Oleksandr Usyk: Greatness Proved
By Sina Latif
Let’s start by commending the bravery of two fighters who provided us with one of the most intriguing heavyweight match-ups in recent memory. The best fighting the best. That is what the boxing fraternity has demanded since the creation of the sweet science, right?
Anthony Joshua took on mandatory WBO challenger Oleksandr Usyk when in all honesty, mandatory or not, Joshua could have dropped that belt, fought Dillian Whyte in a domestic blockbuster and made even more money, and nobody will have truly complained.
After the collapse of a historic, much-anticipated showdown against Tyson Fury, Joshua could have minimised the risks of that fight falling through and not happening in the future by taking a less risky fight than Usyk, prevail victorious, and hope Fury does the job in the trilogy fight against Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas on October 9.
Usyk has clearly always possessed immense self-belief. The Ukrainian expressed his desire to fight Joshua when he was still a cruiserweight after signing a contract with Matchroom Boxing in 2018.
Nevertheless, his bravery must be applauded in taking a fight against a heavyweight champion who was 19lbs heavier than him in just his third heavyweight fight.
Joshua, at 6ft 6in, is also three inches taller than him with a four inch reach advantage. These huge dimensions of Joshua’s, along with his power, were seen as being so potentially overwhelming so as to render Usyk’s superior ring IQ, movement and skills ultimately ineffective.
The script was that Joshua would use his height and reach advantages to keep Usyk on the outside, then when the moment presents itself, put every bit of his 240 lbs behind a destructive right hand, then finish the Ukrainian with that murderous finishing instinct of his. Usyk was not privy to this script.
Joshua decided to roll the dice and defend his belts against a very special cruiserweight, who just proved that every ounce of that specialness translated to the upper echelons of the heavyweight division. In front of more than 65,000 Joshua fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Usyk put on a boxing clinic to claim a much deserved unanimous decision (117-112, 116-112 & 115-113). He has now confirmed himself as a true great of this era.
The Ukrainian has had a relatively short professional career, but what he has achieved in those 19 fights has cemented his legacy. Although the Ukrainian has aspirations to follow in the footsteps of Evander Holyfield to become the undisputed cruiserweight and now unified heavyweight champion, anything he does from here is a bonus.
Following an Olympic gold medal, he became undisputed cruiserweight champion by defeating unbeaten champions in their own territories, then the invading warlord moved up to heavyweight, entered London, and conquered yet again, taking the heavyweight crown from the in-prime British champion. The Ukrainian anthem was boo’d and Usyk was boo’d during his ring walk and introduction. He proceeded to show everyone the art of pure boxing and defeated the golden child who had a whole nation behind him.
A ‘masterclass’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘a lesson given by a famous expert to students with a lot of skill’. This seems like an appropriate way to describe Usyk’s performance. The gifted southpaw won Olympic gold at London 2012 to conclude an amateur career in which he had 350 fights.
Joshua won Olympic gold at the same games as a super-heavyweight after 35 fights in the unpaid ranks. This highlights Joshua’s remarkably rapid ascension in boxing, but also goes some way to justifying the reason as to why there was an expert who handed the perfect lesson in the sweet science to the student, who by his own admission, “is learning this game”.
There was a lot of talk about size ahead of this fight. They asked whether Usyk has the size, power and chin to compete in the upper echelons of the blue-ribbon division. “How will Usyk deal with the firepower of a fully-fledged heavyweight?”, they asked.
Well, Usyk dealt with the power just fine, and showed that he can create his own legacy as a heavyweight champion, proving that size does not always matter. To become heavyweight champion using his phenomenal footwork, elusiveness, pure skill, speed and movement places him in a special category amongst champions of past and present. Usyk has the ability to bamboozle opponents with angles and an array of punches which are uncommon for heavyweights to encounter.
Usyk can be compared to the great throwback fighters in many ways, and one is that if there was ever a need to fight for 15 rounds, Usyk would manage that with ease. His stamina and ability to pace himself is phenomenal.
With every punch that Usyk landed, every Joshua punch that he slipped and every round that passed by, the penny dropped for the pro-Joshua crowd in the stadium and the watching audience at home, Usyk is a special fighter and it was incredible to watch it unfold. It was one of those cherished moments when one has the opportunity to watch the brilliance of a generational talent in full flow.
Usyk’s dominance across two weight classes and in multiple countries has been simply incredible. With this victory, he joined the elite club of Evander Holyfield and David Haye as world champions at cruiserweight and heavyweight.
As the great writer Bert Sugar said: “A fighter’s greatness should be judged like a properly ripened fruit, at the peak of picking, not before and certainly not after, but at that magic moment of greatness.”
Very few people have achieved what Usyk has as both an amateur and professional, and with this sensational win against Joshua, Usyk left no doubt about his greatness.
Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing