Oleksandr Usyk has officially taken the first step towards the end of his reign atop the cruiserweight division.
The unbeaten World 200-pound king has officially vacated his World Boxing Association “Super” cruiserweight title, the move coming on the eve of a scheduled purse bid hearing for a mandatory title defense versus former titlist Denis Lebedev.
“[Oleksandr] Usyk relinquishes WBA Cruiserweight title to fight in heavyweights [sic],” Alex Krassyuk, Usyk’s longtime manager confirmed through social media channels on Wednesday.
The move was expected, as Usyk (16-0, 12KOs)—universally hailed as the 2018 Fighter of the Year—is already planning for his heavyweight debut, which will take place May 18 at a yet-to-be-revealed venue in Chicago.
The opponent also hasn’t yet been formally announced, although veteran contender Carlos Takam remains the leading candidate.
Despite now being out of a fight with the reigning cruiserweight king, Lebedev (32-2, 23KOs) will potentially reclaim his old belt presumably without stepping foot in the ring.
The 39-year old Russian held the WBA 200-pound title for nearly five years until taking an extended ring break following a July ’17 win over Mark Flanagan. His 14-month ring absence was accompanied with the distinction of being named “Champion in Recess”, which entitled him to a direct shot at his old title at his choosing.
Two comeback fights came of Lebedev’s return last fall,followed by his waiting out a shot at Usyk, who became just the fifth boxer ever to claim undisputed status in the four-belt era (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO) following a 12-round whitewash of Murat Gassiev last July.
The win earned Usyk top honors in the inaugural World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament, a bracket that saw all four unbeaten cruiserweight titlists participate.
Usyk hit the road for all three of his bouts, including title unification wins over previously undefeated Mairis Briedis in Latvia and Gassiev in Russia.
It was right in line with his very first title win, traveling to Poland to dethrone then-unbeaten champ Krzysztof Glowacki in Sept. ’16. Usyk’s most recent—and last-ever—cruiserweight title defense came last November, traveling to England where he knocked out former titlist Tony Bellew in eight rounds to cap his Fighter of the Year campaign.
Even though Usyk has now given up his Super cruiserweight title, assigning a vacant title fight isn’t quite as easy even with the WBA’s flair for creating belts.
The “Super” title is a distinction granted more so than an actual title for which to contend, unlike the “Regular” and “Interim” titles which are already at stake in a mid-May title consolidation clash between Beibut Shumenov and Arsem Goulamiriam.
The more likely scenario will be for Lebedev to instead be reinstated as “Super” cruiserweight champion—a move that sounds ridiculous in theory but is actually consistent in accordance with current WBA policy.
Official action has yet to be taken with any of the other three sanctioning bodies—IBF, WBC, WBO—whose titles are still in Usyk’s possession. Glowacki and Brieidis are currently scheduled to meet for the WBO interim cruiserweight title on June 15, with a potential upgrade forthcoming should Usyk elect to vacate that belt as well by that point.