Anthony Joshua’s £200 million blockbuster fight with Tyson Fury was wrecked by Oleksandr Usyk as the unbeaten Ukrainian put on a scintillating display of boxing to claim the IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO belts.
Usyk wobbled Joshua in the seventh round, and even had the home fighter on the ropes in the last 30 seconds of the 12th round, exhausted and in survival mode. The three judges – from the UK, Ukraine and the USA – scored the contest 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 all in favour of Usyk, the 34-year-old born in Crimea.
Defeat was described as “devastating” by Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn who said his boxer had complained of a lack of vision in one eye after a blow in the ninth round, but added that the Briton was also expressing his immediate desire for a rematch.
“I spoke to AJ, and he is saying ‘I will win the rematch’, but the medical teams are looking at the eye socket,” said Hearn. “It was a devastating defeat, but congrats to Oleksandr Usyk, the better fighter won.
“I don’t think AJ boxed a great fight tonight, Usyk boxed an excellent fight. It was all the things we worried about in the fight before, the over-thinking, trying to stand and box with him, and he took too many shots early.”
Usyk follows in the footsteps of Evander Holyfield and David Haye, winning heavyweight world titles after being cruiserweight champions. Usyk explained: “The fight went exactly the way I expected it to go. There were a couple of moments when Anthony pushed me hard, but nothing special.
“I had no objective to knock him out because my trainers pushed me not to do that. At the beginning I hit him hard and tried to knock him out but my trainers said to stop and just do my job.”
Sure enough – and it told round after round – the challenger presented, in pure boxing terms, the greatest challenge so far in the Londoner’s career.
Joshua carried the weight and power advantages – 19 pounds heavier than his Ukrainian foe at 17st 2lbs – but was unable to make that difference tell in a dance that Usyk led – a grade above with his vast boxing skills.
The defending champion had to make his size, power and weight advantages tell from the off, to pressure Usyk and establish a rhythm yet was unable to land with brute force on the ever-moving, ever-darting, bald-headed figure before him.
Fleet of foot, out of range and then in range, Usyk was a ghost of a target, skills which will claim the former undefeated cruiserweight king a place in the pantheon of greats.
Both men, Olympic gold medalists from London 2012 – Joshua at super-heavyweight, Usyk at heavyweight – gave their all here. The plain truth is that Joshua, stylistically, was not a match for Usyk, slick, southpaw and supreme. They call him “The Cat” and he displayed all those qualities. And some.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric. Ring legends present included Roy Jones Jr and Vitali Klitschko. Usyk walked out to a pop/folk song, the visor of his cap over his face.
Once in the ring, “The Cat” looked tense. “Oh An-tho-n-ee Josh-u-a,” they chanted. The screens showed Joshua’s brutal uppercut knockout of Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium in April, 2017, and then out came “AJ”, to the strains of Afrobeat, looking loose and relaxed.
It was the fifth time he has made this ring walk out in front of a huge house, his comfort zone in the UK. Four times victorious, but not on this fifth occasion. There was no comfort in the ring.
Referee Michael Alexander gave them their final words and the dance began. Joshua was immediately into Usyk’s space, pressing the challenger, probing him, going to head and body as Usyk twice landed his left hands, showing how dangerous a fighter he is, but throwing them without full force.
Usyk went from right to left, left to right in the second, swaying with his footwork, as Joshua, using his jab as his shield, tried to dominate the space between them.
Usyk was moving faster in the third, showing his ring smarts. Two powerful jabs from the Ukrainian and then a left hook made its mark on the champion. First three rounds to the challenger.
Usyk bossed the movement in the fourth, but always pressing, always lurking, and clearly looking to detonate, the champion. Brilliant first third of the fight by Usyk from the southpaw stance. Then a right hook from Joshua in the fifth told. Then a right to the body from the champion, and three more for good measure. Usyk felt each dent.
Then a body shot from the champion. Finally, a powerful round for the now predatory champion. A huge right in the sixth stopped Usyk dead in his tracks, the clever southpaw using the ring to stay out off range for much of the round.
The fight was switching pattern and Joshua was now in the ascendancy. But it was short-lived as the Ukrainian came out sharp in the seventh. landing cleanly with a body shot and straight punches.
The Briton’s power shots were evaded easily, and Usyk grew and grew. It got worse for Joshua, when he was wobbled three paces backwards by a straight left-cum-hook to the chin in the seventh round, his most perilous moment.
Usyk came out with renewed vigour and energy in the eighth, but Joshua kept the challenger at bay with two catapulted right hands that glanced off the man carrying the DNA of the Cossacks of the Crimean.
The Ukrainian carried the reputation of his brilliant fighting IQ into the ring, capable of scuttling the blockbuster Joshua versus Fury fight, the biggest, richest fight in British boxing history and worth an estimated £200 million.
It made Usyk a high-risk, low-reward opponent. Fury fights in two weeks’ time, defending his WBC crown against Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas.
Joshua-Fury, as it stood, is dead. But Joshua must now rematch Usyk, in a difficult, difficult fight.