Usyk earns heavyweight victory over Anthony Joshua

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Oleksandr Usyk celebrates with a Ukraine flag after his heavyweight boxing victory over Britain’s Anthony Joshua in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Francois Nel | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

Oleksandr Usyk picked up a second straight victory over Anthony Joshua to defend his unified WBO, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles in an epic 12-round battle.

Usyk triumphed in a split decision at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, winning 116-112 and 115-113 respectively over Ukrainian Viktor Fesechko and Britain’s Steve Gray. USA’s Glenn Feldman scored 115-113 for Joshua.

The result infuriated Joshua. He picked up two championship belts and threw them out of the ring before briefly running away.

Joshua then returned to grab the mic and vent his emotions in a passionate outburst.

“I’m stealing this Usyk, I’m sorry, but it’s because of the passion we put into it,” Joshua told the crowd during his two-minute speech.

Usyk holds three of the four main heavyweight belts. One is missing from his collection. Tyson Fury, apparently retired, still holds the WBC title. This is the only fight that interests Usyk.

“I’m sure Tyson Fury isn’t retired yet,” the champ said. “I’m sure, I’m convinced he wants to fight me.

How champion Usyk fended off much-improved Joshua

Usyk had to endure tremendous pressure from a relentless Joshua, who delivered a vastly improved performance since his first fight in September.

Last year, after just two professional fights in the heavyweight division, Usyk edged out Joshua in London in a standout performance. A former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Usyk has proven himself to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world today.

Joshua sparked an immediate rematch, determined to restore his top heavyweight spot. To that end, he brought in a new trainer, Robert Garcia, to join Angel Fernandez in his corner and dedicated himself to rectifying the mistakes he made in the first fight.

Joshua had lost before meeting Usyk, but avenged his loss to Andy Ruiz on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in 2019. He was fighting to become a three-time heavyweight champion and knew his legacy depended on winning tonight.

Both fighters were under acute pressure heading into this championship clash. Neither could contemplate defeat.

It made for a tense start. Usyk let his left jab flicker, sometimes faking, sometimes landing. He let a quick cross through and blocked Joshua’s right well. Joshua got on the front foot though, sending his right hook to the body and pressing down when the Ukrainian closed in.

Oleksandr Usyk connects with the right hand on Anthony Joshua during their heavyweight bout, dubbed the Rage on the Red Sea, in Saudi Arabia on August 20.

Francois Nel | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

He continued these attentions to the body, thrusting his right into the body when he could and seeing an opening to let him shoot at the head.

But Usyk remained elusive, nodding around for more shots and tackling the bigger challenger.

Joshua threw his shots with weight behind him, they were heavy even when Usyk took them on his gloves or on his elbows.

He gained confidence, letting his own punches sink more in round four. He looked for Usyk as he threatened uppercuts. The Ukrainian, however, finished this round with an excellent left cross.

The pace picked up in fifth

The pace picked up in the fifth round, only for a brief break when Joshua swung an uppercut below the belt. Joshua continued that attack to the trunk and hit the body with a hard right. Usyk sought to dissuade him, landing a counter left as Joshua entered.

The challenger now, Joshua continued to pressure Usyk, much more willing to commit than in their first fight. His right missed but he cut Usyk with a good left hook. Joshua dug in the body as Usyk had to stay on the back foot.

Usyk had yet marked it around his right eye.

The fight was tightly contested over the first six rounds. Usyk’s hand speed said so at times, his left a precision shot that caught Joshua through the openings.

Usyk speaks to reporters after his win over Anthony Joshua at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Francois Nel | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

In the eighth round, Joshua slammed an encouraging left hook into the body. Usyk came back at him, probing Joshua with a punch combination. As Usyk stabbed him in the head, Joshua struck a right to crush Usyk.

Joshua started to break through in the ninth round. He eventually pushed Usyk into the ropes and Joshua kept up the pressure, hammering the Ukrainian with heavy hooks. He dug in a wicked body shot and a smile spread across Joshua’s face. He was about to catch the momentum in his own way.

Yet Usyk changed the fight yet again. He upped the tempo amazingly in the next lap. He knocked Joshua out with a pinpoint right hook. He unloaded with hard lefts and took Joshua back step by step. A heavy right slammed into Usyk’s chin, but he took it and continued his onslaught, whipping Joshua at the end of the 10th round.

Usyk was handling the pressure and Joshua knew he had to come up with something special on the last lap. He tried valiantly, once more landing hard punches to the head. But Usyk kept his feet under him and kept moving, working well even off the ropes. He closed the fight like a champion, not giving up in the 12th round.

It was Usyk who finished strong, cutting Joshua with heavy counter punches to close out the final seconds of the fight.

The decision was closer than expected but Usyk was a deserving winner.

Joshua vents his emotions

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