Before the two best Cruiserweight boxers in the world lock horns this coming May to finish one their battle for the Ali Trophy, all the belts and the better part of 50 Million dollars US, Usyk and Gassiev had to get through their previous opponents in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS).
Gassiev brought the IBF version of the championship into the WBSS quarterfinal having won the belt off of blood and guts veteran Denis Lebedev 14 months ago. Gassiev first faced the utterly over matched Krzysztof Wlodarczyk winning by left hook to the body in round three. The impassive Gassiev looked like he was standing in line at the DMV.
Cuban Yunier Dorticos drew glass cannon and Bond henchman look alike Dmitry Kudryashov in the first round of the WBSS. The WBA saw fit to elevate Dorticos to full champion after beating Kudryashov by second round KO off a measured 1-2.
The buzz in the boxing press was that Dorticos-Gassiev would be a gun show that it would be entertaining as long as it might last, however as can often be the case when two pure punchers face off action can be in fits and starts only as each man loads up with every shot.
As it happened, like last week’s semi final between Briedis and eventual winner Usyk Dorticos-Gassiev was entertaining and left a lot to pour over to aid in our breakdown of the WBSS final, more on that later.
The appetite for combat sports in Eastern Europe/Russia is ravenous, the jubilant crowds cheer the action from bell to bell and are among the loudest anywhere in the world. They are knowledgeable passionate fans and add to the viewing experience.
Dorticos applied pressure early landing hard 1-2s upstairs on Gassiev. Gassiev shelled up and looked initially uncomfortable on the back foot though he did sneak in two hard body shots. Gassiev stayed just out of range taking the steam off most of the punches. The Cuban was clearly the busier fighter. Round 1: 10-9 Dorticos.
Gassiev continued to look a bit uncomfortable on the back foot, though he was defensively responsible, he was patient - a hallmark of his style and picked his spots to land hard. Early rounds can often be traded. Not much happened but Gassiev did land the more telling blows of the few punches thrown and is targeting Dorticos’ body. Round 2: 10-9 Gassiev.
Dorticos feeling the stunning power of Gassiev started to establish his jab. Using his length thanks to the four inch reach advantage he has he stopped crouching in front of Gassiev and became more of a technical boxer-puncher. Gassiev was successful however hooking around Dorticos’ guard with his left. Dorticos won the round with his jab and higher workrate. Round 3: 10-9 Dorticos.
Round four began as the third ended, Dorticos was finding a groove working behind the jab, he landed crisp 1-2s that snapped back the head of Gassiev but did not appear to deter or significantly hurt the Russian. Dorticos finished round four strong - his best so far. Round 4: 10-9 Dorticos.
Ironically both semi finals were a tale of two halves. That is to say The first half of Briedis/Usyk and Dorticos/Gassiev ended wildly different than it began with the tables being utterly turned. Arguably Gassiev was more in the fight than Usyk was by the same point however.
And like Usyk/Briedis the momentum seemed to turn on a dime in favor of the other fighter in the middle rounds.
All at once in the middle rounds the power difference between Dorticos and Gassiev was stark and overwhelmingly in favor of the Russian, no surprise really when you consider that Gassiev has been working with Abel Sanchez in Big Bear, CA and is a stable mate of GGG Gennady Golovkin, one of the hardest punchers in the sport pound for pound.
The second half of the fight from round five to twelve I scored as a shut out for Gassiev.
There are a couple of traits Gassiev exhibits that I really like. One of them is his patience. Like Errol Spence Jr., Gassiev hits really hard without overcommitting, reaching or losing his balance, nor is he caught out of position to be countered easily.
Like Spence, Gassiev is a committed body puncher. Gassiev lost most of the first four rounds on activity, yet Gassiev found openings to land the left and right hook to the body of Dorticos.
Gassiev’s Sunday Punch is the overhand right but throws the left hook to the body/head and left uppercut from a relatively square stance, when he throws those punches he gives no tell at all from the shoulder so regardless of what target he’s aiming for the punch looks virtually identical upon delivery making it difficult if not impossible for a fighter to react appropriately or attempt to block and counter.
Dorticos’ main error was giving up his length. Dorticos and Gassiev are almost the exact same height - Dorticos maybe a half to one inch taller, yet you would never know because he too often crouched squarely in front of Gassiev. He gave up on his jab after just a round and gave Gassiev too many opportunities to unload his punishing offense.
Gassiev successfully slowed the pace down in the middle rounds as well, presenting himself with plenty of opportunities to nail Dorticos.
Later, Gassiev sensed an imminent stoppage, he’d hurt Dorticos several times so when the bell rang for round 10 Gassiev was bouncing on his toes - he was having fun - as much fun as the cold blooded Russian can have I suppose. However Dorticos’ heart would not let him be simply run over and battled back as best he could, however by this point there was simply nothing on his punches.
Round eleven was fairly uneventful though Gassiev remained in control, like a wolf stalking wounded prey. Suddenly he uncorked his overhand right and wobbled Dorticos badly, Dorticos grabbed for Gassiev who reacted furiously trying to shake the Cuban off of him in order to continue and finish the assault. Referee Eddie Claudio stepped in to seperate the two men as the clock ran down. Dorticos barely survives the round and ambles to his corner on unsteady legs.
Round twelve brought the fight to a close with three knockdowns. The first was achieved when Gassiev threw a brutal left hook over a lazy 1-2 by Dorticos who dropped like a lead pipe. He staggered to his feet at about “6” and waded back into the fray still clearly hurt, Gassiev backed Dorticos up and landed his trademark overhand right to the ear with follow up left and right hooks that again dropped Dorticos heavily to the canvas.
Here I must voice my own personal disgust for Dorticos’ corner for not immediately throwing the towel to save their fighter. Why let your man continue? It’s the last round, Dorticos is hopelessly behind, he has nothing left but his heart. I’m sure Nicole and Jasmin the names of Dorticos’ daughters that he has printed on the front of his shorts want their daddy to come home to them in one piece.
And what is ref Eddie Claudio doing releasing Dorticos barely able to stand after the second knockdown back into the fight? If the boxer is too brave for his own good and his corner braver still then it is the referee’s job to prescribe mercy.
Regardless the third and final unnecessary knockdown came with eight seconds left in round 12 when Dorticos - barely able to hold himself up and unable to protect himself was shelled by Gassiev, finally the Claudio waved the fight off as Dorticos tumbled through the ropes nearly to the floor.
Iron Murat Gassiev has arrived, now the unified IBF and WBA Cruiserweight champion has punched his ticket to the WBSS finals.
A young man, still just 24, descended from a small ancient enclave of Ossetians known as the Iron in the Caucasus Mountains displayed ferocity, power and menace in the ring as well as patience and accuracy.
Aside from providing knockouts, fans will no doubt be attracted to Gassiev based on his behavior toward his fellow man outside the ring. In a post fight press conference as Yunier Dorticos broke down weeping openly, Gassiev rose and walked over to his former opponent and comforted him. Later, Gassiev entered Dorticos’ locker room and returned Dorticos’ WBA belt to him. The two men embraced again, took pictures together and one of the people present can be heard in a video taken of the moment that this is boxing.
Meet me back on the blog for a thorough breakdown of Usyk-Gassiev prior to their showdown in Jeddah this May!