How did Oleksandr Usyk become the mandatory contender for the WBO world heavyweight title without fighting even a second in boxing’s marquee weight class?
That’s the question a lot of boxing fans have been asking as the Ukrainian’s status comes squarely into focus thanks to the clamour for a unification showdown between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. Even Usyk’s promoter Alex Crassyuk says people in the Ukraine ask him to explain how it happened.
Usyk (now 17-0) stepped up to heavyweight in 2019 after brilliantly dominating at cruiserweight. But even before his first outing at the higher weight (a win over Chazz Witherspoon in Chicago in October 2019) he was the mandatory challenger for the WBO world title. Here’s how that happened:
WBO rules on nominating mandatory contenders
The important thing to note here, is that the regulation Usyk triggered to become mandatory isn’t anything to do specifically with the heavyweight division – it’s something afforded him by his ‘super champion’ at cruiserweight. Being a super champion at cruiserweight gave Usyk a number of privileges, per the WBO’s official website:
(1) EXTENSION OF MANDATORY TITLE DEFENSE.
The Championship Committee may extend a Super Champion’s mandatory title defense for good cause shown one or more times beyond the time provided for in the WBO Regulations for World Championship Contests for the purpose of giving
a Super Champion opportunity or opportunities to unify the titles of more than one major sanctioning body either in a unification bout or a unification tournament, or any other important match or matches that the Committee
determines would contribute to the Super Champion’s legacy or would be of great interest to boxing fans.
(2) ELIGIBILITY TO BE CONSIDERED FOR DESIGNATION AS THE MANDATORY CHALLENGER IN HIGHER OR LOWER DIVISION.
If requested by a Super Champion, the Championship Committee may designate the Super Champion as the mandatory challenger for the higher or lower division.
(3) ELIGIBILITY TO BE CONSIDERED FOR DESIGNATION AS THE MANDATORY CHALLENGER IN SAME DIVISION.
If requested by a Super Champion who has lost his title and who wishes to fight for the title again, the Championship Committee may designate the Super Champion as the mandatory challenger in the Super Champion’s division.
(4) An Honorary member of the WBO for life.
As you can see, sub-section (2) is the key point here – clearly stating that super champion status in one division allows the fighter to move up or down in weight class and request mandatory status. Usyk did exactly that, and was successful as the ruling below from 2019 shows.
So Usyk’s case for a showdown with Joshua after AJ’s meeting with Pulev is clear, and Crassyuk has said publicly that he doesn’t believe stepping aside for money is an option for his fighter.
Where does that leave Fury vs Joshua and that planned 2021 double-header? With one more decent-sized obstacle to overcome. And this is just the start.