Oleksandr Usyk turned in arguably the best performance of 2021 so far.
The gifted cruiserweight-turned-heavyweight outboxed Anthony Joshua to win a clear decision and take Joshua’s three titles Saturday in London, changing the look of the sport’s glamor division in the process.
The 34-year-old Ukrainian also became only the third former cruiserweight champion to become a heavyweight titleholder, following Hall of Famer Evander Holyfield and David Haye.
And Usyk, No. 5 on Boxing Junkie’s pound-for-pound list going into the bout, bolstered the common notion that the 2012 Olympic champion is one of the best fighters in the world regardless of weight.
Not a bad night’s work, huh?
But was his performance good enough to move him higher on the list? Indeed, it was. Usyk trades places with No. 4 Errol Spence Jr., which means he now trails only No. 1 Terence Crawford, No. 2 Canelo Alvarez and No. 3 Naoya Inoue.
What were our reasons for the change?
One was that Usyk not only turned in a special performance, he did it at an unnatural weight. He’s not a small man – he’s 6-foot-3 and weighed 221¼ pounds – but he was at a distinct size disadvantage against the 6-6, 240-pound Joshua. Still, he won in convincing fashion.
And remember: Joshua was considered by many to be the best heavyweight in the world going into the fight. One could argue that Usyk faced a tougher opponent than either Holyfield or Haye did to win their titles, Holyfield for the first time. They beat an ill-prepared Buster Douglas and limited Nikolai Valuev, respectively.
Plus, while Spence outpointed Danny Garcia in his first fight after a horrible car accident in October 2019, his performance wasn’t as impressive as Usyk’s was on Saturday.
And it’s not clear after one fight whether Spence has fully recovered from the accident or regained his previous form.
The talented welterweight titleholder could regain his position or climb even higher with one or two impressive victories in the deep division. However, as things stand now, it’s fair to say that Usyk is the better fighter pound for pound.
Why didn’t Usyk climb even higher?
One reason is that a fighter generally must defeat an opponent currently on the pound-for-list to make that kind of leap. Joshua wasn’t ranked. And we feel Crawford, Alvarez and Inoue also are superb boxers who punch harder than Usyk for weights.
Here’s how the new list looks:
Terence Crawford – Scheduled to defend his WBO welterweight title against Shawn Porter on Nov. 20 Las Vegas.
Canelo Alvarez – Scheduled to fight Caleb Plant to unify all four major 168-pound titles on Nov. 6 in Las Vegas.
Naoya Inoue – No fight scheduled.
Oleksandr Usyk – Expected to fight Anthony Joshua a second time but no deal is in place.
Errol Spence Jr. – No fight scheduled.
Teofimo Lopez – Tentatively scheduled to defend his undisputed lightweight championship against George Kambosos on Oct. 16 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Vasiliy Lomachenko – In talks to fight Richard Commey on Dec. 11 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Tyson Fury – Scheduled to defend his WBC heavyweight title against Deontay Wilder on Oct. 9 in Las Vegas.
Juan Francisco Estrada – In talks to defend his WBA and WBA junior bantamweight titles in what would be a third fight against Roman Gonzalez in November.
Gennadiy Golovkin – In talks to fight Ryota Murata in a middleweight title-unification fight on Dec. 28 in Tokyo.
Mikey Garcia – Scheduled to fight Sandor Martin on Oct. 16 in Fresno, Calif.
Jermell Charlo – No fight scheduled.
Josh Taylor – Tentatively scheduled to defend his undisputed junior welterweight championship against mandatory challenger Jack Catterall on Dec. 18 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Artur Beterbiev – The light heavyweight titleholder has been ordered to defend against Marcus Browne but no deal has been reached.
Gervonta Davis – No fight scheduled
Honorable mention (alphabetical order): Mairis Briedis (scheduled to fight Artur Mann on Oct. 16 in Riga, Latvia), Jermall Charlo (no fight scheduled), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Sor Rungvisai is expected to meet Carlos Cuadras as part of a junior bantamweight tournament but nothing is official), Yordenis Ugas (no fight scheduled) and Oscar Valdez (no fight scheduled).