Oleksandr Usyk ripped the WBA Super, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles from Anthony Joshua’s grasp in a dominant display at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Saturday night.
Usyk deservedly won the bout by unanimous decision, 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 on the cards, as he dominated the battle between London 2012 Olympic gold medallists. The Ukrainian (19-0, 13 KOs) stuck to his gameplan and simply proved too much for Joshua, who falls to 24-2, 22 KOs, wearing him down and confirming his status as one of the best fighters on the planet.
It was billed as the toughest test of Joshua’s career. The talk in the build-up concerned how Usyk would cope against a much bigger man and could he withstand Joshua’s power? Or would the master-boxer be too accomplished and deny Joshua his dream of being undisputed heavyweight champion?
Joshua has long been linked to a mega-fight with WBC champion Tyson Fury, but the shadow of Usyk has always loomed in the background. It was a clash that Joshua could have avoided and given up the WBO belt instead of facing as dangerous a mandatory challenger as you could possibly find. But that is not in Joshua’s fighting make-up. He was always going to front up and take on Usyk.
It was a decision that he will now regret.
In Usyk’s last trip to the UK, he got the better of Dereck Chisora by decision in his first major test at heavyweight, having previously ended Tony Bellew’s career in devastating fashion when he was the undisputed cruiserweight champion back in 2018. Both those victims insisted Joshua would win by stoppage. Usyk, as ever, simply smiled.
Following a stellar amateur career, the enigmatic Ukrainian has barely put a foot wrong. There is no doubting his credentials and there was very little chance he would be overawed by the occasion. Winning on the road is something that he has grown accustomed to. In fact, it has almost become expected.
The pair traded blows in the first, both trying to claim the centre of the ring. Usyk managed to edge it, getting through with more left hands, as they both settled into the contest. The 34-year-old challenger was giving Joshua plenty to think about with his feints and movement.
Joshua pawed with the jab in the second, as Usyk searched for an opening. It was a cagey start, as predicted, as Joshua tried to adapt to the problems Usyk presented. The Ukrainian was now targeting the body in what was turning into a high class chess match.
Usyk got through with a fast burst of punches in the third and he seemed to already be in his comfort zone. He put his own stamp of authority in the third, staggering Joshua briefly with a sharp left hand, who responded with his own right hand at the end of the round.
Usyk snapped a jab in as the fourth started, which sent Joshua reeling as the feet got tangled. Joshua fired back with a right, but he was unable to catch Usyk flush and, a third of the way through the clash, Usyk was well and truly in the ascendancy.
Joshua needed a spark and it wasn’t coming, as Usyk was growing in confidence with every second. He was outboxing the champion and silencing the crowd in the process. As the fifth went on though, they began to open up and let their hands go.
The champion seemed to have gained a foothold in the sixth. Both got behind the jab, but couldn’t land anything of real note. Joshua pressed forward and tried to cut off the ring, but he was unable to pin Usyk down until a right hand got through in the last 30 seconds. It was exactly the round Joshua needed.
Usyk was back on the front foot in the seventh, firing in a left that caught Joshua. The Watford man retaliated with a left to the body, but Usyk forced Joshua back with his own left to the chin. Another left landed and Joshua was knocked off-balance. It was the perfect response by Usyk.
The left hand was working well for Usyk, as he crashed another into Joshua’s body at the start of the eighth. Joshua fired back with the right, as Usyk continued to circle and throw the left hand. Joshua connected with his own body shot in what was a very tight round.
Joshua was warned for holding early in the ninth, as Usyk continued to get through with the left. Usyk pressed forward through the round and continued to catch Joshua with regularity. Joshua tried to rough him up on the inside when he got close enough, but he couldn’t keep Usyk pinned down for long enough to truly hinder him.
Entering the 10th, both were breathing heavily, but it was Joshua who needed to find something. Usyk could sense he was getting closer and the southpaw yet again found Joshua’s chin with a left. The jab was also breaching the Joshua defences, although Usyk, who had been marking up throughout, was cut by the right eye. Joshua was spurred on by the development, but in the process his own right eye began to swell.
Joshua was told by his corner to relax and let Usyk come to him before the 11th and Usyk did just that. A big left hand caught Joshua, whose vision was hampered. Joshua threw the right hand, but as had been the case throughout the fight, he couldn’t catch Usyk clean. The Ukrainian wasn’t done and he continued to press and connect with Joshua, who was now looking more and more likely to be the latest man to fail to solve the Usyk conundrum.
Joshua appeared resigned to defeat in the corner as they entered the final round. Usyk was not taking his foot off the gas though and pressed on. Joshua caught him with a right hand, but Usyk blasted back, proving he was the better man on the night. Usyk unloaded with a barrage at the end of the round, forcing Joshua onto the ropes and almost stopping him, but the champion was saved by the bell.
Any doubts about Usyk’s credentials at heavyweight were well and truly answered. He had won it by a mile. The heavyweight division were already on notice, but now the Ukrainian is the king. Get used to it. Oleksandr Usyk is the world heavyweight champion.
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.