The Beast of Ukraine

By Matt McGrain on October 5, 2014
The Beast of Ukraine
Usyk’s latest victim is the South African national champion Daniel Bruwer. (K2 Promotions)

At 6’3 and having apparently carried up to 209 lbs. as an amateur, Oleksander Usyk might turn out to be the fighter the classicists have been waiting for…

Oleksander Usyk continued his deadly climb from obscurity into the collective consciousness of a stacked cruiserweight division last night, his latest victim the South African national champion Daniel Bruwer (24-6), a 6’3 puncher and trial horse and typical of the caliber of opponent the novice Usyk has been, not to put too fine a point on it, destroying. Now 5-0, this southpaw is in a hurry.

As a matchmaking policy it reeks of desperation to get a thirty-something late bloomer front and center, but at twenty-seven, Usyk has time. Rather it is a certitude in his abilities that has seen his people match him with men like Epifanio Mendoza, who had mixed with Luis Ortiz and Rakhim Chakhiev, in just his second contest. Usyk got the wily journeyman out of there in half the time it took Chakhiev and more quickly than it took him to foul out versus the enormous Ortiz, but he also did it without rushing. He boxed the first round like a man with ten times his professional experience, high on jabs, feeling out the opponent, utilizing head movement and a proper guard to discourage leads. Even so, he was able to introduce an element of mystery, leading with a hook before driving across a left to the heart, but when he throws that right, he is careful to get himself outside the line of the jab. “Schooled” does not begin to cover it.

In the second he dropped the veteran with several loosely conjoined overhand rights, all thrown with unerring accuracy at an opponent who was being forced to back up by a varied, consistent attack which coerced him onto one knee, but once again Usyk showed patience beyond his experience, returning to his boxing. In the third, he dropped a pensive, uncertain opponent with a bone-jarring straight-left that persuaded Mendoza to take a knee so quickly the knee became a hip. The Colombian earned his money coming out for the fourth and attacking, but Usyk gave him the full repertoire of counter-punches in return, most startling of all the trailing uppercut, a punch some ten year professionals don’t like to throw from the outside.  Mendoza was pulled by the referee about ninety seconds later.

That Bruwer extended Usyk a further four rounds last night in Lviv, Ukraine, is a testimony to the South African’s toughness. It was a long way to go for an ass-kicking and although they presumably made it worth the while of the spuriously nicknamed “Billy the Kid,” I am always a little concerned that the journeyman in the contest will decide to throw himself to the canvas the first time he is hit. I was even more concerned when this is precisely what happened. Usyk closed in on his momentarily hypnotized opponent, twisting his torso and head and snapping up a jab at Bruwer who found himself suddenly looking directly at the canvas, propped up on both gloves. The referee incorrectly ruled a slip and Bruwer, rather than looking for a way out, set about proving himself of far more heart than I had given him credit for.

Stopped only once before in eight rounds by Alexander Alexeev, Bruwer marched forwards and tried to match his left with Usyk’s right. This went badly, and it is a testament to Bruwer’s courage that he didn’t go into his shell as the Ukrainian repeatedly found openings for his jab, leading to the inevitable left hand dig at 2:42 remaining of the second. It was a prestigious punch and it looked momentarily that the sheer force of it might knock Bruwer off his feet once more, but he recovered himself and Usyk eyed him, right hand cocked, but did not see the distress he wanted to and returned to the jab. It was a disturbing foreshadow of the stoppage and reveals in Usyk the same deployment of hurt favored by many of the very best box-punchers, a cultured, exploratory lead and a booming, lethal cross, one pays the toll for the other and then they clasp in victory.

Bruwer now sought to rattle out quick single shots in an effort to unbalance his man, a reasonable strategy as Usyk seeks to drop each shot that comes his way when boxing at range, slipping with head and body-movement, sliding off quick footwork, but already he has learned to place himself in punching position when in retreat. This is no doubt something learned boxing to the amateur code, a journey that culminated in his winning the heavyweight gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. Drawing conclusions from a fighter’s amateur pedigree is dangerous, as recent British heavyweight failures Audley Harrison and David Price have demonstrated but it can be a tool attested when it is long-lived and used to sharpen footwork and distance. This, Usyk has done, and although it must be agreed that his chin remains untested despite the fact that men bigger than cruiserweight professionals have measured it, he drew as much as it was possible to draw from a prolonged spell unpaid. The sniping, sure punches be brought back for Bruwer in the second and third proves this.

Accuracy and a wonderfully developed body-attack rank two of his greatest tools on offense and this combination continued to win him rounds as Bruwer sucked it up. A dangerous looking left-hook (Bruwer has stopped twenty-one opponents for twenty-four wins) kept Usyk on his toes and informed that this was a two-man contest, for all that Bruwer couldn’t win even one minute of one round. Even where the South African’s best punch was concerned, Usyk began to create an advantage, seeking to place his right foot outside Bruwer’s left and get all the way around the corner on him when he threw it; Bruwer could feel the devil breathing down his neck as the Ukrainian began to active his uppercut in the same spell in which he began to take away Bruwer’s left-hook.

There is something sinister, almost profane about Usyk’s very appearance, the shaven skull, Mohawk topknot hairstyle, the indeterminate blue-ink tattoos, the narrow mustache, the slight lift of his right eye. Only the Olympic rings inked onto his left forearm seem truly of the civilized world to which we belong and one feels that they are a celebration of his conquering that great stage rather than the part he played upon it. Usyk’s capacity for English is unknown to me, but I do feel that he is one of a chosen few – Roberto Duran, Ricardo Mayorga – who decline to speak English with the media and become more, not less arresting for the fact. Some mysteries are not meant to be undone.

Going into the fifth last night, I got the creeping feeling that Bruwer was done but that Usyk was enjoying the workout.  He appeared to me as fresh in the fifth as he had in the first, using his left to clip Bruwer’s guard out of the way, his right to butcher his jaw with a thumper of a hook and then neatly ducking the returning blow. This is world-class boxing against an outmatched opponent and whether it remains intact in the face of the rambling offense owned by Marco Huck or the opposing accuracy of a fighter like Yoan Pablo Hernandez remains to be seen, but it will be seen – perhaps not against Huck who seems bound for the heavyweights, but perhaps against Hernandez who is likely stuck at cruiserweight.

Usyk is not stuck at cruiserweight and I suspect that his future lies in the biggest division. At 6’3 and having apparently carried up to 209 lbs. as an amateur, he might turn out to be the fighter the classicists have been waiting for, a heavyweight capable of doing damage at between 215 and 220 lbs., retaining the elasticity and agility that makes him appear so special now and combining it with fitness and finesse.  But that is far into the future, if it is even possible, for now there is just Usyk and the rest of the cruiserweight division.

Should they be trembling?

By the end a sorry looking Bruwer was having his guard split by five- and six-punch combinations, his head rattling on his neck as Usyk picked out the latest in the long line of punches with which to torment him. There are many things still to prove, but variety, punch selection, quickness and power are not among them. That will certainly do to be going on with, as they did for Bruwer, still game, in the final seconds of the seventh, a sniping cross seeming to let all the steam out of his dogged chase, a left hand to the body sucking out what remained and a clipping left hand to the jaw dropping him to the canvas.

It should alarm those determined to share a ring with him that the deeply patriotic Usyk did not appear to have broken sweat.

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Александр Усик - Дэниэл Брюэр Oleksandr Usyk vs. Daniel Bruwer



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  1. The Flea 01:52am, 10/06/2014

    Usyk smashed some top quality super heavyweights in the WSB.

    He has the potential to be a top quality professional heavyweight. As soon as he wins a cruiserweight title I reckon he’ll move up.

  2. Koolz 02:38pm, 10/05/2014

    Great fight loved the circling around.  Nice KO!  He never stopped moving in that fight, lot’s energy!  Bruwer never got a chance to do anything in that fight.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:19pm, 10/05/2014

    He’s all that and I for one hope a lot more….he obviously has energy to burn because he still has that really bad case of energy burning “Happy Feet”.... something that his security blanket American trainer clearly hasn’t helped with.

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