Oleksandr Usyk proved once again that he is one of the best fighters in the world with a gutsy victory over Anthony Joshua on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to retain his three heavyweight titles.
Now, he’s just one belt short of being called the undisputed heavyweight champion — a title no one has owned in a four-belt era. That final strap, of course, was held by Tyson Fury, whose on-again, off-again retirement claims seem like a rite of passage for top fighters.
Fury has long called for a summit clash at heavyweight for all four belts and was set to meet Joshua for the undisputed title last August before a third fight with Deontay Wilder was enforced by a referee’s decision.
But a month before Fury scored his rival’s second straight KO, Joshua was upstaged by his mandatory challenger Usyk, sending plans for an undisputed title fight up in smoke.
As Joshua prepares for a rematch against Usyk, Fury announced his retirement immediately after defeating Dillian Whyte in April. But earlier this month, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Fury said he would end his retirement with a third fight against Derek Chisora.
Of course, it was a fight of minimal interest, and Fury quickly ruled out a potential matchup to “retire.”
After beating Joshua, Usyk left little doubt of his intentions after standing in the middle of the ring and calling his shot.
“I’m pretty sure Tyson Fury isn’t retired yet,” Usyk (20-0 13 KOs) said in the ring after the fight. “I’m sure. He wants to fight me. I want to fight him. If I don’t fight Tyson Fury, I don’t fight at all.”
Fury responded moments later in an Instagram video.
“I’ll destroy them both overnight,” he said of Usyk and Joshua. “Get your checkbook because ‘Gypsy King’ is staying forever!”
So much music to the ears of boxing fans. Sure, Joshua is a big man at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, but Fury is 6-foot-9, 270-plus pounds and has the kind of jab and footwork that separates him from his compatriot Joshua and other fighters. In the game.
“I want to fight him. If I don’t fight Tyson Fury, I don’t fight at all.”
Joshua (24-3, 22 KOs) excelled in the rematch after being nearly stopped by the 35-year-old Usyk in their first meeting in September. But Joshua is not a fluid, natural boxer like Usyk. Fury is sure to be a monster sporting event that pits the two of them against all four heavyweight belts. It’s boxing events are rarely offered.
Fury’s promoter, Bob Arum, told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel on Saturday that Usyk-Fury “wouldn’t be a tough fight” and that the purse split should be 50-50. Perhaps only the second part is true, because the bigger the boxing match, the tougher the negotiations.
But this fight makes a lot of sense — and dollars — to fall by the wayside. It’s a bout the Saudis have long awaited in December, and last year they were willing to shell out around $155 million for an undisputed title fight between Fury and Joshua.
The much-anticipated Fury-Joshua fight won’t happen now, but the consolation prize in this case is great anyway.
Usyk’s angles, movements and educated jab make him an enigma that no opponent can solve. Despite weighing just 220 pounds, he showed in his two fights against Joshua that he has enough pop in his shots to do plenty of damage.
The way the Ukrainian survived the 9th round — when Joshua hurtled him to the body and sent him staggering to the ropes — proved that Usyk has the toughness necessary to beat Fury. He still put up a dominant 10 rounds and showed the punch resistance needed to withstand the most dangerous shots.
Of course, there is no question about Usyk’s role. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Usyk quickly took up arms in a regional self-defense battalion and served as a beacon of hope for those watching his fight at home after arranging for the fight to be televised for free.
Inside the ring, Usyk has proven to be courageous. He won the 200-pound division before establishing himself as an underdog against Joshua in his third heavyweight fight. So far, he has not met his match.
Usyk’s ultimate challenge is putting it all together against Fury figures. And while he wasn’t considered a puncher during his career, that reputation changed after Fury scored two devastating KOs on Wilder.
The 34-year-old Englishman can switch stances seamlessly and his jab is one of the best in boxing. Unlike Joshua, Fury is more adept at imposing his superior size on opponents. Fury bullied Wilder in his last two fights, leaning on him in the clinch and forcing him against the ropes, forcing his opponent to fight with his 270 pounds.
That seems to be the recipe for success against Usyk…if there is one. And no one is better equipped than Fury. Fury is ESPN’s No. 1 heavyweight and No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer. Usyk is one slot behind him in both rankings.
Now, the boxing business has to make sure it doesn’t get in its own way. This is the struggle we need to see.