Oleksandr Usyk Cements Spot in History With Defeat of Tyson Fury

Ten thoughts on the split-decision bout that made Usyk the first undisputed heavyweight champ of the century.
Usyk is the world’s first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis.
Usyk is the world’s first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis. / Register Top Rank

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Let’s go 10 rounds on Oleksandr Usyk’s split decision win over Tyson Fury … 

10 – This fight lived up to expectations. Not only are Usyk and Fury the top two heavyweights, they are pound-for-pound talents. And each showed it in front of a packed house at Kingdom Arena. Fury won many of the early rounds behind an active jab, good movement and strong body work. Usyk took over the second half with intense pressure and slashing left hands. In the ninth round Usyk landed a crushing left hand that sent Fury careening to the ropes, where the referee ruled a knockdown. Usyk continued his assault in the final three rounds, changing levels beautifully and backing Fury into the ropes. Before the fight, Usyk promised to stay in Fury’s face all night. And he did exactly that. 

9 – The scorecards were fair. Two judges scored the fight for Usyk (115-112, 114-113) overruling a third that had 114-113 for Fury. Sports Illustrated scored the fight from ringside 115-112 for Usyk, effectively giving Usyk a 7-5 edge in rounds. The 114-113 card for Fury was a little shaky—it effectively gave the benefit of the doubt to Fury in every competitive round—but the first two were close enough to go either way and the 12th was competitive. Ultimately, the judges got it right. 

8 – Usyk is an all-time great. Not an all-time great heavyweight. An all-time great. Usyk is now the undisputed heavyweight champion, the first to hold that title this century and the first ever in the four-belt era. Having already claimed that title at cruiserweight, Usyk now enters the rarified air of two division undisputed champions. And he did it the hard way. He went through a gauntlet of tough opponents at cruiserweight and his heavyweight résumé includes two wins over Anthony Joshua, a knockout of Daniel Dubois and now Fury. At 22–0, more than half of Usyk’s fights have been at a high level. That’s Hall of Fame stuff. 

7 – Usyk has a case to be pound-for-pound No. 1 Rarely do we see heavyweights on the pound-for-pound lists. Even more rare is finding them at No. 1. But Usyk has the kind of pedigree (he’s a former Olympic gold medalist) and résumé that’s tough to rival. Just ask Terence Crawford. In the aftermath of Usyk’s win, Crawford, the reigning pound-for-pound king, posted on social media that fans need to “put some respect” on Usyk’s name and that Usyk is “definitely a candidate” for pound-for-pound No. 1. Game, it seems, recognizes game. 

6 – Will Fury have any regrets? I think when Fury watches the tape he’ll probably regret some of the showboating he did in the early rounds. If Fury fought with the same focus in the first two rounds that he did in the next five, he likely would have emerged with at least a draw. Instead, he let Usyk sneak out one of the first two on two of the three judges cards—got all that?—giving him a narrow win. 

Oleksandr Usyk vs Tyson Fury
Fury’s showboating early on may have cost him an opportunity for a better result. / Register Top Rank

I’ll tell you something he will regret: After the fight, Fury seemed to suggest that Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia had something to do with the scorecards. “You know, his country is at war,” said Fury. “So people are siding with the country at war.” Yeah, that ain’t it. 

5 – Mark Nelson made the right call. On social media—which is always right, of course—some have suggested that Nelson, the veteran referee, should have stepped in with Fury reeling in the ninth round. But I thought Nelson made the right call. The last thing you want as a referee is to be involved in the outcome. Fury has a history of recovering—see the 12th round of his first fight with Deontay Wilder—and deserved the chance to fight back. I thought Nelson had a good night. 

4 – Will there be a rematch? Both fighters committed to one after the fight and they are contractually obligated, with Turki Alalshikh, the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (more on him below), penciling the fight in for October. That date may get pushed—Usyk reportedly suffered a jaw injury during the fight—but there’s no doubt these two will fight again. 

3 – Saudi Arabia has become a home for big time boxing. The Saudis’ interest, spearheaded by Alalshikh, a passionate boxing fan, has supercharged the sport, with the GEA’s deep pockets turning fantasy fights into reality. Kingdom Arena was sold out on Saturday, with thousands of British fans flooding into the country. In interviews, Alalshikh has described long term plans for his country’s presence in the sport, including fights abroad. On August 3, Alalshikh, who has pushed “Riyadh Season,” the country’s annual entertainment and sports festival, will put on a show in Los Angeles and there are plans to bring a Saudi-backed show to England in the fall. And these are events, with three or four fights on each undercard that easily could headline its own show. 

2 – Where does this leave the rest of the heavyweight division? Usyk’s reign as the undisputed champion won’t be a long one. Next week the IBF is expected to strip Usyk, who has a long overdue mandatory fight with Filip Hrgovic, and sanction Hrgovic-Dubois on June 1 in, you guessed it, Saudi Arabia, for its vacant title. With Usyk and Fury ticketed for a rematch, Joshua is likely to face the winner of Hrgovic-Dubois, positioning Joshua for either a third fight with Usyk or an anticipated showdown with Fury in 2025.  

1 – This was a big moment for Ukraine. After the fight, I spoke with Wladimir Klitschko, the ex-heavyweight champion who was there to support his Ukrainian countryman. He said that many Ukrainians likely died today, the result of Ukraine’s years-long war with Russia. He said that his people continue to suffer as a result of Russia’s assault. But for 48 minutes, he told me, his people had something to be energized about. Something to be proud of. “This was an extremely important moment for us,” says Klitschko, clinging to a Ukrainian flag. “It gives us hope and strength.”


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Chris Mannix

CHRIS MANNIX

Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Mannix has boxed with Juan Manuel Marquez, played guard in the NBA's D-League and even tried his hand at bull riding at the Sankey Rodeo School in Martin, Tenn. The latter assignment left him with a bunch of bruises and a fractured collarbone. "I liked all the first-person experiences, but fighting Juan was my favorite assignment for SI," says Mannix. "It was a tremendous experience that required brutal training and introduced me to a fear I never knew I had." Mannix has covered the NBA since he arrived at SI in 2003. He currently writes columns and profiles in the magazine and for SI.com and also serves as SI's NBA draft expert. Among the NBA stars he has profiled: Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and Andrei Kirilenko. As a teenager Mannix was a locker room attendant with the Boston Celtics for eight seasons (1995-2003) and covered high school sports for the Boston Globe. "Working for the Celtics was like attending a different fantasy camp every game. I spent pregames D'ing up the likes of Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen and yes, Michael Jordan. Last time I went one-on-one with MJ he beat me 48-0. I got one shot off … and it was blocked." Boxing is also one of Mannix's specialties. He has reported for SI on several championship fights, annually hands out SI.com's boxing awards and writes the website's "Inside Boxing" column. Mannix won the 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America's awards for Best Feature over 1,750 words and Best Feature under 1,750 words. In addition to his duties at SI, Mannix serves as host of The Chris Mannix Show on NBC Sports Radio (Sundays 6–9 p.m. ET) and is a co-host of Voices of the Game, with Newy Scruggs every Wednesday from Noon–3 p.m. ET. In addition, Mannix is a ringside reporter for Epix and Fight Night on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and is a regular guest and fill-in host on The Dan Patrick Show and The Crossover on NBC Sports Network. He also regularly appears on sports radio shows across the country, including weekly appearances in Miami, Orlando and Salt Lake City.  Mannix received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College in 2003 and graduated from Boston College High School in 1998 (which makes him a double Eagle). He resides in New York City.