Oleksandr Usyk outboxes Anthony Joshua to become heavyweight champ

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Sometimes ability trumps everything else.

Oleksandr Usyk proved that on a stunning Saturday night at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, where he outboxed hometown favorite Anthony Joshua to win a unanimous decision and three of the four recognized heavyweight titles.

Thus, Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) becomes the third former cruiserweight champion to win a major heavyweight belt, after Evander Holyfield and David Haye.

Joshua will have a chance to become a three-time champion: A rematch clause in the contract signed by both fighters guarantees Joshua another shot at the new champion. And he almost certainly will take it.

The question is whether anything would change in a second fight, as Usyk was clearly the better man.

Joshua and fellow titleholder Tyson Fury had agreed to fight one another in a huge all-British showdown on Aug. 14 in Saudi Arabia but Fury was forced by an arbitrator in May to honor a rematch clause for his second fight with Deontay Wilder.

That opened the door for Usyk to fight Joshua, who entered as about a 2½-1 favorite in part because of his size advantage. The 6-foot-6, 240-pounder is a natural heavyweight, Usyk, 221¼ for this fight, isn’t.

That didn’t matter as 70,000 looked on Saturday, as Usyk boxed brilliantly from the outset.

The 6-foot-3 Ukrainian continually moved side to side — not away from Joshua — and bobbed his head, which made him an elusive target for the champion. At the same time, he planted his feet enough to land hard, straight left hands throughout the fight.

Usyk seemed to sting Joshua with the punch multiple times in the first several rounds, which raised the specter of an early knockout, but he quickly realized that wasn’t his path to victory.

“I had no objective to knock him out,” he said through a translator after the fight. “My corner pushed me not to do that. In the beginning I hit him hard and tried to knock him out. Then my brain said, ‘Just stop and do your job.’”

Joshua, also a good boxer, seemed to find his groove in the middle rounds. He was more active than Usyk and landed his best power shots during that period of the fight, which gave him momentum and good chance to win what became a close fight.

However, Usyk, finding a second wind and fighting through a cut above his right eye brow, controlled the last third of the fight.

And he finished with a flurry, battering Joshua – whose right eye was almost closed by the end the fight – in the final 30 seconds to punctuate one of the most impressive performances in the division in recent memory.

The judges had Usyk winning 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113. Boxing Junkie scored it 116-112 for the winner, eight rounds to four.

No one complained about the scoring.

“The fight went exactly as I expected it to go,” Usyk said. “There were a couple of moments where Anthony pushed me hard but it was nothing special.”

Usyk was asked about a possible rematch but he deflected the question.

He has trained most of the past year without knowing until May that he would be fighting Joshua. Now he wants to enjoy his momentous victory and spend time with those closest to him.

“I’ve been working so hard since January in preparation for this fight,” he said. “It took me half a year [to get it]. I didn’t see my family for so long. I miss my children, I miss watching them play. I want to go home, spend time with my family. I want to be with them.

“I’m not thinking about the rematch at the moment.”

That will come soon enough. Joshua will heal from his physical and emotional wounds, as he did after his knockout loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019. And then it will be time for the second meeting, perhaps six months from now.

The winner of that fight probably will face the winner of the third Fury-Wilder fight, which takes place on Oct. 9. Then, barring unforeseen circumstances, boxing will finally have its undisputed heavyweight champion.

But who would’ve thought the big men would’ve taken us on such a circuitous route?

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