In an epic 12-round battle, Oleksandr Usyk defeated Anthony Joshua for the second time in a row to defend his unified WBO, WBA, and IBF world heavyweight titles.
Usyk won a split decision at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, winning 116-112 and 115-113 on the cards of Ukraine’s Viktor Fesechko and Britain’s Steve Gray, respectively. Joshua won 115-113 thanks to Glenn Feldman of the United States.
Joshua was enraged by the outcome. He grabbed two championship belts and tossed them out of the ring before storming out. Joshua then returned to seize the microphone and express himself passionately.
“I’m stealing this Usyk, I’m sorry, but it’s because of the passion we put into this,” Joshua told the crowd during his two-minute speech.
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Usyk currently holds three of the four major heavyweight titles. His collection is missing one item. Tyson Fury, who claims to be retired, still holds the WBC title. Usyk is only interested in that fight.
“I’m sure that Tyson Fury is not retired yet,” the champion said. “I’m sure, I’m convinced he wants to fight me. Usyk did have to deal with intense pressure from an unyielding Joshua, who outperformed him in their first fight in September.
Usyk outpointed Joshua in London last year after only two professional fights in the heavyweight division. Formerly an undisputed cruiserweight champion, Usyk has proven to be one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the world today.
Joshua demanded an immediate rematch, determined to reestablish himself as a top-tier heavyweight. To that end, he hired a new trainer, Robert Garcia, to work alongside Angel Fernandez in his corner, and committed himself to correcting the mistakes he made in the first fight.
Joshua had lost prior to meeting Usyk, but avenged his loss to Andy Ruiz on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in 2019. He was fighting to become a three-time heavyweight champion, and he knew that victory tonight would determine his legacy.
Both fighters were under intense pressure ahead of this championship match. Neither could accept defeat.
It made for a tense start. Usyk let his southpaw jab flit out, occasionally feinting and landing. He fired a quick cross and blocked Joshua’s right well. Joshua, on the other hand, took the offensive, landing a right hook to the body and leaning in when the Ukrainian stepped in close.
He kept his attention on the body, driving his right into it when he could and looking for an opening to let it shoot to the head. Usyk, on the other hand, remained elusive, bobbing his head around more jabs and chipping away at the bigger challenger.
Joshua’s shots were heavy even when Usyk took them on his gloves or elbows because he threw them with weight behind him.
He gained confidence in the fourth round, allowing his own punches to flow more freely. As he threatened uppercuts, he looked for Usyk. However, the Ukrainian finished the round with an excellent left cross.
The pace picked up in the fifth round, with only a brief pause when Joshua landed an uppercut below the belt. Joshua continued his assault on the trunk, hitting the body with a hard right. Usyk attempted to dissuade him, landing a countering left as Joshua approached.
Joshua, the new challenger, continued to press Usyk, much more willing to engage than in their first fight. His right hook was blocked, but he caught Usyk with a good left hook. Usyk had to stay on the back foot as Joshua dug to the body.
Usyk had marked him around his right eye. Throughout the first six rounds, the fight was fiercely contested. Usyk’s hand speed was evident at times, with his left a sniping shot that caught Joshua through gaps.
Joshua slammed a hearty left hook into the body in the eighth round. Usyk retaliated, punching Joshua with a combination of punches. Joshua swatted a right down to club Usyk away as Usyk peppered him to the head.
In the ninth round, Joshua began to break through. Joshua kept the pressure on Usyk, hammering him with heavy hooks until he was forced into the ropes. Joshua’s face lit up as he dug in a vicious body shot. He was about to seize the initiative.
However, Usyk altered the fight once more. In the following round, he astonishingly increased the tempo. With an accurate right hook, he stunned Joshua. He unloaded with stern lefts, luring Joshua back step by step. The Ukrainian took a heavy right to the chin but continued his assault, whipping shots into Joshua as the 10th round ended.
Usyk was handling the pressure well, and Joshua knew he needed to come up with something special in the final round. He tried again, this time with hard punches to the head. Usyk, on the other hand, kept his feet beneath him and kept moving, working well even off the ropes. He finished the fight like a champion, refusing to back down in the 12th round.
Usyk finished strong, clipping Joshua with heavy counterpunches in the final seconds of the fight. The outcome was closer than expected, but Usyk was a worthy winner.
Joshua, however, could not contain his emotions after the bout. “If you knew my story you would understand the passion. I ain’t no amateur boxer from five-years-old that was an elite prospect from youth. I was going to jail, I got bail and I started training my arse off, I wanted to be able to fight,” he roared.
It was Usyk’s moment, yet Joshua was alone with the microphone and kept on talking.
“This guy to beat me tonight, maybe I could have done better, but it shows the level of hard work I put in so please give him a round of applause as our heavyweight champion of the world,” Joshua said.
When the defending champion Usyk got his opportunity to speak, he said, “I did this victory for my country, for all people, militaries who are defending the country. Thank you very, very much.
“This is already historic. Many generations are going to watch this fight, especially the round when someone tried to beat me hard, but I withstood it and turned it in a different way.”