Cruiserweight world titleholder Oleksandr Usyk has a similar mindset as his good friend and junior lightweight world titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko.
Lomachenko has had complete tunnel vision on trying to collect as many world title belts as possible and as quickly as possible, placing a premium on that goal even more than the money he can earn for those fights. So far, Lomachenko has two titles, one at featherweight and one at junior lightweight with ambitions to unify and to go to lightweight.
It’s no surprise that Usyk and Lomachenko have similar philosophies given their close friendship. They both won Olympic gold medals as teammates on the 2012 Ukrainian team. They train together in Oxnard, California, and they both have learned from trainer Anatoly Lomachenko, Vasyl’s father, although Russ Anber, part of Anatoly Lomachenko’s camp, is Usyk’s trainer.
The 30-year-old Usyk (11-0, 10 KOs), 30, accomplished one goal already by winning a cruiserweight world title belt in September to set the division record for fewest fights needed to win a title. By traveling to Krzysztof Glowacki’s home country of Poland and outpointing him, Usyk broke the mark of 12 held by Evander Holyfield.
In December, Usyk made his American debut on HBO by making his first defense against awkward South African contender Thabiso Mchunu. After a slow start, Usyk got rolling, eventually scoring three knockdowns and stopping Mchunu in the ninth round.
Now Usyk is back for defense No. 2 against 2012 U.S. Olympian Michael Hunter, whom he meets Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) on the debut boxing card at the new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
The card is headlined by Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KOs), who will make his second title defense against Jason Sosa (20-1-4, 15 KOs), and also includes Oleksandr Gvozdyk (12-0, 10 KOs), a 2012 Ukrainian Olympic bronze medalist and good friend to Lomachenko and Usyk, taking on Yunieski Gonzalez (18-2, 14 KOs) in a 10-round light heavyweight fight.
Although Hunter (12-0, 8 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, stands in his way, Usyk wants to unify titles and then move up to heavyweight.
“The biggest motivation for me is my desire to be the best,” Usyk said. “I give 100 percent every day in the gym. I know that I need to continue to improve to become the undisputed cruiserweight world champion. There are plenty of champions I would like to fight in the division, but I’m only thinking about Michael Hunter right now.”
Even if that is the case, Usyk always comes back to his desire to unify titles.
“I want to have all four cruiserweight titles in the future,” he said. “Any of the other titles holders I’m willing to face.”
In preparation for Hunter, Usyk left home for two months to go Southern California to train alongside Lomachenko and Gvozdyk.
“I love California, the weather is fantastic,” he said. “It’s much easier to train (in California). It’s very cold in the Ukraine right now. This is much better. Yes, it’s a sacrifice to be away from my wife and three small children to train (in California), but this is my job and they are understanding of that. Running by the ocean and training in the warm weather is much better for me.”
Said promoter Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions: “This has been a big commitment for Oleksandr to bring his training camp to the U.S. He sees the opportunities in the United States that he can build on for his career by training here and fighting in this country.”
Anber, who has been in boxing for decades as a trainer and cut man, spent the past month with Usyk in camp and loved what he saw.
“Usyk is a courageous, ambitious, focused individual,” Anber said. “He’s a trainer’s dream.”
If Usyk defeats Hunter — and Usyk is the clear favorite — manager Egis Klimas and Loeffler said they will do everything they can to line up a unification fight, even though that won’t be easy.
“What we’re gonna do is look for other champions,” Klimas said. “There are other good champions around. You have Mairis Briedis, who just won a title (last week), Denis Lebedev and (Murat) Gassiev. So, basically, we’ll be looking for good fights, good opponents who can bring a good fight, an exciting fight.
“We’ll see if any champions will step in for a unification. If not, he wants to go to heavyweight. Our first priority is to beat Hunter, then unify titles, then go to heavyweight.”