krzysztof Glowacki to take his world title. By winning the 200-pound belt in only his 10th professional fight, Usyk broke the division record for fewest fights needed to win a world title, surpassing the mark held by Evander Holyfield, who won a cruiserweight world title in his 12th fight by outpointing Hall of Famer Dwight Muhammad Qawi in an epic 15-rounder in 1986.

"(Usyk) wants to be known as a true world champion, the same status the gold medal provided him as an amateur," said Alexander Krassyuk of K2 Promotions Ukraine. "We're very thankful to HBO for this opportunity and see this as just the first step towards Oleksandr becoming a superstar in the United States."

Usyk was initially supposed to face Bosnia's 32-year-old Damir Beljo (22-0, 18 KOs) but Beljo ultimately declined to the fight because he did not believe he had enough time to properly prepare for the bout.

Beljo's decision opened the door for Mchunu (17-2, 11 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from South Africa, who made a name for himself in the United States in August 2013 when he upset Eddie Chambers by unanimous decision on a nationally televised card.

"Against good opposition, I 'The Rock' always rise to the occasion," Mchunu said. "I'm eagerly focused on the throne."

K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler said it took only two days to make the fight with Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, Mchunu's promoter, once Beljo dropped out.

"We give Mchunu and Kathy a lot of credit because they accepted the fight and it basically took two days to get it done," Loeffler said. "It goes back to what I say about (Gennady Golovkin's) fights: When two guys want to fight it's easy to make a fight. We made the fight with Mchunu in two days. He's not somebody you would pick for your first title defense. He's a very skilled southpaw but Usyk doesn't care who he fights. Usyk is a throwback fighter. He doesn't care who he fights or where he fights. He just wants the opportunity to fight."

Said Duva: "Thabiso jumped at this opportunity the moment the offer was conveyed without hesitation. He is coming to win and it will be a great fight. I would also give all the credit in the world to Usyk for taking on such a tough challenge in his first defense of the title."

Loeffler helped spearhead unified middleweight titleholder Golovkin's arrival in the United States and an alliance with HBO as well as doing the same for pound-for-pound king Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez. He said he believes Usyk is capable of following in their footsteps.

"We've seen what happened when GGG got the exposure on HBO and the same thing with Chocolatito," Loeffler said. "When Gennady was unknown in the U.S. but an undefeated middleweight champion from Kazakhstan and when Roman was an undefeated champion from Nicaragua and came to the U.S., as soon as they had the exposure on HBO their careers went to another level. We expect the same for Usyk. We give (HBO Sports executive vice president) Peter Nelson a lot of credit. The cruiserweight division in the U.S. hasn't gotten the spotlight like it does in Europe but Peter is putting Usyk on like he did when he put on GGG and Roman. He saw their potential and sees Usyk's. With the right exposure, Usyk's career in the U.S. and internationally will take off."

In the co-feature, rising featherweight contender Joseph "JoJo" Diaz Jr. (22-0, 13 KOs), a 2012 U.S. Olympian from South El Monte, California, will defend his regional belt against Horacio "Violento" Garcia (30-1-1, 22 KOs), 26, of Mexico, in a scheduled 10-round fight.