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.