Oleksandr Usyk new unified heavyweight champion, defeating Joshua
SAN DIEGO, Calif., September 25, 2021 – As he has throughout his career. Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine fought on his opponent’s home turf in London. In front of Anthony Joshua’s partisan fans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Usyk picked him apart to become the new unified WBO/WBA/IBF heavyweight world champion. Scorecards were 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113. We scored it 118-110 for Usyk.
“This means so much for me,” said Usyk. “The fight went exactly the way I expected it to go. There were a couple of moments when Anthony pushed me back, but nothing special.”
Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) didn’t find his size disadvantage. Instead, he focused on his strengths, executing a confident game plan taking Joshua’s titles for the second time in three years. Both of Joshua’s losses (24-2, 22 KOs) have come in title fights.
Usyk, the smaller man by 19 pounds, didn’t try to win by knockout by design. Instead, he circled Joshua like a prime Manny Pacquiao, relying on speed, footwork, conditioning, and precision to tag Joshua with stinging left jabs and hooks and an occasional hard right. Several times he pushed Joshua back with hard shots.
Joshua had trouble finding the target due to Usyk’s movement. It tired Joshua both physically and mentally. When he did connect, Usyk took the shots well, and those shots lost their steam down the stretch.
Usyk came close to knocking Joshua out in the final 30 seconds of the fight, catching him with a hard left and blasting him on the ropes.
The final bell allowed Joshua to finish on his feet – barely. He collapsed on his stool. Usyk circled the ring, and after his win was made official, celebrated with a Russian-style dance.
“I had no objective to knock him out,” explained Usyk. “My trainers, my corner pushed me not to do that. In the beginning, I hit him hard to try and knock him out. My trainer said not to do that.”
His trainer was right. Usyk’s technical brilliance is not subtle, and even partisan judges and the fans can see it.
All of Usyk’s biggest wins have come on the road: Krzysztof Glowacki in Poland, Michael Hunter in the US, Marco Huck in Germany, Mairis Briedis in Latvia, Murat Gassiev in Russia, and his Olympic gold medal, plus Tony Bellew and now Anthony Joshua in the UK.
Joshua left the ring without comment. Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn spoke for Joshua and expressed his disappointment. “Tonight, Oleksandr Usyk was fantastic,” said Hearn. “I don’t think it was a great performance by AJ. As we look back, he looked tired, he looked like he lost his power a little bit. We talked about the mental fatigue of Oleksandr Usyk’s work.
“Tonight, he looked brilliant. You have to take your hat off to him. It’s sport, and the better man won tonight,” said Hearn.
Heavyweight division disarray
The Usyk win throws the heavyweight division into delicious disarray. The unification fight anticipated only months ago between Joshua and Tyson Fury is off the table. If Fury wins his upcoming fight against Deontay Wilder, two options seem obvious. First is a unification fight between Fury and Usyk. But there is a rematch clause, and Joshua could try to reset as he did against Andy Ruiz Jr. to put the Fury fight back on track.
Hearn said the rematch is already in Joshua’s plans. “The rematch is very tough. But there’s absolutely nowhere to hide, is there?” said Hearn. “AJ’s at the stage of his career where he wants his world championship. He’s already talking about it now.”
Hearn said Joshua has a possible eye injury, and it may change plans. “He wants to get back in the gym Monday. He’s had a tough fight, he’s not quite thinking straight at the moment. He’s gutted, he’s devastated. Boxing is his life. It’s sport. You win, and you lose. When you lose to the better man, you shake his hand and say congratulations. I’ll be back stronger.”
When asked about a rematch, Usyk declined to address it for now. “So I’ve been working so hard since January in preparation for this fight. It took me some half a year. I didn’t see my family for so long. I missed my children. I missed watching them play. I want to go home. I want to be with my family. I’m not thinking about a rematch at the moment,” said Usyk.
But he left behind one last message. “You didn’t see the best Usyk. I can do much better.”
Fellow Ukrainian and former heavyweight champion Vitaly Klitschko expressed the joy of an entire nation over the victory.
“Excellent fight, very clever. I am very happy. Actually, Oleksandr did a perfect job,” said Klitschko. Everybody is happy, the whole country’s excited. It’s actually a chance after (brother) Wladimir Klitschko, the second (Ukrainian) champion who takes all belts. We’re happy.”
Undercard: Trio of Brits deliver three wins
WBO World Cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie of London (16-0, 13 KOs) took care of his mandatory challenger Dilan Prasovic of Montenegro with ease, dispatching Prasovic with a crisp body shot knockout at 1:53 of round three.
“I’m happy to get it done, and now I can move on to unification. We settled into the fight and got the job done,” said Okolie. “I hope I can get the next one in one round.
The 29-year-old Okolie hopes to unify the cruiserweight division before moving on to the heavyweight division. “Me personally, I want (Marius) Breidis,” said Okolie when asked which current champion he prefers to face. “Beating him would propel me to number one. He’s the one I’m most after, but I take whatever one I can get. Obviously, as a champion, you believe you’re the best in the world.”
After such an easy night of work, Okolie should strive for a unification fight with one of the other titleholders.
Light heavyweight Callum Smith of Liverpool (28-1, 20 KOs) made a successful debut at light heavyweight, delivering a crushing right-hand knockout of Lenin Castillo of the Dominican Republic (21-4-1, 16 KOs) in round two. Castillo was out cold before he hit the canvas and appeared to suffer a seizure or neurological reaction with his legs uncontrollably shaking as if he suffered an electric shock. Smith said a prayer in the corner as Castillo was immediately taken out of the ring to a local hospital.
Prospect Campbell Hatton (4-0) won a six-round decision over Sonni Martinez of Uruguay (2-5). Hatton, son of beloved British champion Ricky Hatton, benefitted from home cooking with a referee scored 58-57 result. The jury is out on the 20-year-old’s future.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on social media at @PRProSanDiego.
Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.
Copyright © 2021 by Falcon Valley Group