Oleksandr Usyk didn’t protest; what was left in the gas tank was used to force a confused smile as his latest victim grabbed what was left of the spotlight. An untimely, impassioned soliloquy gave the unified heavyweight champion time to take stock; time to catch his breath and attempt to unpick what he just achieved inside the sweat-drenched boxing ring.
Hands on his hips, chest out, his shoulders draped in the yellow and blue of his beloved, tortured nation, Usyk had just completed back-to-back wins over Anthony Joshua to underline his status as one of the very best fighters in the sport.
He didn’t look like a man that was shocked by his own ability. Boxing eyes never lie and Usyk’s consistent wide-eyed stare had been able to see through Joshua’s advances and alterations across 24 rounds of combat and even deeper into his soul.
Usyk’s ability to find extra gears throughout a fight where he was asked more questions than before was mesmerising to watch. He soaked up everything that Joshua threw at him — especially a smart, targeted body attack — and won far more rounds than he lost. Glenn Feldman disagreed, inexplicably scoring the bout 115-113 to the challenger, but thankfully, this opinion proved nothing but a footnote to the wider picture.
Joshua’s attempt to channel the energy of peak Mike Tyson wasn’t enough to ruffle Usyk’s feathers for sustained periods in the rematch. The Ukrainian didn’t require a change of tack; it seems as though he had the Briton’s number, regardless of how many outfit or trainer changes the former champion might attempt. Joshua’s endeavour to become a different person, a different fighter, was antithetical to the self-confidence and inner peace that Usyk (20-0, 13 KO) is blessed with.
If the belts were toys then the ring was the pram. And Joshua’s disrespect shown the titles was out of character from a man that once dedicated his career to walking the “Road to Undisputed” in order to collect all that are available as a heavyweight. We all have challenging relationships with the ABC titles in boxing, but throwing the achievements of another man to the floor wasn’t a good look, perhaps born out of concussion following another bamboozling dance with the champion.
We should be willing to give Joshua (24-3, 22 KO) the benefit of the doubt that no true malice was meant. In an ideal world, fighters shouldn’t be subjected to in-ring post-fight interviews; not that Joshua was asked a single question before his rant. It was self-inflicted in this case, but a by-product of what he has put his mind and body through over the past year.
But it’s now the Simferopol fighter who can lay claim to being the best active heavyweight in the sport. A predictable message from recently retired, possibly un-retired Tyson Fury did its best to steal even more limelight from Usyk on his night and it didn’t take long for talk to turn to a contest between the pair in the near future.
Whether this is for free, or for $500 million will be down to what character Fury wants to play next time he is handed a microphone. Retire or keep fighting, just save us the exhaustion while you make up your mind.
Usyk doesn’t appear to be in the business of talking smack. He wants to continue to test himself against the very best and the way he carries himself inside and outside of the ring is enviable. A man whose thoughts had been pre-occupied by the safety of his friends, family, and country was able to switch off for 36 minutes and let his fists paint us a picture of utter defiance.
And in truth, it was another masterpiece.