5 best cruiserweights-turned-heavyweights. Where is Oleksandr Usyk?

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Oleksandr Usyk went from a cruiserweight champion to a legend overnight.

Back-to-back decisions over one of the era’s top heavyweights, two-time champion Anthony Joshua, will have that kind of impact on a fighter’s legacy. The 36-year-old Ukrainian became a first-ballot Hall of Famer by winning those fights if he wasn’t before.

But where does Usyk rank among the best cruiserweights-turned-heavyweights?

We gave that a great deal thought as he prepares to defend his titles against Daniel Dubois on Saturday night in Wroclaw, Poland (ESPN+), and came up with a list.

Our Top 5 is below.

Note: Roy Jones Jr. isn’t included here because he jumped over cruiserweight – from light heavyweight to heavyweight –when he outpointed John Ruiz to win the title in 2003.

Also, the cruiserweight limit was changed from 190 pounds to 200 in 2003. The heavyweight records included here reflect any bout in which the fighter was over the cruiserweight limit at the time.

NO. 5 TOMASZ ADAMEK

Years active: 1999-2018
Overall record: 53-6 (32 KOs)
Heavyweight record: 16-5 (6 KOs)
Heavyweight titles: None
Height: 6-1½
Background: Adamek, a skillful, rugged Pole, won major titles at light heavyweight and cruiserweight before trying his luck at heavyweight. He lost only once at the lower weights (a unanimous decision against talented Chad Dawson), which gives you an idea of his ability. He fell short in his only heavyweight title fight to gigantic Hall of Famer Vitali Klitschko by a 10th-round knockout but he had victories over a number notable big men, including countryman Andrew Golota, Chris Arreola, Michael Grant, Eddie Chambers and Steve Cunningham. He faded down the stretch of his career, an indication that he hung on too long. Still, he’ll be remembered as an excellent 175- and 200-pounder who held his own against naturally bigger men in the sport’s glamour division.

NO. 4 JAMES TONEY

Years active: 1988-2017
Overall record: 77-10-3 (47 KOs)
Heavyweight record: 20-5-1 (11 KOs)
Heavyweight titles: None
Height: 5-10
Background: Toney was one of the most skillful boxers of all time. He was a major player in the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions, putting him in a similar class with fellow Hall of Famers Bob Fitzsimmons and Roy Jones Jr. He won titles at 160, 168 and 190-200 before becoming a full-fledged heavyweight. He actually won a major heavyweight title fight, outpointing then-champion John Ruiz in 2005. However, the result was changed to no-contest after Toney tested positive for a banned substance. Still, he had a long career at heavyweight that included a knockout victory over Evander Holyfield in 2003, making him one of only two men (with Riddick Bowe) to stop the great Hall of Famer. His off-the-charts boxing acumen made him a difficult foe for anyone at any weight.

NO. 3 DAVID HAYE

Years active: 2002-18
Overall record: 28-4 (26 KOs)
Heavyweight record: 10-3 (9 KOs)
Heavyweight titles: WBA (2009-11)
Height: 6-3
Background: The tall, but lean Briton was a good, athletic boxer with explosive knockout power, which made him almost untouchable as a cruiserweight. He slipped up only against veteran Carl Thompson early in his career and went on to win three major titles before making the move to heavyweight. He was undersized in the sport’s heaviest division but he carried his power to the top, as his knockout ratio indicates. He became the second former cruiserweight to win a heavyweight title when he defeated Russian giant Nikolai Valuev by a majority decision in 2009 and successfully defended against veteran John Ruiz and Audley Harrison the following year. He fell flat in his next fight, a one-sided decision loss to champion Wladimir Klitschko in which he appeared to be out of his element. He rebounded to stop Derek Chisora but had no significant victories after that.

NO. 2 OLEKSANDR USYK

Years active: 2013-present
Overall record: 20-0 (13 KOs)
Heavyweight record: 4-0 (1 KO)
Heavyweight titles: IBF, WBA and WBO (2021-present)
Height: 6-3
Background: The boxing savant from Ukraine has accomplished a great deal in only 20 fights, winning major belts in two divisions, going 9-0 in title fights and becoming a pound-for-pound mainstay. He was untouchable as a cruiserweight, the only exception being a close decision over Mairis Briedis in 2018. He moved up to heavyweight the following year, stopping Chazz Witherspoon in seven rounds and outpointing Derek Chisora. Then he made history, outboxing champion Anthony Joshua to win a clear decision and three major titles in 2021 and winning a split decision in the rematch 11 months later. His biggest challenge probably lies ahead – a meeting with fellow beltholder Tyson Fury for the undisputed championship – but he’ll be remembered as one of the most remarkable fighters of his generation regardless of what the future holds.

NO. 1 EVANDER HOLYFIELD

Years active: 1984-2011
Overall record: 44-10-2 (29 KOs)
Heavyweight record: 26-10-2 (15 KOs)
Heavyweight titles: IBF, WBA and WBC (1990-92); IBF and WBA (1993-94); WBA (1996-99); IBF (1997-99); WBA (2000-01)
Height: 6-2½
Background: Holyfield is one of the greatest fighters of all time pound-for-pound and arguably one of the best heavyweights in spite of his naturally small frame. The masterful boxer-puncher was a dominating cruiserweight when the weight limit was 190, going 18-0 (14 KOs) and reigning as champion from 1986 to 1988. He fought the next 23 years as a heavyweight. Most notably he became the only man to reign as a major titleholder four times, breaking Muhammad Ali’s record of three reigns. His greatest victories probably came against Buster Douglas (to win the championship), Riddick Bowe (in one of three fights) and Mike Tyson (twice) but his list of quality victories is too long to include here. He struggled against particularly big opponents who could also box – Bowe and Lennox Lewis – and fought far too long but all of those who saw him fight in his prime will always marvel at his all-around ability and breathtaking fighting spirit.

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