5 Key Questions Going into Tyson Fury vs. Alexander Ustinov
Names such as Tony Thompson, Lucas Browne and Ian Lewison had been mentioned as possibilities, but it is the 6'7.5", 21-stone (294 lbs) man from Belarus who has got the nod.
Ustinov was already in the country having worked as Chisora's sparring partner—ironically he was the man against whom Chisora broke his hand, thus precipitating the switch.
This is a much better fight than you might expect at such short notice, and the Belarusian has a very respectable record of 29 wins, only one defeat and 21 stoppage victories.
He is clearly a level above Lewison, while Browne and Thompson would have to fly in from Australia and the US, respectively, with the inevitable effects of jet lag.
Although Thompson is well-known in Britain for twice beating David Price and unsuccessfully challenging Wladimir Klitschko on two occasions, he looked overweight and underwhelming in his appearance in Paris last month against Carlos Takam.
Browne, a rugged puncher, may have made for the most potentially entertaining fight, but UK fans will have the chance to see him in action next Friday in Wolverhampton on the Frankie Gavin undercard.
With his huge frame, Ustinov will pose the unbeaten Fury a very different challenge than Chisora.
Here are the key questions going into Fury vs. Ustinov.
1. What Condition Is Ustinov In?
With Ustinov only being confirmed as the new opponent three days before fight night, people are understandably going to wonder exactly what condition he is in.
We know the Eastern European had been working in Dereck Chisora's camp as a sparring partner, so he must be in reasonable shape.
In his last four fights, the towering fighter has weighed between 293 and 308 pounds, or from just under 21 stone to 22 stone on the money.
For a man that big, a stone here or there is not actually that much, but if he weighs in much over his career heaviest of 309 pounds, that would be a warning sign that he is not in great shape.
It's worth noting that, as you can see from the photo above, Ustinov is a naturally heavy-set guy, and even when he is in good condition, he doesn't necessarily look that athletic.
The photo comes from Ustinov's last fight, which came in November when he beat the aged New Zealand hero, David Tua, by decision after 12 rounds.
Despite his bulk, the man from Minsk, Belarus, has managed to go the full 12 rounds four times in the past five years.
Unsurprisingly given his size, Ustinov is slow on his feet and cumbersome—even if he is not in top condition, that's unlikely to affect his boxing skills too much.
Where he may struggle is stamina, because there is a big difference between being able to be useful as a sparring partner and being ready for a real fight.
It has to be expected that Ustinov will fade badly if the fight goes long, especially against a Tyson Fury who has been preparing for a 12-round fight and who has naturally good stamina.
2. How Well Will Fury Adjust to a Different Style of Opponent?
Tyson Fury has been in training for a serious, career-defining fight, so he will certainly be well-conditioned and well-prepared.
The problem now is that he has been preparing for a much shorter opponent in Chisora, over whom he had a significant reach advantage.
Instead, he faces Ustinov, who is a similar height and weight to Fury. Indeed, this will be the first time the Manchester-born fighter has been seriously outweighed in a fight, and it could well be the last time as well.
Against Chisora, Fury's long jab would have been key to keeping the smaller man out of reach, and it will be equally useful against Ustinov, against whom Fury's speed rather than length should enable him to control the pace of the fight and win rounds on the scorecards.
Fury had a late replacement opponent in his last fight when American club fighter Joey Abell stepped in. Abell is a much lesser challenge than Ustinov, and Fury did what he tends to do against lesser opponents—he initiated an out-and-out tear-up before prevailing by knockout.
That would be a bad plan against Ustinov, who is a similar size to Nikolai "Sugar" Valuev, the Saint Petersburg mass who David Haye wobbled but whom nobody came close to actually stopping.
Realistically, even despite the late change, Fury, who is very mobile for a man of his own intimidating frame, should be able to easily outbox the 37-year-old.
His biggest risk would be to punch himself out against Ustinov, which, after all, is the fate that befell Chisora this week.
Although Ustinov poses a very different opponent for Fury, if he is to have trouble in this fight, it is likely to be through his own indiscipline, rather than any particular problems posed by the Belarusian.
3. What Mentality Will Ustinov Have?
Because of his awesome size, Alexander Ustinov was on people's radar even before he won any meaningful fights.
It was 2009 when he first stepped up to fringe world level, scoring wins over Michael Sprott and Monte Barrett, two heavyweights who were decent tests, despite being past their best.
After that, Ustinov had a disappointing 2010 and 2011, in which he failed to take on any real challenges, despite having gained a ranking in the division.
Then in 2012, he challenged Kubrat Pulev for the European title and lost nearly every round to the Bulgarian before calling it a day in Round 11 when he took a knee and stayed down.
That put an end to his progress, and since then he has had a "nothing" fight in Ukraine and the win over the 40-year-old Tua.
A victory over Fury would reignite Ustinov's career and could even get him a shot against Klitschko, not least because his huge size is always a potential sales pitch.
However, it is hard to know if Ustinov enters with real confidence that he can upset the furious one, or if he is simply happy to get paid.
Given that he has no real fan base anywhere and that he is saving a big show by stepping in at late notice, this fight should be a relatively lucrative one for the Belarusian.
If he is fired up and willing to put everything on the line, a war may break out in Manchester. If, alternatively, he has mentally checked out on his career as a top heavyweight, he may just turn up looking to keep things respectable.
The first two or three rounds should be interesting, and past that, a lot will hinge on Ustinov's psychological approach to this opportunity.
4. Can Fury Do Better Than Kubrat Pulev?
Alexander Ustinov is well-known around Europe, having boxed frequently in Germany, home to current heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko, as well as Ukraine, Russia and Switzerland.
He is more than just a big lump, but not a lot more. As such, if there is one thing Ustinov is known for, it is being something of an immovable object.
Although he went down against Pulev, it was as much through exhaustion and frustration as it was from any single punch, and he seemed to have his senses about him, making a conscious choice not to rise and beat the count.
So while Ustinov has been stopped, he has never truly been knocked out. Therefore, if Tyson Fury could hurt him, break him up and score a telling KO, that would send a message out to the heavyweight division.
Pulev is the next man up to challenge Klitschko, so to improve upon his performance would suggest that Fury is ready for the biggest of stages.
The 20-0 Pulev is widely considered the second-best active heavyweight but he is not a one-punch KO artist, so it is possible that Fury could put in a better showing than he managed.
However, because of the late arrangement of Saturday's fight, it is only scheduled for 10 rounds. Pulev only stopped Ustinov in Round 11, so Fury will have to go at least one better if he is to win inside the distance.
5. Does Ustinov Have Genuine KO Power?
Although Fury is still unproven at the very highest level, enough has been seen of him across 22 fights to be confident that he should outbox Ustinov.
Fury is significantly quicker and has a better jab. He has more punches in his arsenal and can throw from all angles, while even retaining the option of turning southpaw—highly unusual for any heavyweight, let alone one who towers 6′8″.
However, Fury has been knocked down by both Neven Pajkic and Steve Cunningham—neither man a noted puncher. Each time it was a big right-hand haymaker thrown over Fury's lazy low-held left hand.
Againt Pajkic and Cunningham, Fury came back to win by KO, and although he got caught and dropped, he was not badly hurt either time and was still some way from being stopped himself.
In theory, Ustinov sounds like a more dangerous opponent with his 70 percent KO ratio and enormous frame. If he connected a punch with his whole 300-pound frame behind it, few men could be expected to stand up to it.
In practice, however, Ustinov hasn't got the technique to make his size count in the punching stakes. His best victories are over David Tua, Denis Bakhtov, Paolo Vidoz, Monte Barrett and Michael Sprott—and they have all come on points.
The 70 percent KO ratio is misleading because he has never stopped a guy in the world top 50.
Therefore it is actually quite difficult to envisage how Ustinov stops Fury in this fight, and if he can't stop him and he can't outbox him—he can't win.
All fighter records and statistics from BoxRec.