Oleksandr Usyk defeats Anthony Joshua to claim world heavyweight title – The Guardian

Oleksandr Usyk is the new WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion of the world after, in a riveting display of skill and nerve, he outpointed Anthony Joshua to win a clear and unanimous decision. His commanding victory was not a shock because the unbeaten Ukrainian is a former undisputed world cruiserweight champion and, before the fight, there was widespread consensus among boxing’s cognoscenti that Usyk is a much more natural and gifted fighter than Joshua.

The supremely confident new champion showcased his enviable ringcraft throughout the fight and, long before the end, Joshua looked dispirited and a little lost. The outgoing champion’s huge physical advantages over Usyk mattered little on a night when intelligence and skill trumped brute force. In the end it was Joshua who was being pummelled on the ropes and looking close to being stopped. He stuck out his tongue at Usyk but it was a forlorn gesture of defiance. Usyk simply poured on more pressure before the final bell confirmed his victory.

From the opening round Usyk took charge. Rather than backing away and fighting at distance, the Ukrainian stood his ground in the centre of the ring and began setting puzzles of movement which unsettled and even bemused the more physically imposing Joshua. By the third the pattern of the fight was set and a big left rocked Joshua. His head swivelled on the giant base of his neck and he looked briefly stunned.

Usyk’s smart use of feints and little dips of movement never allowed Joshua to settle and, as the fight unfolded, it was clear that the outgoing champion was struggling. A swelling formed around his left eye and he needed his trainer Robert McCracken to encourage him.

Oleksandr Usyk knocks back Anthony Joshua
Oleksandr Usyk knocks back Anthony Joshua. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Joshua switched to the body with some success and he won the fifth and looked to be gaining parity at the halfway stage. But Usyk remained serene and Joshua could not gain any lasting momentum. In the seventh round a left hook from Usyk staggered Joshua and the Ukrainian followed it up with still more precise punching.

Joshua, looking depleted and tired, was reduced to pedestrian plodding and Usyk continued to dictate. Even when he was cut in the ninth round the challenger remained composed as the swelling under Joshua’s right eye had worsened. Later in the fight Usyk again forced Joshua back with a stinging combination and then a cuffing short right hand. Joshua was drained and battling to see the punches that were flying at him.

As they came out for the 12th, Joshua needed a stoppage but Usyk remained the more destructive puncher. The judges scored the fight 117-112, 116-112 and a less accurate 115-113 in favour of Usyk.

Joshua could have avoided Usyk because he acknowledged months ago that, outside Tyson Fury, the Ukrainian posed the greatest threat in the heavyweight division with his technical expertise and hard-edged experience. Both men won Olympic gold at London 2012 but Usyk had 350 fights in the unpaid ranks. Joshua, in contrast, had just 35 bouts as an amateur. The difference was obvious in the professional ring. Usyk offered a litmus test and Joshua, for all his courage, was badly exposed.

Oleksandr Usyk celebrates just after the final bell as Anthony Joshua sits in his corner
Oleksandr Usyk celebrates just after the final bell as Anthony Joshua sits in his corner. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

The bravery of Usyk should also be acknowledged. This was only his third fight as a heavyweight and, while Joshua chose to come into the ring considerably lighter than usual, there was a 19lb weight difference. Joshua, at 6ft 6in, is also three inches taller than Usyk with a four-inch advantage in reach. These physical attributes, allied to Joshua’s heavy hitting, threatened to be too much for the smaller man to overcome. But Usyk fought with characteristic heart and skill and he showed that he could cope with the shuddering impact of punches from one the biggest hitters in the business. Evander Holyfield is the best example of a cruiserweight who managed the transition to boxing’s premier division but Usyk now joins such exalted company.

His impressive victory, which is easily the most significant win of his career so far, blows apart the heavyweight division. There had been an assumption amongst Joshua’s team that a hard-earned victory over Usyk would open the door to the resumption of talks with Fury’s camp for a unification battle between the two British fighters, who had held all the major world heavyweight titles between them. But, for now, heavyweight boxing has been tilted on its axis by the brilliant Usyk as he carved out this defining and memorable victory.

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Joshua, meanwhile, will struggle to overcome the second hurtful defeat of his career. He lost for the first time in June 2019, in a shocking stoppage loss to Andy Ruiz Jr, but won the rematch six months later. The big difference now is that, unlike the ill-disciplined and poorly conditioned Ruiz Jr, Usyk has the skill and the resolve to hold on to his new titles for a much more sustained period. The 34-year-old is a supreme and hardened champion who, on his way to finally scaling the peak of heavyweight boxing, had won testing fights in hostile territories from Riga to Moscow to Manchester – and now the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, where the vast army of supporters for the vanquished Joshua were stunned by the emergence of a new king of heavyweight boxing.

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