Column: Explaining The Ins And Outs Of Oleksandr Usyk Being Named WBO Heavyweight Mandatory Challenger

Boxing’s history has been littered with corruption, controversial judging and even a period of time in which the mob had a firm hold in the American boxing scene. But one thing that has always been prevalent has been is the lack of transparency from those at the top and confusion stemming from the masses and casual fans.

The latest such case is the confusion coming from the announcement that former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk has been named the mandatory challenger to the WBO heavyweight title, despite not having fought once as a heavyweight in the pro ranks.

Of course, many people on social media are befuddled as to why this Ukrainian cruiserweight suddenly finds himself as the top contender to Andy Ruiz Jr.’s newly-won heavyweight title when a number of mainstays within the division are getting passed over.

The WBO did release a long letter on its website but not everyone either knows about the letter or would rather not waste time in reading the letter. But here, I explain why the WBO made the decision, what led to it and what does this mean in regards to Ruiz’s immediate plans for his next fight and beyond.

Let's start off with why Usyk is in this position to begin with. Usyk, the now-former WBO cruiserweight champion, was recently elevated to what is called a "Super Champion."

Now hold on, dear reader. I can see why the term “Super Champion” triggers many folk in the boxing community, mainly due to the WBA’s incompetence and unwillingness to regularly take out its multiple world titles per weight class. But rest assured, the “Super” champions have completely different meanings with the WBA and WBO.

While the WBA’s “Super” champion now seems like an excuse for the WBA to institute a “proper world title” (known colloquially as the “Regular” or secondary world championship), the WBO’s version has a completely different meaning.

As the WBO “Super Champion,” Usyk has the right to vacate his world title to automatically become the mandatory challenger for the world title in the next weight class up or down. In the last couple of months, Usyk’s camp went to the WBO offices to officially vacate his belt in order to become the new mandatory challenger.

This isn’t the first time such a case happened. Back in 2017, Terence Crawford and Terry Flanagan vacated their WBO junior welterweight and lightweight titles, respectively to move up in weight and fight for those respective titles. Crawford ended up defeating Jeff Horn the following year to win the WBO welterweight title while Flanagan lost a split decision to Maurice Hooker with the vacant junior welterweight title on the line.

- But Usyk's situation is different from Crawford's. Crawford dropped his 140-pound titles and immediately moved up to welterweight while Usyk held his titles, signed to fight some other heavyweight, pulled out of that fight and then went for the WBO mandatory status at heavyweight!

Actually, both fighters' situations are not that different. Yes, Usyk did keep his titles for several more months after it was abundantly clear that he was never returning to 200 pounds, but when he signed on to fight Carlos Takam, he was still the WBO cruiserweight champion. Even though he was going to eventually vacate the title, he still retained the ability to exercise his right as the "Super Champion."

Plus, Usyk isn't completely unfamiliar with the heavyweight division. During his time in the World Series of Boxing, Usyk faced current WBA Gold champion and unbeaten rising contender Joe Joyce and owns a win over current heavyweight contender Michael Hunter, who was seriously considered to be Anthony Joshua's opponent on June 1 before being overlooked in favor of Ruiz.

- How does a WBO champion become “Super Champion?”

Among the number of things required to become a "Super Champion" is the most important one of them all: making at least 10 defenses of the world title. Of course, Usyk never reached 10 title defenses as cruiserweight champion, but the WBO can still give him that designation based on his impressive track record. Looking at Usyk's reign as cruiserweight champion, it's extremely hard to not see why Usyk wouldn't get such a recognition.

During his reign as champion, Usyk has faced and beaten the likes of Thabison Mchunu, Michael Hunter, Mairis Briedis, Marco Huck, Murat Gassiev and Tony Bellew, not to mention that Usyk's last five title defenses took place in his opponent''s home country. That's already impressive in pretty much anyone's book.

Usyk not only has a tremendous amateur pedigree but his run at cruiserweight has been arguably the greatest in the history of the sport. He may not have the experience at heavyweight some may think a top contender should have, but let’s be honest. There is no one in boxing today, or even in the last 30 years that have a better resume and skillset to crash the heavyweight division. The last such boxer would probably be Evander Holyfield, and we all know what happened when he moved up from cruiserweight to heavyweight, becoming the undisputed champion in the early 1990s.

- So is Usyk going to face Ruiz next?

No. Even though the WBO named Usyk the mandatory challenger, that doesn't mean that the sanctioning body has ordered the two to fight immediately. As it stands, Ruiz and Joshua will have a rematch by the end of the year, meaning Usyk will have time to get acclimated in the new weight class with a fight or two before getting his crack at the WBO world title.

There's also no guarantee that Usyk will even face the winner of Ruiz-Joshua 2. You see, in boxing, whenever a boxer holds a world title from more than one of the major sanctioning bodies, there's a rotation in place set up for taking care of mandatory challengers. Ruiz technically now has two mandatory challengers: Kubrat Pulev (for the IBF title) and now Usyk (for the WBO title).

If the IBF decides to fully enforce and order a fight between the Ruiz-Joshua winner and Pulev, one of two things will happen. Either the fight happens next because the IBF is (for the most part), by far, the strictest sanctioning body when it comes to enforcing such fights, or the IBF belt will be stripped or vacated.

The heavyweight division is undergoing a period of true resurgence back into the spotlight with Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder leading the way, but Usyk is the dark horse that could potentially crash the entire division much in the same way as Ruiz did earlier this month.

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