Activity. Angles. Balance. Brilliance. Level changes. Balls.
Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk demonstrated it all on Saturday night. In toppling British superstar Anthony Joshua—in a unified heavyweight championship tilt in London, U.K, broadcast worldwide on DAZN—he became only the third former cruiserweight champion to win a world title at heavyweight. Most notably, Usyk joins Evander Holyfield, who was undisputed in both divisions.
As the new International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association, and World Boxing Organization belt holder, Usyk’s own quest to gain undisputed status at heavyweight goes through Tyson Fury, the man with the World Boxing Council strap. Likewise, Fury’s through Usyk.
You can be disappointed it won’t be Joshua and Fury for all the marbles in an all-British blockbuster. Or that Joshua and Deontay Wilder never got it on when that bombs-away bonanza was the undisputed fight to make from from 2017 through 2019. Lots of money went down the drain with both.
Or you can thank the boxing gods for this unlikely gift. Make no mistake: Fury-Usyk bangs
Sure, in the ring, it’s probably less than scintillating. That tends to happen when you have two master boxers in there. Otherwise, it has all the makings for one of the most entertaining big-fight buildups we’ll ever see.
In one corner, there’s Fury. Bombastic, brash Tyson Fury. Outspoken. Outrageous. Prone to wild mood swings. The same guy who once showed up to a press conference wearing a Batman outfit, and whose oft-bizarre stunts have taken him as far as the cartoon universe of professional wrestling. He headlined a WWE card in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
In the other, there’s Usyk. Eccentric, enigmatic Oleksandr Usyk. A diabolical Bond villain in a boxing ring, with an outsized personality to match his imposing physical presence. The same guy who spends as much time showing off his juggling and his silky dance skills as his hooks and uppercuts.
If boxing wants to treat itself like a joke, then the least it can do is put its two premier comedians and showmen on the top of the bill. Seriously. That way, at least we can get the funny business out of the way at the press conferences.
The alternative? More carnival fights like Floyd Mayweather versus Logan Paul, and Lamar Odom versus Aaron Carter, and Evander Holyfield versus Vitor Belfort — and we keep seeing the punchlines told in the ring.
In celebration of twelve spellbinding rounds on Saturday, here are a dozen more quick hits from fight night.
— DOES ANYTHING BEAT BOXING’S GLAMOUR DIVISION?
Nope. The big boys of boxing still rule. Even when one is a blown-up version.
— REAL FIGHTERS. CLASSY SPORTSMEN.
Mercifully, we were treated to the sport at its strongest from a sportsmanship standpoint. At the weigh-in, the pair were shaking hands, trading smiles and snapping selfies. Post-fight, they embraced, and the Ukrainian handed the belts back to the vanquished Brit. You further have to respect Joshua. Just like when Andy Ruiz upset him, he came right out and acknowledged he lost to a better man. He takes his losses like he takes his wins, and he always wants the toughest challenges available. That’s rare.
— CRACKING ATMOSPHERE, THAT!
60,000 fans inside Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. For the biggest fight in Britain for three years, no less. It was electric. Eddie Hearn, the promoter responsible for the bar-raising production, said it best: “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” He’s earned the right to admire his own work.
Our favourite bell-and-whistle? AJ’s ring walk, scored to Robert Tepper’s oh-so-’80s “No Easy Way Out,” from Rocky IV. Instant f*cking classic.
— USYK IS BOXING’S BEST ROAD WARRIOR. BY FAR.
Home advantage can often be the difference between winning or losing a fight. Bad MFer that he is, Usyk goes into his opponents’ hometowns, and he takes their heart. Every one of his big fights have come on the road. Joshua in London. Murat Gassiev in Moscow. Mairis Briedis in Riga. Marco Huck in Berlin. Michael Hunter in Maryland. Krzysztof Glowacki in Gdansk. He is a real fighter, in an era where most present-day pugilists don’t even like to take fights outside their home time zones, as ever-quotable boxing scribe Steve Kim quips.
— USYK GIVES CANELO A RUN AS BOXING’S POUND-FOR-POUND BEST RIGHT NOW.
In all honesty, he might have done enough on Saturday to knock the sport’s redheaded rainmaker off his perch, if you care for such mental masturbation. Usyk went in 40 pounds over his best fighting weight — and still dominated. Unbelievable.
— USYK HAS MORE THAN LIKELY PUNCHED HIS TICKET TO THE HALL OF FAME.
He was a dominating cruiserweight champion, who became undisputed. He now holds three of the four heavyweight titles. He’s done this within only 20 fights. Throw his Olympic heavyweight gold medal in, which he claimed at the same 2012 London Games where Joshua won super-heavyweight gold, and the case is open and shut.
— THERE IS DEFINITELY A HISTORIC FEEL TO THIS WIN.
Despite Tyson Fury still claiming what you can argue is the real crown at heavyweight — the lineal title, meaning he beat the man who beat the man who beat the man — Usyk has accomplished something sensational here. Once-in-a-generation, all-time-P4P stuff.
— “AJ WILL GET KNOCKED OUT BY TYSON FURY OR DEONTAY WILDER!!”
Not so fast. Like Ring Magazine writer Michael Montero noted, this take is common among North American (ahem, Stateside) boxing fans. It’s completely unwarranted. Don’t forget: both of those guys found ways not to fight Joshua. More than once.
— EXPECT CASUAL BOXING FANS TO BEHAVE LIKE CASUAL BOXING FANS.
The armchair experts will surely say that AJ is finished now. They’ll jump off the bandwagon. Again. Or they’ll say he was never much to begin with. Again. Because one loss renders a fighter suspect, then the second makes them a fraud. Right? Blame Floyd Mayweather. The casuals judge everything against his glossy 50-0 record. It’s absurd.
— SOMEONE NEEDS TO SHOW JOSHUA SOME TAPES OF ‘OLD’ GEORGE FOREMAN
To avoid the same result in an inevitable rematch, Joshua will need to stop fighting down to the size, and to the style, of his smaller opponents. Someone should really do for him what the legendary trainer Emanuel Steward did for Lennox Lewis: sit his ass down, have him watch clips of George Foreman (1987-1994 era), and teach him how to fight a quote-unquote big man’s fight.
The one-and-only Foreman offered his own opinion.
— JAKE PAUL REMAINS BOXING’S BIGGEST INFLUENCER.
Combat connoisseurs and hardcore boxing fans alike keep taking Jake Paul for granted. He was enthusiastically live-tweeting his DAZN stream on Saturday, totally wowed by Usyk, and calling it a beautiful boxing performance. Joshua is already universally recognized. He certainly didn’t require any Jake Paul dust sprinkled on him. But do you know what the hell even a few mentions like this can do for the otherwise-anonymous Usyk’s profile? Jake Paul is boxing’s biggest influencer.
Damn I’m shook— Jake Paul (@jakepaul) September 25, 2021
I wanted Joshua to win
— IN SPITE OF THE ABOVE, BOXING REMAINS IN PERFECTLY FINE HEALTH.
The centuries-old sport continues to live on to fight another day. Somehow.