This post originally appeared in Steve Wellings’ Substack
Just when we were becoming concerned that the heavyweight division had turned itself into a stale, safe, predictable arena, another ice cold dish of controversy was served up for an audience already stuffed to the gills with fistic foolishness.
Not content with jolting the head off challenger Daniel Dubois for the best part of five rounds, Oleksandr Usyk swiftly reaffirmed his position as chief entertainer by taking to the canvas in an act of high-level histrionics. Grimacing and wincing, displaying contortions of both face and frame, Usyk played the ultimate court jester. But, was it all justified? Had boxing’s fleet-footed ballet mover been smacked with a Nutcracker or was a fair blow called foul?
Down and out: Dubois ended on a knee, similar to the Joyce fight
Various screenshots, complete with little badly drawn lines from iPhone editors, flittered around social media platforms. Every outcome, bar sending the footage up to a VAR truck, was considered, in order to work out the truth and fiction between a legitimate body shot and an illegal punch.
It’s difficult to know if the line had been crossed, because the line itself is often down to the judgement of the referee, in this case Panama’s Luis Pabon. Mostly, as the referee dishes out his instructions right before the start of a fight he will clearly mark out where legality ends and foul play begins.
Sometimes the phrase “trunks are a little high, so here is good” will be uttered. Shorts move during fights. Some boxers spend an inordinate amount of time pulling them up, pushing them down or fiddling around to such a degree that the cup protector is visible for portions of a round.
In the ring, things move fast. Was Pabon up to no good? He’s shown in the past he’s not a great ref but more than likely it was a subjective call made by an official trying to make big calls during split second incidents. Usyk reacted like a man who had been hit remarkably low. We’ve all seen those types of shots. The ones that loop underneath and crack the sack up into the chest. Considering this punch landed high enough to cause such debate, it was intriguing to see the defending champion behave the way he did.
The overriding narrative on ESPN, mainly posited by analyst Mark Kriegel, is that Usyk HATES being hit to the body. Stop press. Name a boxer who does enjoy it? Across many of the rounds, Usyk controlled matters behind the southpaw jab. To his credit, Dubois landed some solid, clearly legal, blows to the body, a strategy he has employed in the past, particularly when facing Nathan Gorman.
Talk soon turned to what is next for the winner. Fed up waiting for his opportunity, IBF mandatory Filip Hrgovic has refused to step aside. Holding on to three belts is good for legacy but a curse when mandatory contenders pile up waiting for their shots as Usyk’s team try to coax Tyson Fury into a corner. Hrgovic may be motivated to thump the body a little more than usual, but he lacks the speed to cause too many issues for Usyk. Fury, meanwhile, would cause plenty of concern, utilising his height, reach and mobility to smash and grab the Ukrainian at every opportunity.
Apoplectic with rage, Daniel Dubois’ promoter Frank Warren was understandably slamming the decision as he defended his own fighter’s interests. A large portion of the bout was slipping away from Daniel and the controversy will do the young man’s cause no harm as his team cling to anything to make him more marketable in the future.
As Frank well knows, Dubois will likely get another big payday, boosted by the visuals of having Usyk down and hurt in some capacity. Whether Dubois’ ability to battle on through adversity increases at the third time of asking, time will tell.
Big Baby Anderson wins by KO, while big baby Zhan bails out early
It was certainly a weekend of hard-hitting heavyweight body blows. Having witnessed the madness of Wroclaw, the main event referee in Tulsa, Gary Ritter, made sure he briefed both Jared Anderson and Andriy Rudenko on exactly where the beltline sat.
Anderson made a habit of testing that area with relentless assaults to the torso, ribs and occasionally further down. Rudenko is a tough nut but offers little in the way of offensive prowess. He probably could’ve been allowed to continue but ref Mr Ritter jumped in and waved it off as the Ukrainian covered up and hoped for the end to an increasingly one-sided beating.
Boxing just a few weeks after defeating Charles Martin in the biggest win of his career to date, ‘Big Baby’ was served up a durable yet limited operator in Rudenko. Anderson can be exciting in the ring, brings a vocal fanbase to venues and likes to stay active. Still learning and developing at 23 years of age, Anderson is not yet ready for the top dogs of the division, but that’s OK. He may be in a rush to impress but Bob Arum and his team of matchmakers will do the right thing for his career progression.
We’ve seen some disinterested away offerings over the years, but Zhan Kossobutskiy’s showing against Efe Ajagba was an oddity. For an unbeaten talent who possesses decent hands, especially to the body, Zhan repeatedly strayed low in an attempt to get disqualified and jump on the first flight home. It’s not the first time a boxer has melted down. We’ve seen egregious low blow merchants plying their trades in the past.
Andrew Golota’s two displays against Riddick Bowe are the obvious examples. Kirk Johnson also threw one dodgy shot too many against John Ruiz in 2002 and was dutifully ejected in round 10 by frustrated referee Joe Cortez. Oddly, Kirk was well in the fight and only a point down on two of the scorecards at the time before mentally combusting.
Back to Ajagba and yet another weird opponent performance for the man who had to deal with Stephan Shaw’s lack of action and previously endured Curtis Harper’s meme-worthy ring exit before the journeyman even entered. Big-punching Ajagba is a sizeable unit and a Nigerian nightmare for many opponents. Kazakh Kossobutskiy clearly couldn’t deal with him and it will be interesting to see what Top Rank do with Efe next.
Deontay Wilder is raging with potential future opponent Andy Ruiz Jr, claiming that the portly puncher is demanding the guts of $20million to fight. The pair were supposed to meet in an eliminator for Tyson Fury’s WBC heavyweight title.
Victory for Wilder could potentially set up a fourth meeting between him and the ‘Gypsy King’ although that is unlikely to ever come to fruition. Ruiz, who also once held portions of the heavyweight jewels after upsetting Anthony Joshua, denies asking for so much cash and reckons his request was half of the stated amount.
With Jermell Charlo moving up to face Canelo Alvarez, Tim Tszyu resumes his career on October 15 against Brian Mendoza. Mendoza has been a behind-the-scenes grafter who finally scored a significant win when he iced the gigantic Sebastian Fundora in an upset. Tyszu is proving to be a breath of fresh air by keeping busy against extremely credible opposition, as the Australian lingers around world level at 154 pounds.
Tszyu brothers, Nikita (left) and Tim – Credit: Sporting News
Speaking of Tszyus, Tim’s younger brother Nikita dished out a beating last Wednesday on domestic rival Jack Brubaker. Supporting main eventer Liam Wilson, Tszyu is the name that carries most weight on the Aussie fight scene. Nikita was busted up and buzzed early on after suffering an officially called knockdown that was actually a vicious head clash as the pair leaned in for leverage.
The young southpaw battled back to stop gatekeeper Brubaker in round six. It was a strong statement win for a fighter with only seven fights under his belt. ‘The Butcher’ will be a handful for this level of opposition but needs to tighten up the defence when stepping up.
About Steve: Experienced boxing writer, author of 8 books and podcaster of over 400 eps. 20 years in the sport. Covered hundreds of shows for newspapers and Boxing News magazine. Chief video script writer for Motivedia channel and BN+. For enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.