Oleksandr Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion and 2018 consensus fighter of the year, finally has an opponent for his Oct. 12 heavyweight debut.
Usyk will take on unbeaten Tyrone Spong, a former kickboxing star, at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago in the 12-round main event of a DAZN card, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced on Monday.
"Usyk's heavyweight debut is one of the most hotly anticipated boxing moments of 2019 and personally, I can't wait to see it," Hearn said. "Oleksandr is a phenomenon who dominated the cruiserweight division becoming undisputed champion after just 15 fights. Now, as he prepares to challenge for the world heavyweight title, he must first overcome Tyrone Spong in Chicago. Spong will be explosive and dangerous and we expect an electric heavyweight battle."
Usyk became the first cruiserweight to unify all four belts in the four-belt era when he won a one-sided unanimous decision against Murat Gassiev in the final of the World Boxing Super Series in July 2018. Usyk then defended all four belts by crushing eighth-round knockout of Tony Bellew in November before relinquishing the titles and announcing he would move up to the heavyweight division.
He was supposed to debut at heavyweight against battle-tested former world title challenger Carlos Takam on May 25 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, but Usyk suffered a torn right biceps and was forced to delay his entrance into the division.
While Hearn would have preferred to reschedule the fight with Takam, Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia signed Takam and they elected to go in another direction.
So Hearn made a deal with Spong, whose participation in the bout was contingent upon his winning a tune-up fight on Saturday night in Merida, Mexico. Spong knocked out Jeyson Minda in the second round and came away from the fight with no injuries.
"Spong is a fast and powerful heavyweight who has had much success in the ring," Usyk said. "I must come through this test to challenge for the world Heavyweight title I look forward to seeing everyone there."
During his layoff, the southpaw Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), 32, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, was installed as the WBO's mandatory heavyweight title challenger -- a usual move from the organization if a fighter who is champion in a lower weight division moves up and asks to be made No. 1 contender -- so if Usyk wins he will maintain his position as a future challenger for the winner of the Dec. 7 rematch between unified titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. and former titlist Anthony Joshua.
Miami's Spong (14-0 13 KOs), 34, a native of the South American country of Suriname, began boxing professionally in 2015 after a 13-year kickboxing career in which he went 91-7-1 with 60 knockouts and one no contest and won various titles.
Usyk will represent a massive step up in competition for Spong, which he said he will be ready for.
"After achieving most of my goals as a kickboxer and becoming one of the most decorated champions in the history of the sport, I wanted to test myself in the difficult and challenging sport of boxing," Spong said. "I have worked tirelessly during the last three years and now have the opportunity to prove my worth as a boxer against perhaps the best pound-for-pound, and most technically sound boxer in the world. Some may think the challenge may be too difficult, but I believe in myself, and look forward to being victorious on Oct. 12."
Light heavyweight world titlist Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11 KOs), 28, of Russia, will defend his title for the sixth time in the co-feature. Manager Vadim Kornilov told ESPN that he has a deal with Hearn for Bivol to be on the card although there is no set opponent yet.