Pick It: Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk

When to Watch: Saturday, May 18. Please note the earlier start time, as this show emanates from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia: Top Rank’s press release says the undercard begins at noon Eastern Time / 5 p.m. BST. Other websites, including PPV.com, have the show beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern Time / 7 p.m. BST.

How to watch: Pay-per-view streaming on ESPN+, DAZN and PPV.com.

Why to Watch: This is a fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship. Not for just one world title. Not for two or three unified belts. All four of them. The winner is the king of boxing’s most storied weight class.

Need we say more?

Not necessarily. But the fighters involved add even more intrigue.

Depending on how you look at it, Fury has either been the heavyweight champ since 2015 or regained the throne in 2020. He is simultaneously the #1 heavyweight in the world and wildly inconsistent with his performances.

Usyk, meanwhile, is the former undisputed cruiserweight champ who at first seemed like he would be undersized among boxing’s biggest, yet he has settled into the weight class, captured three of the major world titles, and has the savvy, skills and ability to give Fury trouble.

Then again, we could say the same for what Fury could do to Usyk. Fury has shown that he can use his size both as a boxer and a brawler.

Put simply: There are several ways this match could go. 

Fury first won the lineal heavyweight championship in 2015, when he ended the long reign of Wladimir Klitschko via unanimous decision. But then a combination of addiction and mental health issues — plus accusations that Fury had used performance-enhancing drugs in an earlier bout — put him on the sideline for more than two-and-a-half years. (In the eyes of some, Fury abdicated his throne during this sabbatical.)

Fury returned in 2018, beating Sefer Seferi by TKO and outpointing Francesco Pianeta. Then came Fury’s first fight with Deontay Wilder. Fury boxed well but got dropped in the ninth round and then was put down heavily in the 12th. Fury seemed to wake and — like boxing’s version of professional wrestling’s Undertaker — he rose at the last possible moment and took the fight to Wilder for the remainder of the round. 

The fight ended in a draw. Their rematch would have to wait a bit.

In 2019, Fury made short work of Tom Schwarz and then struggled with Otto Wallin, suffering a terrible cut over his right eye that could’ve ended his reign had the referee or ringside physician stopped the bout. Instead, Fury took the decision win and moved on to the sequel with Wilder.

This time, Fury went at Wilder rather than trying to out-box him again. The change in strategy worked. Fury battered Wilder for seven rounds in their February 2020 meeting, winning via technical knockout. (To some, this was when Fury again became the lineal champ.)

Fury’s next fight, a third meeting with Wilder, came in October 2021, an extended layoff thanks to the pandemic but also because of Fury. Wilder had a contractual right to a third fight. But Fury instead signed to fight Anthony Joshua, only to be rightly challenged in court by Wilder’s team. 

Fury-Wilder 3 was action-packed and competitive. Each man scored knockdowns. But Fury once again prevailed, finishing Wilder in the 11th round.

Fury picked up two more title defenses in 2022, stopping Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora. Then, in October 2023, Fury met Francis Ngannou in the MMA superstar’s first professional boxing match. It seemed as if Fury took Ngannou lightly. He was dropped by Ngannou in the third round, and Fury wound up escaping with a split decision. That brought the 35-year-old from Lancashire to 34-0-1 (24 KOs).

Usyk, a 37-year-old from Ukraine, now lives in Oxnard, California. He turned pro in 2013 after a successful amateur career, including a gold medal at heavyweight (essentially the amateur equivalent to the professional ranks’ cruiserweights) in the 2012 Olympics.

Usyk won his first world title at cruiserweight in 2016, going to Poland to unseat Krzysztof Glowacki. That began a tradition of Usyk traveling to hostile territory and winning. 

He stopped Marco Huck in Germany in 2017. He unified two titles with a close majority decision over Mairis Briedis in Latvia in 2018. Later that year, he went to Moscow and widely outpointed Murat Gassiev to pick up the other two belts, becoming the undisputed champ. And for his final act as a cruiserweight, Usyk fought Tony Bellew in Manchester. Usyk was slightly behind on the scorecards when he stopped Bellew in the eighth round.

Usyk then moved up to heavyweight. He stopped Chazz Witherspoon and then seemed to struggle with Chisora’s size and style in their 2020 fight. Usyk won a decision and moved on to fight Anthony Joshua for Joshua’s three world titles. Usyk beat Joshua via unanimous decision in September 2021, then defeated Joshua again, this time via split decision, in their rematch 11 months later. 

In his last outing, Usyk met Daniel Dubois this past August. That fight had a controversial moment when Dubois hurt Usyk with a punch that was ruled low. Usyk went on to knock Dubois out in the ninth round. He is now 21-0 (14 KOs). 

The undercard, while not as stacked as previous shows in Saudi Arabia, includes:

Jai Opetaia vs. Mairis Briedis: Opetaia outpointed Briedis back in 2022 to win the lineal cruiserweight championship. The vacant IBF title, stripped from Opetaia last year, will also be on the line. Opetaia suffered a broken jaw during their first fight. It will be interesting to see whether Briedis can hurt him again, or how Opetaia will perform if he’s able to avoid injury this time around. 

Opetaia, a 28-year-old from Sydney, has scored a pair of stoppage wins since to move to 24-0 (19 KOs). Briedis, a 39-year-old from Riga, Latvia, hasn’t fought since the loss to Opetaia. He was supposed to return last year but suffered an injury in training camp. He is 28-2 (20 KOs), with the only other defeat coming in the aforementioned very close decision loss to Usyk in 2018.

Joe Cordina vs. Anthony Cacace: Cordina won the IBF junior lightweight belt in 2022 with a second-round knockout of Kenichi Ogawa. His two defenses last year brought a split decision over Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov and a majority decision against Edward Vazquez. The 32-year-old from Cardiff, Wales, is 17-0 (9 KOs) and is seeking a unification bout against the other 130-pound titleholders. First he needs to get by Cacace, a 35-year-old from Belfast who is 21-1 (7 KOs). Cacace lost a decision to Martin Ward in 2017 but has won six straight since.

Also on this pay-per-view:

– Heavyweight prospects Agit Kabayel, 24-0 (16 KOs), and Frank Sanchez, 24-0 (17 KOs), face each other in an elimination bout.

– Former light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev, 35-4-1 (29 KOs), returns from a two-year layoff for his second cruiserweight fight, this one against unbeaten Robin Safar, 16-0, (12 KOs).

– Lightweight prospect Mark Chamberlain, 15-0 (11 KOs), takes on Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab, 23-1 (16 KOs).

– And heavyweight prospect Moses Itauma, 8-0 (6 KOs), faces Ilja Mezencev, 25-3 (21 KOs).

More Fights to Watch

Saturday, May 18: Emanuel Navarrete vs. Denys Berinchyk (ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+, 10 p.m. Eastern Time)

After winning world titles in three divisions, Navarrete is moving up to lightweight to go for a fourth. He’ll face Berinchyk in the main event of this card at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego.

Navarrete, a 29-year-old from about an hour outside of Mexico City, picked up his first title in 2018, outpointing junior featherweight Isaac Dogboe. He then stopped Dogboe in their rematch. After five successful defenses, Navarrete moved up to featherweight and captured the vacant WBO title there, which he defended three times. Last year, Navarrete journeyed to 130, stopping Liam Wilson to win another vacant WBO belt, taking a unanimous decision over Oscar Valdez, and fighting to a draw with Robson Conceicao. That brought Navarrete to 38-1-1 (31 KOs). His only loss came very early in his career.

The WBO’s vacant belt will be on the line. And standing in Navarrete’s way is Berinchyk, a 35-year-old from Ukraine who earned a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics. As a pro, Berinchyk is 18-0 (9 KOs). He’s coming off decision wins over Yvan Mendy in 2022 and Anthony Yigit.

The undercard includes several of Top Rank’s prospects. Two of those bouts involve promotional stablemates facing each other: Giovani Santillan vs. Brian Norman Jr. at welterweight and Richard Torrez Jr. vs. Brandon Moore at heavyweight.

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

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