Anthony Joshua needed a knockout.
Entering the final round of his heavyweight title defense against Oleksandr Usyk, Joshua, a powerful 31-year-old from London and one of boxing’s biggest stars in the world, hung out on the judges’ scoreboards, losing early turns against a smaller, trickier one. challenger. When the bell rang, he stepped forward.
But Usyk closed the show.
Usyk, an undefeated 34-year-old Ukrainian, landed early left and right, calming crowds at a sold-out Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London. At the end of the 12, Usyk wobbled Joshua with a left hand, and a flurry of two-handed punches sent Joshua through the ropes as the final bell approached.
This emphatic final round led Usyk to a unanimous decision victory in a fight most observers expected him to lose. The judges scored the bout 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113, all for Usyk.
The result calmed the 70,000 or so spectators in attendance, most of whom supported Joshua by singing in unison throughout the opening laps. But that didn’t surprise Usyk, a former undisputed cruiserweight champion who rose to heavyweight in 2019.
“The fight went exactly as I expected,” said Usyk, who is now 19-0. “There were a few moments where Anthony pushed me, but nothing special.”
Joshua entered the fight with natural height advantages – he is 6ft 6in, compared to Usyk 6ft 3in, and at 240lbs he exceeded the challenger by more than 18lbs. It has also organized heavyweight championships from four different boxing governing bodies: the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Organization, the International Boxing Federation and the International Boxing Organization.
But Usyk, a calculating southpaw, showed up with superior footwork and won the first three rounds finding the best angles, then landing punches: a straight line that caught Joshua’s attention at the first round ; a left to the head that flexed Joshua’s knees in the third. Usyk said his early successes made him put more pressure on him, but then he remembered his game plan.
âAt first I hit him hard and tried to knock him out,â Usyk said. “But then my coaches said to stop and do your job.”
Joshua won mid-fight rounds relying on his jab and punches, recalling his power to increase his accuracy, and wearing Usyk down. On the 10th Usyk had red markings under each eye and a hollow in his right eyebrow. Joshua’s right eye had swollen as well, making it an easier target for Usyk’s overhanging lefts.
Ahead of the fight, Joshua and his supporters touted the event as a celebration – the first stadium show and the most attended boxing event in England since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They also presented it as a kind of formality. Joshua only faced Usyk because the World Boxing Organization commissioned the fight, and Joshua and his Matchroom Boxing promoters have spoken openly about the match with the winner between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, who are due to fight on the 9th. October.
A heavyweight mega-light would have made financial sense. Joshua attracts a large audience. His Instagram account has 12.9 million followers, and his triumph over Vladimir Klitschko drew 90,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium in London in April 2017.
Instead, Usyk and Joshua provided another example of how quickly the heavyweight landscape can change.
In mid-May, Hearn and Fury each announced a deal for a midsummer title unification fight between Fury and Joshua in Saudi Arabia. But days after that deal was made public, an arbitrator in the United States ordered Fury to confront Wilder, who invoked his revenge clause after losing to Fury in February 2020, and filed a lawsuit for the ‘apply.
This legal decision torpedoed Joshua-Fury and led to Joshua’s fight with Usyk, which ended in an upheaval that will force the promoters to recalibrate their plans.
Moments after the fight, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn said the now-former champion would likely exercise his contractual right to an immediate rematch.
âFor me he will go straight into the rematch,â Hearn said. “But he will have to bring something different.”
But Usyk told an in-ring interviewer he hasn’t seen his kids in months and needs some family time.
“I’m not thinking of the rematch right now,” he said.
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