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Oleksandr Usyk looks to make pound-for-pound case in biggest fight of his career against Tyson Fury

The debate over who is the greatest cruiserweight in boxing history comes down to two names: Evander Holyfield and Oleksandr Usyk. Both men were undefeated in their time at cruiserweight and both went undisputed before the decision to move to the more glamourous heavyweight division. On Saturday in Saudi Arabia, Usyk looks to follow in Holyfield’s footsteps by also becoming undisputed champion at heavyweight when he puts his WBA, WBO and IBF titles on the line against WBC champion Tyson Fury.

Usyk currently sits at No. 4 in the CBS Sports’ pound-for-pound rankings and the fight with Fury gives him an opportunity to move higher up the ladder. A win would place Usyk alongside Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford as the only men to be undisputed champion across multiple weight classes.

What has Usyk done to get here?

An entry into the professional ranks came later for Usyk than most. The native of Ukraine won Olympic gold at heavyweight in 2012 before his first professional fight in 2013. Usyk was 26 at the time and took just under three years to win the WBO cruiserweight championship with a decision over Krzysztof Głowacki.

After two successful title defenses, Usyk entered the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament, featuring eight fighters, including all four world champions.

Usyk ran through the tournament, first stopping former longtime WBO champion Marco Huck, then taking a majority decision over unbeaten WBC champion Mairis Briedis to unify two titles. He then took down another undefeated champion in Murat Gassiev — who had unified the WBA and IBF titles during the tournament — in the finals to become undisputed cruiserweight champion.

After one final statement in the 200-pound division, a blistering knockout of former WBC champion Tony Bellew, Usyk had cleared the division of all its best and biggest names and a move to heavyweight was the only sensible thing left to do.

Rather than choosing to enforce his right to challenge the winner of the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr., Usyk chose to acclimate himself to the division by facing Carlos Takam, who then fell through in favor of Tyrone Spong, who then failed a drug test, resulting in Usyk facing Chazz Witherspoon. Usyk handled Witherspoon with ease but stumbled at times in his follow-up fight, an October 2020 decision win over Derek Chisora.

Usyk opened as a considerable underdog for his first fight with Anthony Joshua for Joshua’s WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles. The thinking was that Joshua’s size, power and athletic ability would be too much for Usyk, who had struggled against a faded version of Chisora and only took two of the three official scorecards by scores of 115-113.

Instead, Usyk turned in a masterful performance, largely dominating the fight while rattling Joshua multiple times. Usyk showed greatness again in the rematch, overcoming a better showing by Joshua in taking a split decision that by all accounts should have been a clear, unanimous one had judge Glenn Feldman not turned in an inexplicable 115-113 Joshua card.

Usyk’s most recent fight was a dominant performance in which he stopped Daniel Dubois in the ninth round. The performance was only slightly marred by a mildly controversial moment when Dubois landed a shot that put Usyk on the canvas but was ruled to be the result of a low blow. Even if the punch was not low, there’s no reason to believe Usyk wouldn’t have gotten back to his feet and finished the fight as it played out.

Where does a win over Fury place Usyk pound-for-pound?

A look at the current top of the pound-for-pound list sees (in order) Naoya Inoue, Terence Crawford and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez ahead of Usyk.

Inoue (27-0, 24 KO) has won world titles across four weight classes and has been undisputed at both bantamweight and super bantamweight. He is one of the most electric fighters in the sport with speed and knockout power that, at times, seems almost superhuman.

Crawford (40-0, 31 KO) has held world championships in three divisions, going undisputed at junior welterweight and welterweight. While his promotional ties held him out of the best fights available for years, he finally broke from Top Rank and was able to land a 2023 superfight with Errol Spence Jr. to go undisputed at welterweight, thrashing Spence in one of the best individual performances in the modern boxing era.

Alvarez (61-2-2, 39 KO) has long sat at the top of pound-for-pound lists, dominating opposition since 2005. He has held championships in four weight classes and is undisputed at super middleweight. His recent matchmaking has been questioned since losing a fight to Dmitry Bivol in a 2022 attempt to move up and capture a light heavyweight title for a second time in his career.

Usyk doesn’t have the opportunity to win titles in a third or fourth weight division. There’s nothing above heavyweight and going down to light heavyweight is impossible. But Usyk dominated cruiserweight during his time in the division. He has also twice defeated one of the best heavyweights of the era in Joshua. Adding a win over Fury, who is the dominant heavyweight of the era, would give Usyk arguably the best resume in boxing.

A win over Fury is bigger than any individual win on the record of Inoue, Crawford or Alvarez, all of whom have many impressive victories in their career.

There’s a strong case to be made that a clear win over Fury should propel Usyk to the top of all pound-for-pound lists. Or, one could argue that Fury’s unimpressive showing against Francis Ngannou, in which Fury was dropped and barely escaped with a split decision win over an MMA fighter making his boxing debut, has made Fury damaged goods before ever setting foot in the ring with Fury.

This is all theoretical, however, and the two men have to meet in the ring to settle things with their fists before we go too deep down this rabbit hole.

It is worth noting that the first time Fury and Usyk were scheduled to face each other, Fury opened as a -250 favorite. When the fight was rescheduled from February to May, the fight opened with Fury as a -135 favorite. Fury has since been fluctuating between -110 and -120.

At least in the eyes of the oddsmakers, Usyk has a chance to come out of Saturday with a strong case as the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world.

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