Usyk v Joshua II – What we learnt
- Oleksandr Usyk is an exceptional fighter and human being – The Ukrainian champion in the build up to the fight, through twelve completed rounds and in victory showed the true class of an elite champion. With his country still ravaged by war he gave his compatriots the brief respite of a night to remember. He insisted they be able to see him fight and to that end subsidised the broadcasting of the fight free to his nation. He never bad mouthed his opponent, sold the promotion and on the night displayed the skills and bravery of an exceptional champion. His split decision victory was the least he deserved, largely dictating the fight for it’s duration. The class he showed on the final bell and after the decision announcement, when Anthony Joshua took his limelight by unbelievably taking to the microphone, was exemplary. When finally getting his moment to thank God, his country and team he never made a mention or took issue with the preceding ten minutes. As a fighter he now stands alone as the heavyweight champion of the world (despite what Tyson Fury and his supporters may think) and is arguably boxing’s pound-for-pound king. His standing is already established and should he choose to retire, which is unlikely, then his legacy is secured as an elite champion and man.
- Anthony Joshua took the rematch too soon – How can you say that about a man who’s reputedly just earned £31M ? Well, setting that staggering amount aside we have to look at his attempt to regain the titles he lost in September 2021. He and his camp knew the challenge that Usyk presented. Joshua had shared twelve hard rounds with him trying to crack the Rubik’s cube of the Ukrainian southpaw. All his camp knew what to prepare for. This preparation though required more time and a better game plan. Ultimately, Joshua adopted the same tactic as he did in the first fight, albeit slightly more successfully. He was always in the fight but was second best.
- Saudi Arabia has had its boxing moment – The state backed promotion was a success, both nationally and globally. Then again it should have been for the outlay made. The Kingdom has in the last four years hosted three major boxing promotions, including two heavyweight championship fights, which have showcased the sport in that country and hopefully provided a legacy for the population to aspire to. Because of the substantial sums of money on offer and the state of the world economy big sporting events will continue to gravitate towards the Middle East. We have no issue with boxing being part of that, but enough is enough for now.
- Anthony Joshua is still a championship fighter – Despite on our card being a wide loser of the fight (116-112) his performance in light of the challenge before him was a good one. He competed throughout with an exceptional champion, but could never really find his way inside the southpaw stance and Usyk’s excellent jab to get any sustained success. His body attacks were significantly better in this fight and his best round was the ninth, when, for the first time there was doubt on the eventual outcome as Usyk retreated under the Brit’s onslaught. Joshua saw the final bell, which we admittedly didn’t predict, and in defeat showed he still has a lot left. He’s now boxed twelve rounds with a generational heavyweight champion and not been dropped or stopped. There are many marquee fights still out there for him (Fury, Wilder, Joyce). For now though he will remain at contender status, possibly settling a few domestic scores over the next 18 months, but if he can keep his motivation will undoubtedly fight for a title again. Rumour is December in London is the likely first step of Joshua’s rebuild.
- Usyk will fight Fury or retire – That was the main revelation from his post fight interview. The Ukrainian clearly sees only one challenge remaining to cap an outstanding career. He knows he will never be totally accepted as the champion from this era unless he meets and beats the ‘Gypsy King’. If Fury does indeed come out of retirement, as we expect and Twitter posts in the last 24 hours indicate, then it’s full steam ahead for a unification bout and the road to undisputed. Sadly though any protracted negotiations and fight staging issues will result in the titles becoming splintered again. Usyk holding the WBA, IBF and WBO titles will have mandatory obligations to all three sanctioning bodies to meet their #1 contender within a stipulated time. If the fight fails to be agreed then he will be stripped of their belts one by one. There’s also the larger matters of the Ukrainian being 35 years old and the continuing chaos in his home nation. If Fury delays terms we may not see the contest or Usyk fight again. That’s unlikely but a distinct possibility. This would be sad for him and boxing in general and let’s hope for the best outcome.
On the stacked Jeddah card there were also significant wins for light-heavyweight contender Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KO’s) in halting Mathieu Bauderlique with a devastating left hook in the fourth round, heavyweight Filip Hrgovic in defeating Zilhei Zhang narrowly on points in a gruelling and entertaining fight and, the second appearance of prospect Ben Whittaker in a six round decision win. Light-heavyweight Whittaker was the silver medallist in the Tokyo Olympics and continues his upward trajectory.
Stateside, the big news was WBO world featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete (36-1, 30 KO’s) defending his title by sixth round knockout of Eduardo Baez. Huge unification fights await the hard hitting Navarrete.
Expect further developments in the heavyweight mix this week as the Jeddah drama and results shake down.