Usyk’s heavyweight debut now vs. Witherspoon

The mad scramble to find a short-notice opponent for 2018 fighter of the year and former undisputed cruiserweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk to fight in his heavyweight debut is over.

Usyk will face Chazz Witherspoon in a scheduled 12-round fight on Saturday night (DAZN) at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced on Tuesday, one day after Tyrone Spong was booted from the bout.

Spong (14-0, 13 KOs), a former kickboxing star, came up positive for banned substances in two urine samples collected by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. The results came to light on Monday and Spong was dropped from the bout because the Illinois State Athletic Commission rescinded its approval of the bout and would not license him. At least one of the positive tests was for the banned substance clomiphene, a source with knowledge of the results told ESPN.

Hearn said on Monday night that he was in talks with a handful of potential replacement opponents and settled on Witherspoon (38-3 29 KOs), 38, of Philadelphia, who enthusiastically accepted the fight.

“I can’t wait to face Usyk in Chicago,” Witherspoon said. “I have been in training, ready for a big fight, and it doesn’t get bigger than this. Oleksandr is stepping up to heavyweight — and he’s going to find out that it’s a totally different game.

Witherspoon is the second cousin of former two-time heavyweight world titlist Tim Witherspoon, but has not been relevant in the division for seven years, since he was knocked out in the third round by then-undefeated rising contender Seth Mitchell in 2012.

Witherspoon has won eight fights in a row since, but has boxed sporadically against low-level opposition. In addition to the loss to Mitchell, Witherspoon also lost in one-sided fashion the two other times he faced a top opponent — a third-round disqualification to former world title challenger Chris Arreola in 2008 and a ninth-round knockout to former world title challenger Tony Thompson in 2009.

Still, Witherspoon said he was excited by the prospect of facing Usyk even if it will be on short notice.

“I’ve won my last eight fights and I really feel that I’ve been waiting in the wings for a huge opportunity like this and I am going to put every ounce of myself into the fight on this massive stage,” Witherspoon said.

Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), a 32-year-old southpaw and the 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist for Ukraine, became the first cruiserweight to unify all four belts in the four-belt era when he won a one-sided unanimous decision against Murat Gassiev in the final of the World Boxing Super Series in July 2018. Usyk then defended all four belts by crushing eighth-round knockout of Tony Bellew in November before relinquishing the titles and announcing he would move up to the heavyweight division.

Usyk was supposed to debut at heavyweight against battle-tested former world title challenger Carlos Takam on May 25 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, but Usyk suffered a torn right biceps and was forced to delay his entrance into the division until Saturday night. He is risking his position as a mandatory challenger to get a title shot against the winner of the Dec. 7 rematch between unified heavyweight world titleholder Andy Ruiz Jr. and former titlist Anthony Joshua.