Oleksandr Usyk edged out Anthony Joshua to retain his heavyweight world titles after an enthralling rematch.
The pair squared off in a return of last September’s showdown at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Usyk dethroned ‘AJ’ of the WBA Super, IBF, IBO and WBO belts 11 months ago and the Brit had been looking to regain them while becoming a three-time unified ruler.
Joshua, with new trainer Robert Garcia in his corner, produced a much-improved performance but it wasn’t enough as the Ukrainian former undisputed cruiserweight champion retained the titles, at the Jeddah Superdome in Saudi Arabia, while picking up the Ring Magazine recently relinquished by Tyson Fury after winning the fight on a split decision with margins of 116-112, 115-113 and 113-115.
The man who won the first fight got the better of the opening exchanges in the second, but former British champion Joshua just couldn’t get going in the first half of the fight. The second half of the proceedings was much more successful as Joshua stalked Usyk at the beginning of the sixth round as he landed a right hand followed by a left hook.
The challenger’s right eye was beginning to show signs of wear and tear as the pace began to slow. But Joshua rallied the crowd with a right hand against the ropes. Usyk responded with a left hand, and right hook before finishing the session on top.
Joshua looked to rough up Usyk as the fight entered the second half, grabbing his head and looking to land to the body. He looked to take the centre of the ring and landed a right to which Usyk replied with the opposite hand as he took over in the second half of the round.
The beginning of the eighth round saw the referee, Luis Pabon, order for the ring to be cleaned due to both fighters’ excess sweat causing them to slip.
Joshua landed a left hook to Usyk’s ribs but the champion responded with a flurry. But he was forced to grab on when Joshua resumed his assault on the body, as he had promised during their final face-off.
Joshua was finally able to work his way inside and began to maul Usyk’s body in the centre of the ring. He had the champion on the back foot for the first time in 21 rounds as the Ukrainian looked momentarily shaken.
But Usyk showed no ill effects as he made a fast start to the 10th round which continued towards the final couple of stanzas and saw him keep hold of the titles.