Oleksandr Usyk wins.
Anthony Joshua loses.
And another boxing super fight is flushed down the drain.
It was a unanimous decision win for Usyk, and really—this one wasn’t particularly close. Just three fights into his heavyweight career, Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, systematically dismantled Joshua, silencing more than 60,000 pro-Joshua fans in Tottenham and leaving the ring with three pieces of the heavyweight title. Usyk set the pace early, flummoxing Joshua with his movement, marking the Brit’s face with cutting left hands.
All three judges scored the fight for Usyk, with Howard Foster—a British judge—the only one scoring it close.
What a win for Usyk, who takes his place alongside Evander Holyfield and David Haye as ex-cruiserweights who have found success at the highest heavyweight level. There were reasons to question Usyk coming in. Plenty of them. He looked pedestrian in his first heavyweight fight, a ho-hum stoppage of Chaz Witherspoon. Dereck Chisora, an aging brawler, had his moments against Usyk in his second. Surely Joshua, the bigger stronger, more experienced heavyweight, would have more success.
He didn’t. From the opening bell, Usyk looked comfortable. He stayed on his toes early, while Joshua was content to follow Usyk around the ring. He rocked Joshua with a lead left in the seventh round. In the 12th, with Joshua knowing he needed a knockout, it was Usyk, with a finishing flurry, that nearly scored one.
This isn’t bad for Joshua. It’s a catastrophe. In 2019, Joshua was stopped by Andy Ruiz. That loss was bad. This one is worse. Ruiz, you could argue, simply landed the perfect shot, a wild left hand that clipped Joshua’s temple in the third round that shook Joshua’s equilibrium for the rest of the fight. Ruiz won, but Joshua was the better fighter, a belief Joshua validated in a dominant decision win over Ruiz six months later.
This wasn’t that. There was no lucky punch from Usyk, but dozens of textbook ones. There was no balance-shifting moment, just a busted right eye, courtesy of the leather on Usyk’s left hand.
The loss to Ruiz was shocking.
The loss to Usyk has to be demoralizing.
There will be a rematch, which will, at the very least, push a lucrative fight against Tyson Fury deep into 2022. If it happens at all. There is little reason to believe Joshua will have more success in a second go-round with Usyk. Usyk isn’t a fluke. He’s an Olympic gold medalist who beat the best in the cruiserweight division before making the jump to heavyweight. He was never hurt against Joshua, and will undoubtedly be more confident going into the next one.
There were calls for Joshua to shake up his training team after the loss to Ruiz, and those calls will come again. Joshua is fiercely loyal to his longtime trainer, Rob McCracken, but Joshua may need new direction. He’s never utilized his 6’6” frame like Lennox Lewis or Wladimir Klitschko, super sized heavyweights who operated exclusively behind a stinging jab. But he fought small against Usyk, routinely allowing the shorter man to get inside, failing to pressure him and having no answer for Usyk’s looping left hands. At 31, Joshua is in his prime, and could need a new voice in his corner to maximize it.
Nothing will top the shock of Joshua’s loss against Ruiz, but even then many in boxing believed Joshua would be back. That future is less clear after the loss to Usyk, who was not just the better man on Saturday. He was the better fighter.
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