Oleksandr Usyk first cruiserweight to unify all four major titles

There is no dispute: Oleksandr Usyk is the best cruiserweight on the planet.

Usyk made history, giving Murat Gassiev a thorough boxing lesson in a near-shutout decision win to become the undisputed cruiserweight world champion in the World Boxing Super Series final on Saturday before a capacity crowd of 24,000 at Olimpiysky Sports Complex in Moscow.

Usyk, the No. 1 seed in the eight-man field, became the first fighter in division history to unify all four world title belts. He also won the Muhammad Ali Trophy commissioned for the winner of the single-elimination tournament that began last September. The trophy was presented to Usyk in the ring by Ali's widow, Lonnie Ali.

The judges had no trouble scoring the fight -- 120-108, 119-109 and 119-109 for Usyk, who dazzled with his speed and skills. ESPN.com had it 118-110 for Usyk, who shares the same birthday, Jan. 17, with Ali.

"My team made me look like I looked in the ring," Usyk said through an interpreter. "This is our victory."

Usyk became only the third undisputed cruiserweight world champion in division history, joining three-belt champions Evander Holyfield and the late O'Neil Bell. He also is only the fourth male fighter to unify all four major titles in any weight class in the four-belt era, joining former middleweight champions Bernard Hopkins (2004) and Jermain Taylor (2005) and former junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford (2017).

After hoisting the trophy, Usyk said his wife had picked out a spot for it even before the fight.

"I will keep this trophy at a special place in my home because my beloved wife, Katarina, has already prepared a special place for it," he said.

Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs), a 31-year-old southpaw and the 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist from Ukraine, relied primarily on his best weapon -- his right jab -- while No. 2 seed Gassiev, a noted body puncher, targeted Usyk's midsection but didn't have much success.

Usyk, who got stronger and busier as the fight went on, landed 252 of 939 punches (27 percent), including 99 of 519 jabs. Gassiev landed only 91 of 313 (29 percent), including just 9 of 74 jabs, according to CompuBox statistics.

Usyk and Gassiev showed deep respect for each other leading up to the fight, perhaps because their trainers, Russ Anber for Usyk and Abel Sanchez for Gassiev, are longtime friends. Nothing changed for Gassiev after the fight, and he gave Usyk credit for an outstanding performance.

"Best opponent in my professional career. Oleksandr Usyk did a great job. Thank you for this fight," Gassiev said. "Oleksandr was the favorite, and he proved it. This was very good experience for me. Some fighters have good nights, some have good punch, good defense, and you never know what will happen."

Usyk, who made his fifth title defense, not only became the undisputed champion, but he did so by fighting each of his tournament fights on the road. In fact, all six of the world title bouts he has participated in have been away from home.

He won his first belt in Poland; made his first two defenses in the United States; won his tournament quarterfinal by 10th-round knockout against former longtime titleholder Marco Huck in his home country of Germany; unified two belts in the semifinals with a majority decision win over Mairis Briedis on Jan. 27 in Briedis' hometown of Riga, Latvia; and then beat Gassiev in his home country.

Usyk suffered an elbow injury that forced the final to be postponed and moved from its original date of May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but he showed no ill effects from the injury, pumping his stiff jab throughout the fight. Gassiev's offense was more sporadic, but he did connect with some heavy left hands to the body in the second round to force Usyk back and a terrific right hand to the head that rocked Usyk in the final seconds of the fourth round, but there was little else of note.

Usyk continued to land his jab cleanly in the sixth round as he rocked Gassiev's head back regularly. Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs), 24, looked lost with no answers. He did land a clean right hand in the seventh round, but Usyk, who has a reputation for having an excellent chin, didn't budge, which had to be discouraging for Gassiev.

Gassiev, who was making his third title defense, was reduced to searching for one big punch, while the faster, more skillful Usyk boxed circles around him and threw and landed way more punches.

After the ninth round, Sanchez was frank with him, telling him he needed a knockout to win. But Gassiev looked bewildered and dejected as Usyk continued to take it to him for the rest of the fight, swelling his left eye, bloodying his nose in the 10th round and pasting him with jabs, uppercuts and combinations.

"I believed every round," Gassiev insisted when asked if he felt his punching power could rescue him no matter how far behind he was falling. "I listened to my corner, to my coach, and I tried my best."

Usyk showed his tremendous conditioning as he closed the show by throwing 117 punches and landing 47 in the 12th round, the most in either category for the fight to cap a historic victory.

Usyk will take some time to enjoy the victory, but then it will come time to decide what is next. Typically, cruiserweight champions eventually move up to heavyweight. When Usyk turned pro, he said his goal was to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion and then move up to heavyweight to pursue another title.

"We need to take a rest after this difficult fight, and after that we will sit with my team and make a decision," Usyk said. "I heard Tony Bellew is looking for a fight with the winner of the Muhammad Ali Trophy. I hope he will see me. Tony Bellew are you ready?"

Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KOs), 35, of England, is a former cruiserweight world titlist now campaigning as a heavyweight and coming off back-to-back knockout wins over former cruiserweight and heavyweight titlist David Haye. So if Usyk fights Bellew, which division would it be in?

"If he doesn't want to go down, I will go will go up for him," Usyk said. "I will take extra spaghetti for dinner."

Braekhus dominates Sagaydakovskaya

On the undercard, Cecilia Braekhus easily retained the undisputed women's welterweight world title with a one-sided decision over Inna Sagaydakovskaya.

Braekhus won by scores of 98-92, 98-92 and 97-93 in a fight in which she faced no issues. Now 24-0 in world title fights, she has held a welterweight world title since 2009 and been undisputed champion since 2014.

Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs), 36, of Norway, rocked Sagaydakovskaya (7-1, 3 KOs), 33, of Russia, repeatedly with clean left hands, landed her jab almost at will and barely took any hard shots in return.

"I'm very happy with [my] performance," Braekhus said. "I did what I wanted to do in the ring and what we worked on in camp. I've been treated very well here in Moscow, and it was a pleasure fighting here."

Sagaydakovskaya, who holds an interim junior middleweight title but moved down one weight class to challenge Braekhus, offered no serious offense but showed she could take a beating.

  • Former cruiserweight world titlist Briedis, who lost his belt to Usyk by majority decision in their unification fight in the World Boxing Super Series semifinals in January, returned to win a unanimous 10-round decision against Brandon Deslaurier. No scores were read, but Briedis (24-1, 18 KOs), 33, of Latvia, appeared to thoroughly dominate Deslaurier (11-2-1, 1 KO), 25, of France, an unknown opponent taking a huge step up in competition.