Oleksandr Usyk wins.
Anthony Joshua loses.
And another super boxing match goes down the drain.
It was a unanimous decision win for Usyk, and really, this one wasn’t particularly close. Just three fights in 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, baffling Joshua with his move, marking the Brit’s face with his biting left hand.
All three judges scored the fight for Usyk, with Howard Foster, a British judge, the only one who scored it close.
What a victory for Usyk, who takes his place alongside Evander Holyfield and David Haye as former cruiserweights who have succeeded at the highest level of heavyweight. There were reasons to question Usyk’s arrival. Many of them. He looked like a pedestrian in his first heavyweight fight, a boring Chaz Witherspoon stoppage. Dereck Chisora, an aging fighter, had his moments against Usyk in his second. Surely Joshua, the bigger, stronger and more experienced heavyweight, would be more successful.
It did not. From the opening bell, Usyk looked comfortable. He stayed alert early, while Joshua was content to follow Usyk around the ring. He rocked Joshua with a remaining lead in the seventh round. In the 12th, with Joshua knowing he needed a knockout, it was Usyk, with a flurry of spikes, who nearly scored one.
This is not bad for Joshua. It is a catastrophe. In 2019, Joshua was arrested by Andy Ruiz. That loss was bad. This is worse. It could be argued that Ruiz simply landed the perfect shot, a wild left hand that hit Joshua’s temple in the third round that shook Joshua’s balance for the rest of the fight. Ruiz won, but Joshua was the better fighter, a belief that Joshua validated in a dominant decision win over Ruiz six months later.
This was not that. There was no fluke from Usyk, but dozens of textbooks. There was no moment of balance shift, just a popped right eye, courtesy of the leather on Usyk’s left hand.
The loss to Ruiz was shocking.
The loss for Usyk has to be demoralizing.
There will be a rematch, which, at the very least, will fuel a lucrative fight against Tyson Fury through 2022. If it happens. There is little reason to believe that Joshua will be more successful in a second round with Usyk. Usyk is no accident. He is 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 he will certainly have more confidence in the next one.
There were calls for Joshua to reorganize his training team after the loss to Ruiz, and those calls will come again. Joshua is fiercely loyal to his longtime coach, Rob McCracken, but Joshua may need a new direction. He has never used his 6’6 ”frame like Lennox Lewis or Wladimir Klitschko, oversized heavyweights who operated exclusively behind a stabbing jab. But he fought small against Usyk, routinely allowing the shorter man to enter, without pressuring him and with no response for Usyk’s left hands. At 31, Joshua is in his prime and might need a new voice in his corner to maximize it.
Nothing will overcome the impact of Joshua’s loss to Ruiz, but even then, many in boxing believed that Joshua would return. That future is less clear after the loss to Usyk, who was not only the better man on Saturday. He was the best fighter.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.