Can Derek Chisora Upset Oleksandr Usyk?
By Cameron Temple
On the 22nd of December 2018, Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora faced off at the O2 arena in London for their much-anticipated rematch.
Despite a valiant performance, Chisora was knocked out by a clean left hook in the eleventh round, leaving Whyte as the mandatory challenger for the WBC world heavyweight title.
At the time, this appeared as if it might be the end of the road for the seasoned heavyweight, Chisora, as he had failed to make a victorious step up to world level for what seemed like the umpteenth time.
And yet, less than a year and a half later, here we are.
Chisora has once again put himself in contention for a world heavyweight title, as he takes on the Ukranian WBO mandatory challenger, Oleksandr Usyk, with the bout originally scheduled for the 23rd of May, but recently it was postponed due to the coronavirus, with a new date yet to be announced.
The bout is being presented as Usyk’s first real test in the heavyweight division, in the professional ranks at least, but he is still a huge favourite to win with the bookies.
In the past, Chisora has lost to every single world heavyweight contender he has faced, a list which includes the likes of Tyson Fury, Vitali Klitschko, David Haye, Kubrat Pulev and Dillian Whyte. He has even struggled occasionally below world level, suffering defeats to Robert Helenius and Agit Kabayel.
On the other hand, his opponent, Oleksandr Usyk, is yet to falter at any level. He won a gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics, before turning over to the professional ranks and dominating further.
He became undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world, beating
Krzysztof Glowacki, Michael Hunter, Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, Murat Gassiev and Tony Bellew all away from home in their respective countries.
This raises the question, is there any reason to believe Chisora can break the mould of his past and beat the formidable Oleksandr Usyk?
Usyk’s manager, Alexander Krassyuk, certainly believes this will be no walk over for his man, saying at the press conference in London a few weeks ago:
“Many people say that Derek Chisora is the best option for Usyk, to test him in the heavyweights, which I do agree with. The thing I disagree with, is that people say it’s going to be an easy fight for Usyk. I don’t think so, I think it’s probably going to be one of the biggest challenges in his career.”
However, Krassyuk’s attempt to attract fans with the prospect of a potential major upset was slightly undermined as he went on to say:
“As soon as Usyk completes his task with Derek Chisora, being mandatory for the WBO, we all expect he will face AJ,” suggesting that Chisora is a mere stepping stone.
Chisora’s manager, David Haye, was much more assured in his belief of a ‘Del Boy’ victory, as he explained at the press conference how he believed Usyk was underestimating Chisora, saying:
“What he doesn’t realise is Derek is a completely different animal from anyone he’s ever been in the ring with. Watching his sparring and seeing the progression in his fights and the changes in his lifestyle, how he lives his life day to day is significantly different now than it was a year ago, and than it was two years ago. He’s going in the right direction.”
Haye, when speaking about Chisora’s training regime, even went as far as saying:
“It got to a point where he was looking so good, we had to give him a two-week vacation to stay out of the gym.”
Perhaps acting as a reminder to take the hyperbole of managers and promoters with a pinch of salt while they’re trying to sell a fight.
However, is this change in lifestyle or ‘rejuvenation,’ as Sky’s Adam Smith put it, enough to see Chisora overcome a hurdle at which he has previously always fallen?
There is definitely something that can be taken from Chisora’s impressive performances in his last five fights. He’s won three of those five fights by knockout against tough opponents, including Carlos Takam and David Price.
Chisora’s only loss in those five fights came against Dillian Whyte, and was perhaps the most encouraging of them all. Chisora was leading on two of the three judges’ scorecards going into the eleventh round, before he was flattened by the world-renowned left hook of Whyte.
Despite two losses to Whyte, the fact that Chisora was able to push him right to the end in both fights demonstrates Chisora’s ability to compete at world level.
Dillian Whyte himself is certainly someone who can see Chisora causing an upset, saying in an interview with Sky Sports:
“I don’t think people should sleep on Derek. When he’s motivated and he wants something, he can be very dangerous. As you can see in both fights with me, it was hard, and I’m a bigger stronger guy than Usyk.”
The one fight from Chisora’s last five fights that could be cause for concern was his fight with Senad Gashi. While it could be seen as unfair to criticise Chisora off the back of this bout, as Gashi spent most of the fight unwilling to engage, it has to be noted that Chisora struggled to catch him.
Similarly to Gashi, Usyk can be expected to avoid heavy exchanges with Chisora in their fight owing to the Brits size advantage. At that point, it is up to Chisora to close off the ring and pin Usyk down, and if you take his fight with Gashi as precedent, that’s is not something of which Chisora looks capable.
One man completely unconvinced by Chisora’s chances in this fight is trainer, Shane McGuigan, who highlighted his concerns in an interview with Boxing Social:
“I just see a one way beat down. I think Chisora should not have picked this fight at this stage of his career… I just think how is he going to be able to pin Usyk down. Can he punch harder than Gassiev? No. Does he come in with more intensity? No. Although, the physical size and weight could potentially be imposing for Usyk down the stretch… At the age he is now, he doesn’t have those gears, he doesn’t have that intensity to be able to constantly walk someone down. So, I’m going with Usyk by a wide points decision… He’s bitten off more than he can chew, too late in his career.”
While it is hard to argue with McGuigan here, I would say age shouldn’t necessarily play as much of a factor as he is making out. Chisora is 36 years old, meaning it is a fair assessment that to say that he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but Usyk is only three years younger at 33 years old.
Also, it is a common cliché in boxing that power is the last thing you lose. So, age has historically been much less of a factor in the heavyweight division than at the lighter weights.
An area of potential weakness in Usyk, which Chisora could exploit, is his recent injury troubles. Usyk’s first foray into the heavyweight division was supposed to be against Carlos Takam last year, but was cancelled due to injury and more recently this fight against Chisora was meant to take place in March but had to be pushed back, as Usyk suffered another injury setback.
A member of Chisora’s team, David Haye, is very familiar with the effects on the body that moving from cruiserweight to heavyweight can have. If Usyk’s body is struggling to carry the new weight, we could see a more cautious and less mobile Usyk than that which we have become accustomed.
There is also the obvious element to this fight that Usyk’s chin is yet to be tested with the power of a heavyweight punch. Although this is not completely true. Usyk competed in the heavyweight division as an amateur fighting the likes of British Bulldozer Joe Joyce.
Nonetheless, as David Haye pointed out in the press conference, the amateur game is very different to that of the professional ranks, in that the bouts are fought more at long range and the fighters rely more on skill and footwork than brute strength and power, which are Chisora’s most dangerous attributes.
Despite all this and my British bias, it is difficult for me to look past Usyk in this fight. Chisora has to be given a punchers chance as he would in any heavyweight contest, but outside of that it’s tough to justify a real reason to suggest that Chisora can be the first man to stop Usyk’s meteoric rise through boxing. Having said this, clearly a part of me believes Chisora can do it as I’ve bought tickets to the fight…