Grading the Fury vs Usyk PPV undercard

Fighting

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk will finally meet in an undisputed heavyweight championship showdown next Saturday.

While that’s the obvious blockbuster attraction and main reason to buy the PPV or not, the card from Riyadh has some good stuff on the pay-per-view undercard, too.

A quick look at some highlights on the undercard:

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  • Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis meet in a rematch for the vacant IBF cruiserweight title. The two met first in July 2022 in a bloody war that left the victorious Opetaia with a broken jaw and Briedis busted up himself.
  • Unbeaten heavyweights Frank Sanchez and Agit Kabayel meet in a proving grounds matchup that could produce one of the next wave of heavyweight title challengers.
  • Joe Cordina defends his IBF super featherweight title against Anthony Cacace.
  • Light heavyweight veteran Sergey Kovalev, once the top man in that division, fights for the first time in two years, facing Robin Sirwan Safar in a cruiserweight bout.

Opetaia (24-0, 19 KO) has been recognized as the top man in the cruiserweight division since that win over Briedis (28-2, 20 KO) nearly two years ago. Their fight in Australia was absolutely brutal, a real war of attrition where neither man gave in over 12 rounds, Opetaia going from question mark to top dog over that time. Since then, Opetaia has absolutely thrashed Jordan Thompson and Ellis Zorro, only increasing his status, while Briedis has been inactive.

  • Grade: A-. It’s kind of impossible to tell what we’ll be getting out of Briedis, 39, after such a long spell on the sidelines, but it’s also hard to be negative about this fight even if you suspect Briedis may be worse for wear or even cashing out. If he IS cashing out, he’s doing it with the toughest fight there is for him, so that’s plenty respectable in itself. The IBF title being vacant is what it is, a nonsense protocol-following that’s dumber the more you explain it, but the belt that should be on the line is, so just go with that.

Sanchez (24-0, 17 KO) has gone from treading water (at best) on PBC cards to the Saudi heavyweight circuit, now finally taking an on-paper good fight against Kabayel (24-0, 16 KO), who has gone from European-level semi-mystery to looking like a possible real contender after destroying Arslanbek Makhmudov.

  • Grade: B+. Every chance this could turn out to be a stinker to watch, as Sanchez isn’t exactly prime Evander Holyfield in entertainment value, but it’s a fine matchup of two guys with something to prove, both hoping to emerge as a real option for the Fury vs Usyk winner or some other world title fight in the not too distant future. The winner will be in that mix; if the winner wins impressively, even better.

Cordina (17-0, 9 KO) took the IBF 130 lb title from Kenichi Ogawa by violent knockout about two years ago, and has defended twice, beating Shavkat Rakhimov and Edward Vazquez, both tough bouts that Cordina’s craft saw him through in the end. Cacace (21-1, 7 KO) is a former British champ who has done what he can to earn his first world title fight, winning six straight since a 2017 loss to Martin J. Ward.

Grade: B. Not an amazing matchup or anything, but Cacace is a decent enough contender and on the boxing “world title challenger” scale, doesn’t come anywhere near giving offense in credibility. Again, he’s done what the sport asks of him, and here he is. He’s also the sort of fighter who will take his honest shot at it, even if Cordina proves a major challenge style-wise in the early rounds.

Kovalev (35-4-1, 29 KO) has fought just once since getting knocked out by Canelo Alvarez in 2019, and that was two years ago, a cruiserweight win over Tervel Pulev that left no serious impression. He looked decent enough to win that one fair and clean, but the Russian is 41 years old now and a shadow of what he was at his peak. Safar (16-0, 12 KO) is a Swedish fighter, 31 years old and turned pro in 2017. This is a big chance for him on a big show, obviously. His career’s been based in the U.S. since 2019, but he’s really fought at a club level so far.

Grade: Incomplete. Really no idea what we’ll get here, what Kovalev will still have in the tank, what Safar really has. That lends the matchup some curiosity, but nothing more than that for certain.

Also on the card: Lightweight Mark Chamberlain looks to keep moving forward against Joshua Oluwaseun; rising cruiserweight prospect David Nyika takes on Michael Seitz; heavyweight prospect Moses Itauma is in action, and more.

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