Oleksandr Usyk defeats Anthony Joshua by split decision to retain world titles | Boxing
For Anthony Joshua, it was finally too much. After being beaten a second time by the exceptional Oleksandr Usyk and, consequently, having failed in his attempt to regain his status as heavyweight champion, he threw two of the three winners’ belts out of the ring before rushing him -even on what was a hot night in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city, in more ways than one.
Joshua quickly returned but clearly the 32-year-old’s emotions were still getting the better of him. After appearing to exchange angry words with Usyk, he then took the microphone and, in front of a crowd of around 10,000 gathered at the venue, delivered a curious monologue.
“If you knew my story, you would understand the passion,” he said. “I’m not a five-year-old amateur boxer who was an elite youth prospect. I was going to jail, I was released on bail and I started training, I wanted to be able to fight.
Cue confused silence among those present. And there was more to come their way. “I’m not a 12 round fighter, look at me, I’m a new breed of heavyweight,” Joshua continued. “Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston, Jack Dempsey, ‘you don’t throw combinations like Rocky Marciano’, I’ve got 18 stone, I’m heavy, it’s hard work.”
Joshua’s speech was accompanied by some swearing but also congratulations for the man who had just defeated him. “This guy here has phenomenal talent,” he said after wrapping his arm around Usyk. “We’re going to cheer him on three times.” And the crowd, however, remained quite clearly confused by what was going on.
And maybe Joshua didn’t know what he was doing or saying either. It certainly felt like a warm feeling of the moment, brought on by a very real feeling of pain and disappointment.
It was supposed to be Joshua’s night of redemption, when he regained the WBA, WBO and IBF titles that Usyk took from him when the pair met at Tottenham 11 months ago. The Ukrainian had been supreme that night but, likewise, Joshua had let himself down after making the curious decision to abandon his instincts and instead try to take his opponent out. It was never going to work and he paid the price.
This time, there shouldn’t be a repeat mistake. Armed with a new trainer in the highly esteemed Mexican-American Robert Garcia, Joshua vowed to be more aggressive and he kept his word, charging forward in the first round, securing the center of the ring in the second and constantly stinging his opponent. with thumps, no more than in the ninth round when the challenger shoved the champion around the ring after he started all hell.
But that’s when Usyk showed his class, crushing Joshua in the 10th with a big left hook and continuing to offload from there. He also dominated the last two rounds and, having greatly impressed throughout the contest, he was not shocked when he was declared the winner, the only surprise being that it was by split decision, with two of the judges delivering scores of 115-113 and 116-112 in his favor while the other felt that Joshua was the winner via a score of 115-113. Cue the raising of many eyebrows.
A dubious call but also one that spoke to the bold display Joshua delivered here and ultimately it would be a shame if that was overshadowed by his flashes of post-fight petulance. Defeat, a third in 27 professional fights, clearly stung. Joshua was lucky enough to join Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko and Evander Holyfield to become a three-time heavyweight champion; instead, he remains rudderless in his division and with few paths to the top. Those pre-fight suggestions that now would be a good time for him to call it a day will only grow.
For Usyk, meanwhile, a 20th straight win in two divisions cements his status as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and puts him in prime position for a tantalizing unification battle with Tyson Fury if the player 34-year-old Mancunian is coming out of his final retirement spell, which he suggested he should do on social networks shortly after the fight. It’s a contest that Usyk certainly wants.
“I want to fight him and if I don’t fight Tyson Fury, I don’t fight at all,” he said here, after paying tribute to the Ukrainian military, which is of great significance to the 35 year old player. Prior to this fight, he spent time serving in his country’s armed forces as part of their defense against the Russian invasion. Usyk came here determined to give his war-torn homeland a reason to feel pride and joy and be delivered.
It was Joshua’s second time fighting in Saudi Arabia, following his win over Andy Ruiz Jr in Diriyah three years ago. As was the case at the time, both fighters were asked how they could justify taking part in an event that, very clearly, was part of the kingdom’s sports washing strategy. Neither gave particularly satisfying answers, with Joshua making it clear he was “here for boxing”. There is no doubt that the minimum purse of £33million he and Usyk would have received for facing each other in the Middle East played a part in both of their decisions.
And so, eventually, attention turned to the Abdullah Sports City Arena, an impressive venue but unsuitable for a contest of this magnitude given that it only has a capacity of 10,000 spectators. To put that into context, a crowd of 68,000 gathered to see these two fight in North London last year. The rematch clearly deserved a bigger stage, and the ripple effect of not having one was an atmosphere that rarely rose above politeness.
To be fair to those present here, who included boxing legends Roberto Duran and Naseem Hamed, the volume was lively enough by the time Joshua and Usyk emerged to fight shortly after 1 a.m. local time, and continued to rise in an epic encounter.
Usyk initially managed to keep Joshua at bay with his left jab but soon the challenger was landing with a succession of right hands. Usyk responded with a few bludgeoning lefts in the fourth that forced Joshua back while mesmerizing him with his signature, smart move.
But Joshua kept coming and connected with two crushing body shots in the sixth, forcing Usyk onto the ropes. Once again, however, the champion showed his class by smoothing over troubles and peppering Joshua with punches from different angles.
The seventh and eighth rounds were largely even, then came the ninth as Joshua exploded into life, making full use of his superior size and power to cradle the man before him. It looked like a shock victory was on the cards, but then Usyk did what he does best – take command of a fight with a combination of sublime technique and relentless ferocity. In the end, his victory was indisputable, which Joshua, in the most unique way, also had to accept.