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Preview: Oleksandr Usyk vs. Tyson Fury, plus undercard

Sports Mole previews Saturday's undisputed world heavyweight title fight between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury in Saudi Arabia.

After months of build-up, and at the second time of asking, Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury are scheduled to put their world heavyweight titles on the line in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night in one of the most anticipated fights of the modern-day era.

Whoever prevails from the headline bout of the 'Ring of Fire' card will become the first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 2000.


OLEKSANDR USYK VS. TYSON FURY

A showdown between the IBF, WBA and WBO title holder Usyk and WBC champion Fury has been brewing for some time, with the desire there to make an historic fight.

However, the downside to that was a drawn-out saga with regards to negotiations, leading to each fighter being far more inactive than they would have preferred.

Since defeating Anthony Joshua for a second time in August 2022, Usyk has fought just the once, overcoming adversity to stop Daniel Dubois in the ninth round of their fight last August.

Referee Luis Pabon makes the gloves clash after the low blow from Daniel Dubois on August 26, 2023© Reuters

The ring rust told at times and Usyk was arguably fortunate a body shot that floored him in the fifth was declared as a low blow. Dubois was fractions away from shocking the world.

As for Fury, he has only made one appearance since a one-sided win over Dereck Chisora in December 2022, with that being the cross-over fight against former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.

Inactivity and complacency no doubt played its part, Ngannou stunning everyone with a third-round knockdown. There was controversy as Fury still earned a points victory, yet Ngannou could have few complaints having lost several of the quieter rounds.

Francis Ngannou after knocking down Tyson Fury on October 28, 2023.© Reuters

On the back of that win, a February 17 date was finally agreed for this highly-anticipated fight, but it was postponed with two weeks remaining after Fury sustained a nasty cut above his eye.

The rescheduled date, almost exactly three months on, has only added to the build-up, and it has allowed both fighters to have few complaints about having sufficient time to enter the ring in peak condition.


UNDERCARD

Turki Alalshikh has made a habit of ensuring that strong undercards are put together for any card that takes place in Saudi Arabia and this occasion in Riyadh is no different.

The IBF cruiserweight title will be on the line when Jai Opetaia meets Mairis Briedis. Opetaia had previously been the champion before he was stripped for taking an alternative fight against Ellis Zorro.

Opetaia already has a win over Briedis on his record, registering a surprise points victory at the time when Briedis's only defeat had been to Usyk. Briedis has not fought since that bout in July 2022.

Joe Cordina puts his IBF super-featherweight title on the line against Anthony Cacace, Cordina potentially making the last defence of his title before stepping up in weight unless he wins and can secure a unification fight.

Agit Kabayel and Frank Sanchez meet in an intriguing heavyweight contest. Kabayel battered Arslanbek Makhmudov on the way to a shock win in December, Sanchez beating Junior Fa on the same card.

Sergey Kovalev, a former light-heavyweight world champion, makes his first appearance in two years at cruiserweight against Robin Sirwan Safar.

Meanwhile, the WBC silver title is on the line as Mark Chamberlain faces Joshua Oluwaseum Wahab at lightweight.


Tyson Fury confronting Oleksandr Usyk on December 3, 2022.© Reuters

PREDICTIONS

The general consensus is that Fury's size will prove telling against Usyk and it is difficult to come to any alternative assessment.

As bad as Fury was against Ngannou, he got the win and will be tuned in to ensure there will be no repeat performance. That can only spell bad news for Usyk.

Although the Ukrainian can also only improve after his showing against Dubois, Fury's reach advantage means Usyk will have to take risks that he does not normally take.

With that in mind, we are predicting a convincing points win for Fury, albeit in a fight that may lack entertainment and reduce the clamour for a rematch, which is part of the contract.

Opetaia may blast through Briedis to reclaim the IBF title, while we think Cordina will have to produce a polished display to ensure Cacace does not take his chance on the world stage.

Kabayel and Sanchez is a pick'em, with Sanchez on points our chosen outcome, with Kovalev and Chamberlain securing stoppages within six rounds our pick for the other fights on the main card.

> Click here to see the 'Tale of the Tape' for the main event


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Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder at a press conference on November 15, 2023.
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