Senior Boxing Journalist @JamesDielhenn
Usyk vs Chisora: Oleksandr Usyk, theatrical and haunting, is at home in the chaos – that is a stark warning for Derek Chisora
For one day only Chisora was the sensible one, writes James Dielhenn. Reflections on the first meeting between new rivals
Last Updated: 14/03/20 1:31pm
On Friday 13th in a peculiar atmosphere in London Oleksandr Usyk suddenly appeared unannounced wearing a mask under a Fedora hat, sweeping to the front of the stage while saying absolutely nothing and looking like the Phantom of the Opera.
He was bewitching.
Part of the threat that Oleksandr Usyk carries is his mystique - he possesses a rare aura in person for, he can grip the attention of an entire room for his press conference alongside Derek Chisora without even speaking the language.
His first face to face with his upcoming opponent for May 23, live on Sky Sports Box Office, saw them pay as little attention to each other as possible until Usyk broke the awkwardness with a selfie. Ten weeks out this was about sizing each other up for the first time, more angsty meetings will come.
Usyk's face was covered by a mask when he arrived at the airport and remained so when he arrived on Friday 13th - his defence, as usual, impregnable even to the coronavirus.
Chisora was wrapped in his traditional Union Jack bandana so we had two masked men setting an example of how to protect yourself in this health pandemic. It was light-hearted on Friday, and a welcome distraction.
Boxing has long been a community uncomfortable with the traditional handshake due to paranoia of it spreading germs so, in the uncertainty of these elbow-bumping times, it was business as usual in that sense.
So much about this Ukrainian phenom is evidenced from years and years of boxing yet there is a fear of the unknown that he creates.
He is a veteran whose southpaw skills are well-established - an Olympic gold medallist, inaugural World Boxing Super Series winner, undefeated in 17, the undisputed cruiserweight champion - but his fight against Chisora is about finding out even more.
"The guy knows how to box," Chisora admitted with Usyk staring across the table at him. Who stares down Chisora like that?
"I can't get sparring partners who can box like him. I decided to go unorthodox, to chuck whatever I can chuck.
"If I box his way, he will win. He can dance around me. But I can land the punches to slow him down."
Usyk is a risk-taker of epic proportions, a winner in world title fights in the home country of his opponent on six occasions. He is gambling a guaranteed mandatory shot at Anthony Joshua by facing Chisora instead of sitting back and waiting.
"He has the golden ticket," Chisora said. "I want to take his golden ticket. I will take what he has to make it mine.
You wonder how much of this Usyk understood. Sometimes it feels like he absorbs every word and chooses to only respond in the ring, his thousand-yard stare just a decoy for the opponent.
"He doesn't know what it's like to be in the ring with a 120kg wrecking ball," Chisora's manager David Haye warned. "His coach won't allow him the sparring partners [to replicate that]."
Chisora warned: "The way for him to win is to knock me out. If that can't happen I will keep coming and coming."
It was interesting that, stood next to each other, Usyk looked like the bigger man. He was tall and wide and athletic.
"It's one thing to weigh in as a heavyweight," Haye told Sky Sports. "It's another to fight a heavyweight. He fought at cruiserweight at 90kg but Derek is 120kg. That's a solid difference and a big disadvantage for Usyk."
Usyk's muscle growth was setback by an elbow injury and Haye, one of just two men to win world titles at cruiser and heavyweight, said: "Whatever injuries we have seen, we will attack. If there are any loose or weak chains, we will smoke them out."
The fight talk will ramp up in the coming weeks but, for now, the budding rivalry was left on Usyk's iPhone with a selfie in front of everybody expecting a fiery face-off. Typical showman.