Greatest cruiserweight ever: Oleksandr Usyk or Evander Holyfield

This week is capped off by Oleksandr Usyk facing Daniel Dubois in Poland, with the bout being streamed on ESPN+ in the United States. 

Usyk isn't just great, he is an all-time great, a historically significant fighter.

In fact, he is like so many cruiserweight fighters past and present, once he accomplished enough at cruiserweight he was ripe for a promotion to heavyweight where the big checks were. 

That being said, in the realm of cruiserweights, a category often overshadowed by its heavyweight counterpart, who is the greatest cruiserweight of all time? 

It appears we now have a two-man race for that honor - Evander Holyfield and Oleksandr Usyk. 

In this piece, ProBox TV News will explain the significance of both fighters while making arguments for both - as well as highlight some fighters who deserve mention as well.

Usyk's Career

The debate over the best cruiserweight of all time has begun and ended with Evander Holyfield since Holyfield went on his run.

That was until recent times brought forth a formidable contender to this title: Oleksandr Usyk, hailing from Ukraine. His in-ring accomplishments read like a doctor's bill, with never-ending items, but without the fees. A 2012 Olympic gold medalist, in the heavyweight division, which is actually the cruiserweight division in the pros. 

While Holyfield won his first world title in twelve fights Oleksandr Usyk broke that record by winning his first world title in his tenth fight defeating Krzysztof Glowacki. Not unlike a lot of Usyk's career, he also defeated Lowacki in Poland, the hometown of his opponent in 2016, a theme of Usyk's career - winning on the road. 

Usyk's title reign would see him make six successful title defenses as he defeated Thabiso Mchunu, and Michael Hunter, then went on to defeat a long-reigning champion Marco Huck in Huck's home country of Berlin. Then Usyk went on to unify the world titles at the cruiserweight division with Mairis Briedis in Briedis' native land of Latvia and became an undisputed champion when he had a one-sided decision against Murat Gassiev in Russia. Once again he beat his opponent in his country. 

The feat in 2018 saw Usyk as the Fighter of the Year from all credible news outlets.

Usyk would face popular British fighter, Tony Bellew, in which Bellew faired well, until he didn't. Usyk would knockout Bellew, but the fight further endured Bellew to the British public for the valiant effort he put forth, despite being knocked out in the eighth round. 

Usyk has since moved up to heavyweight and after two wins challenged and beat Anthony Joshua, a 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist. This now means Usyk has three of the four major world titles at heavyweight with only one left. The WBC heavyweight title was held by Tyson Fury. Sadly Fury is fighting an MMA guy named Francis Ngannou in a fight being called a boxing match, but should look more like an exhibition.

This has led to frustration on Usyk's end, as Usyk is looking to become a two-division undisputed champion, matching the feat recently accomplished by Terence Crawford. 

Though the book is unfinished on Usyk's career (but to be fair it is nearly over), it is clear Usyk is either number one or number two, all-time in the cruiserweight division. 

Holyfield's Career 

Evander Holyfield or many fight fans know him as "the Real Deal," is the only undisputed championship in two weight categories during the era of three belts, holding all three belts at cruiserweight and then heavyweight.

As an amateur, Holyfield won a bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

After turning pro Holyfield quickly established himself as a force in the division - when he defeated  Dwight Muhammad Qawi to seize the WBA cruiserweight title. He also recorded another notable feat, winning a world title in only his twelfth professional fight. Holyfield would beat Ricky Parkey to IBF cruiserweight, and completing the feat by defeating Carlos De Leon widely considered one of the best cruiserweight of the time to win the WBC cruiserweight title. 

In 1988, Holyfield would embark on a new mission, the heavyweight division - with one goal, fight Mike Tyson. His crowning moment came in 1990 when he knocked out James "Buster" Douglas, to become the undisputed heavyweight world champion, after Douglas had knocked out Mike Tyson in Japan. WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight titles.

Holyfield would defeat George Foreman and Larry Holmes, legends of the sport, who were at an enhanced age but lost to the emerging force that was Riddick Bowe. Yet, Holyfield defeated Bowe in the rematch.

All of this was overshadowed by his two fights with Mike Tyson which didn't just shape boxing history, it was a part of pop culture as much as 'Celebrity Deathmatch' was. Holyfield won the first fight which is greatly overshadowed by the 'bite fight'. In the 1997 fight, Holyfield would win via a disqualification when Mike Tyson bite off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear. The bout became infamous and was a huge part of the late 90s entertainment sphere. 

Holyfield's journey would continue after Tyson with mixed results as against Lennox Lewis he'd fight to a contentious split draw followed by a rematch loss eight months later, that saw Lewis win outright. Holyfield would win the WBA title for an unprecedented fourth time in 2000 by defeating John Ruiz, which was probably his last great moment. 

Holyfield's career has continued onward as he was knocked out by Vitor Belfort in an exhibition match not long ago at an older age, but dwelling on these things is not great and somewhat sad. 

Why Usyk Is The Best Of All-Time 

  • He beat credible world champions and top contenders on the road, en route to having an undisputed record 
  • Won the cruiserweight title in ten fights, two less than Holyfield
  • Defeated the best two modern cruiserweights, Briedis and Gassiev in their home countries as part of the World Boxing Super Series to become the undisputed champion
  • He moved up to heavyweight and defeated Anthony Joshua twice - both of which he didn't allow any room for debate. Usyk clearly outpointed a star in the sport twice. 
  • Olympic gold medalist
  • Has the chance to become an undisputed heavyweight world champion
  • Has the chance to retire undefeated and fight all the great fighters of his era.

Why Holyfield Is The Best Of All-Time

  • Fought more interesting names and his fight matters a lot more in pop culture. 
  • Became an icon, because of his feud with Mike Tyson
  • Was a force in the heavyweight division during the last great era
  • An aggressive offensive force who was a part of some of the most impactful fights of the modern era. 
  • Fought a ton of hall-of-famers from George Foreman to Larry Holmes, from Riddick Bowe to Lennox Lewis, and of course, Mike Tyson, Holyfield fought much better fighters in his era, than Usyk did 

The Honorable Mentions 

The third great cruiserweight will be for most David Haye emerges as his influence in British Boxing resonates deeply, and his decline when moving up to heavyweight saw a lull in British boxing until Anthony Joshua emerged along with world champion, Kell Brook, to pick up the mantle Haye had left. 

Haye was a unique figure emerging at the time of the Carl Froch's and Joe Calzaghe's, who were preventing what British boxing was. 

Haye might have been bigger than all of them with his domestic grudge matches, which got fans excited. Whether it was the build-up to his Enzo Maccarinelli, the best performance of his career, or facing Audley Harrison as well as a press conference brawl with Dereck Chisora. Haye knew how to market himself, and was one of the few boxing attractions at the time that could get as much attention as the UFC, which was riding high in the combat sports landscape at that time.

Yet, despite being one of the best cruiserweights of his era, Haye can't help, but be viewed as a bit less than the best as he simply didn't show up in his biggest at heavyweight against Wladimir Klitschko, despite a ton of trash talk. Klitschko won a one-sided decision, and Haye was stopped twice by Tony Bellew, a result some attribute to injuries. 

That said, Haye might have been the most monetized cruiserweight in his prime, as the often skipped-over division was being watched when he fought in the division - the problem was when he moved up he lacked the big win.

Carlos De Leon, a slick Puerto Rican fighter, who is one of Evander Holyfield's signature wins at the cruiserweight division deserves a mention, as does Anaclet Wamba, who often gets overshadowed and lastly, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, was one of the toughest fighters ever to compete in the division with a unique frame for the weight class as well standing at five-feet, five-inches.