Boxing: Stephen Simmons gambles on earning a world title shot

Stephen Simmons says the offer to fight Oleksandr Usyk was too good to turn down. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Stephen Simmons says the offer to fight Oleksandr Usyk was too good to turn down. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Life is about taking risks and this week Edinburgh boxer Stephen Simmons has taken his biggest one yet.

The cruiserweight, who has tasted just one defeat from 15 professional bouts since 2011, will undertake the toughest test of his career next month when he fights rising Ukrainian star Oleksandr Usyk in Kiev – with a mandatory shot at the world title being the prize.

Although not contemplating anything other than being awarded victory at the Sport Palace in eastern Europe on April 23, Simmons, who is managed by MGM Promotions, admits his opponent – who is the Olympic champion – will be the overwhelming favourite.

However, that has not deterred the former Leith Victoria amateur from plotting his next move in the sport should he return to Scotland victorious in just over four weeks.

Usyk has an impeccable record since switching to the paid ranks in 2013, registering knockouts in all nine bouts, but he has only fought outwith his hometown once.

“I know I am 100 per cent up against it going over to the Ukraine but I believe in my ability and I know I can go there and cause an upset,” Simmons, 31, said. “Why would I take it if I didn’t think I could win it? I’ve boxed him before in the amateurs at the World Championships and he beat me on points. He went on to take bronze in the event and then went and won the Olympics in London in 2012.

“It’s a massive risk but the rewards are so big that it’s worth it. I would become mandatory for a world title if I were to beat him because that’s the position he’s sitting at just now. I think he [Usyk] was meant to box for the world title but the current WBO world champion [Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki] managed to get in another voluntary before he fights Usyk.

“But I’m there to cause an upset and am potentially only one fight from a crack at a world title, although there is a rematch clause in the contract.”

Having withdrawn from MGM’s Rise of the Champions bill at Meadowbank earlier this month citing personal reasons, Simmons says he didn’t have to think twice about taking up the offer from the Ukrainian’s management team this week.

“The guy Usyk was meant to be fighting pulled out so I was asked if I would take it,” he said. “I phoned my management team straight away and they were happy with the opportunity and how excited I was so they were more than happy for me to take it. They got down to the hard work and the contract has all been agreed.

“He really is an idol over there so he’s going to have a massive support. He’s been filling arenas but that doesn’t phase me. I’ve been to the Ukraine, I’ve boxed in Kiev before so when it comes to fight time, it’s only me and him in the ring which is all that matters.”

Simmons revealed that despite pulling out of his last show he has continued to train in the hope a fight of this calibre would be forthcoming.

“I feel in a much better place from when I did a couple of weeks ago so I’m ready to go again,” said Simmons, who won bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. “I had a feeling I was going to get something big soon and it’s definitely come in the form of this fight. I’ve still been ticking over, my weight is only seven pounds over so there’s plenty of time. I was offered a title shot a couple of months ago but I wasn’t ready and this one is much bigger anyway.

“It makes me so excited and something I’ve needed – a wee pick me up. It’s good fighting on these shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow but these are the fights that you crave. I’ve been on a lot of big bills before and now this is the main event in Ukraine.”