Those who have known Oleksandr Usyk for a long time would quickly tell you that he’s a fun-loving, humorous guy more than anything else. Anyone who knows him likes him.
Saturday, he proved to the uninitiated that he’s also one of the great boxers in the world.
The former undisputed cruiserweight champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, put on the performance of a lifetime, giving away size, power and youth to Anthony Joshua, but rolling to a one-sided decision before 66,267 fans in London.
Usyk won by scores of 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 to claim the IBF, WBA and WBO titles from Joshua.
“Listen, 12 years ago, my wife said ‘Yes,’ so I’m double happy,” said Usyk, who probably punched his ticket to the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the victory.
There was little doubt who won when the fight ended. Though the massive crowd urged Joshua on as the 12th round began, Usyk was battering him around the ring, fighting as if he needed the knockout.
Joshua was never able to solve Usyk’s straight left hand or his constant move. Usyk circled, moving one way and then another, connecting with clean shots and then circling out of danger. He never got off the bike, though it would be laughable to say he ran.
Usyk hurt Joshua several times, in the fight, once sending him wobbling back toward the ropes with a perfectly timed straight left hand. Joshua’s right eye was badly swollen by the end and he had welts all over his face.
He showed his experience, though, not falling in love with his success and getting into the kind of shootout that would have favored Joshua and his enormous punching power.
“I had no objective to knock him out,” Usyk said. “My trainers, my corner pushed me not to do that. So at the beginning I hit him hard. I just tried to knock him out. Then, my trainer said ‘Just stop and do your job.’”
And do it he did. A frustrated Joshua left the ring immediately after the decision was announced, his second career loss. This was a much more predictable outcome, though, because he was a massive favorite to win over late replacement Andy Ruiz in 2019.
But Ruiz got off the canvas to hurt Joshua and went on to stop him, before Joshua took the rematch.
Usyk was very clearly the more talented boxer, but he’d only fought at heavyweight twice previously. The question was whether he’d be able to deal with Joshua’s edge in height, weight and power.
He ripped Joshua with a straight left early to set the tempo, and he never got himself in trouble. Joshua made some adjustments in the middle part of the fight, but he never really seemed locked in on how to break Usyk down.
Usyk plans to attend the Oct. 9 heavyweight fight in Las Vegas between WBC champion Tyson Fury and ex-champion Deontay Wilder, Top Rank’s Bob Arum told Yahoo Sports. Joshua has a rematch clause, though, so if he enacts it, Usyk will have to beat him a second time before he gets to the Fury-Wilder winner.
“It’s been a long journey,” Usyk said. “I’ve been working so hard since January. “It took me some half a year [and] I haven’t seen my family. I miss them so much.
“You didn’t see the best Usyk. I can be much better.”