Oleksandr Usyk will make his long-awaited heavyweight debut this Saturday against very late replacement Chazz Witherspoon at the Wintrust Arena, in Chicago, Illinois. Witherspoon replaces Tyrone Spong on less than one week’s notice.
Spong (14-0, 13 KOs), a former kickboxer, was pulled from the fight after failing a performance-enhancing drug test administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. Spong disputed the result but was removed from the fight nonetheless.
Tale of the Tape
Ukraine’s Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, will now face the 38-year old Witherspoon (38-3, 29 KOs), a cousin to former WBA/WBC heavyweight champion Tim “Terrible” Witherspoon.
Usyk was originally supposed to face Carlos Takam (37-5-1, 28 KOs) on May 25 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. However, Usyk suffered a biceps injury postponing the fight until September and then it was off.
It’s expected to be a matchup to help prepare the former unified cruiserweight champion to possibly face the winner of December’s rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr.
The fact that the 32-year old Usyk (16-0, 12 Kos) was made the WBO mandatory challenger despite having never competed in the weight class speaks volumes about his lofty standing among the world’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Usyk’s impressive career has been well chronicled since his heavyweight gold medal win at the 2012 Olympics. He went on to unify all belts in the four-belt era with a unanimous decision over Murat Gassiev in the final of the World Boxing Super Series in July 2018.
His lone defense came via a crushing eighth-round knockout over Tony Bellew that November before relinquishing the titles to move up to the heavyweight division.
Witherspoon has only fought twice in the last three years with one of those being a March TKO win over Santander Silgado. However, huge questions surround is conditioning but he is obviously healthy enough to pass a basic physical exam.
Chazz was a promising prospect 11 years ago at 23-0 when he was disqualified after three rounds against former world title challenger Chris Arreola in June 2008. Arreola had Witherspoon in all sorts of trouble during that fight, sending him down twice in the third round before his corner entered the ring to help him to his corner after the second knockdown, which resulted in the DQ.
He won his next three fights before suffering a TKO at the hands of Tony “the Tiger” Thompson in the ninth round. He fought on and off before losing for the third time to Seth Mitchell in April 2012.
In his biggest fights, Witherspoon has consistently come up short. His most recent wins have all come against unremarkable competition so it will be an exceptionally tall order for him to prepare properly for a talent like Usyk in just a few days.
I think Hearn will receive a lot of criticism from fight fans for matching a past prime and semi-retired fighter like Witherspoon against Usyk. People were not particularly excited about Spong either but at least he was ranked #6 by the WBO and carried serious punching power to at least make the fight interesting.
Witherspoon may have been a promising fighter in his heyday but he’s the sacrificial lamb for a highly anticipated debut gone horribly wrong. That said, it’s important for Usyk to fight on Saturday considering his lengthy layoff and to keep those world title hopes alive in 2020.
Verdict: Usyk via knockout in round 5
Dmitry Bivol Returns to Action
In the co-feature bout on the Usyk-Witherspoon card, WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11 KOs) defends against Lenin Castillo (20-2-1, 15 KOs).
This is a bit of a head-scratcher considering that Bivol is capable of defeating much better fighters than this. Castillo is ranked at the very bottom of the WBA standings at #15, and has recent losses to Marcus Browne and Joseph Williams. The fight is an obvious step down for the 28-year old native of St. Petersburg, Russia from his last four fights against Joe Smith Jr., Jean Pascal, Sullivan Barrera and Isaac Chilemba.
“I know for Castillo this a big opportunity but we’ve prepared very well in Los Angeles and I look forward to putting on a great performance for those in attendance and watching on DAZN. Since I became a world champion over two years ago, I’ve wanted the toughest challenges and the biggest fights, either world title unification fights or any of the top names.”
It will be Bivol’s fifth defence of the title he won back in November 2017 with a first-round knockout over Trent Broadhurst.