'All-round mastermind Usyk reaches boxing's summit'

Every so often, boxing gifts us a 'pinch me' moment.

When Oleksandr Usyk’s hand was raised at about 02:40 local time in Saudi Arabia, ringside reporters, a 20,000-strong crowd and the millions watching around the world soaked in the moment.

The Ukrainian superstar edged out Briton Tyson Fury on points as the most super of super-fights delivered.

Boxing had its first undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era, and it really was a big deal.

The wait for a definitive champion had been painstakingly long, one fans of no other sport have to endure.

Lennox Lewis became the last undisputed champion – when there were only three recognised world titles - on 13 November 1999, at a time when Geri Halliwell topped the UK charts and society was gripped by Y2K bug anxieties.

From Jack Dempsey to Muhammad Ali or George Foreman to Mike Tyson, an undisputed heavyweight champion holds a certain notoriety and stature on a global level which perhaps only boxing can provide.

Usyk was already a boxing superstar, but in Riyadh he transcended the sport.

Emotional intelligence under pressure

Sublime footwork, an ability to control the pace of a fight and high punch output have moulded Usyk into an all-round boxing mastermind.

Perhaps the 37-year-old’s greatest strength, however, is a calm and collected response to pressure and adversity – both in and out of the ring.

In the most important week of his fighting life, Usyk paid little attention to Fury’s antics.

The 'Gypsy King' is an enigma, an unpredictable showman who has the gift of winning the battle of mind games long before the first bell, but Usyk continued with the obligatory face-off at Thursday’s news conference even when Fury refused.

He stood firm but didn’t kick or scream when a pumped-up Fury shoved him in the chest at the weigh-in a day later.

That emotional intelligence and control carried through to fight night. Fury, having showboated in the first half of the contest, was in full rhythm and stunned his fellow champion with an uppercut in the sixth round, but Usyk did not panic.

The two judges who scored the fight to Usyk gave him rounds eight to 11, but it the ninth round which will, rightly, dominate the headlines.

Having bided his time, downloaded the data and figured Fury out, Usyk saw his opening then kicked the door in towards victory.

The southpaw landed clean left hands as Fury scuttled across the ring before being saved by the bell. Another 30 seconds and it could have been over.

The shock in the Morecambe fighter’s face was apparent.

He looked just as perplexed as those travelling Britons who watched rapper YID performing on a stage which hovered above and landed on the ring just before the main event.

It was a stunning turnaround but perhaps not all that surprising. This is what Usyk does.

Whether it is tiring out Tony Bellew and stopping him despite being down on the cards, or finding that extra gear in the championship rounds to outpoint Anthony Joshua in a rematch, Usyk always finds a way to win.

Is Usyk the greatest of a generation?

A boisterous Fury attended the post-fight news conference with such energy that you could be forgiven for thinking he was the victor.

“I was having fun in there. I was loving it. I thought it was great,” he said, before informing reporters that Usyk was in hospital with a suspected broken jaw.

But just like he did in the ring, a stitched-up Usyk emerged a little later than expected and addressed the media.

There was no broken jaw. This was his court to hold – not the Gypsy King’s.

An emotional Usyk spoke of the sacrifices he has made to reach boxing’s summit, ones which have paid dividends.

His stellar amateur career included European, world and Olympic gold. He cleaned up the cruiserweight division within 15 professional fights.

A move up to heavyweight is notoriously a difficult jump to make but it has taken Usyk only six fights to become a two-weight undisputed champion.

Evander Holyfield and David Haye claimed world titles in both division, but the undisputed tag at heavyweight was beyond their reach.

Usyk now reigns supreme in boxing’s glamour division. Maybe we are a little guilty of succumbing to recency bias, or maybe Usyk really is the greatest fighter of his generation.

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