Size doesn’t always matter. Those who believed Anthony Joshua would be too big and strong for Oleksandr Usyk, did not give enough to Usyk’s remarkable talent. Usyk not only ripped away the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles from Joshua at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday night, he completely outboxed him, claiming a unanimous points decision.
The loss seemed to come as a complete shock. For a boxer who has always spoken of the importance of learning, this was a fairly comprehensive lesson. There is a rematch clause, so he will get the chance to right this wrong in early 2022, but few who watched this will fancy him to do so.
Usyk and Joshua won Olympic titles one day apart in 2012 but they looked light years apart in their boxing education. Usyk started quickly, finding Joshua with the jab at first, constantly moving in and out, picking his moments. Joshua almost seemed frozen – his jab wasn’t landing and nothing else was being thrown.
“It is the biggest fight of my career but it wasn’t my hardest,” Usyk said before revealing a very simple gameplan. “The plan was go in, see, start. So I went in, saw, started. In the 12th round they said put some speed on and then they said ‘the new …’”
Joshua did have some moments. There were times the 31-year-old looked like he was landing some solid shots and might pull it out of the fire. But when Usyk had to adjust, he did. He was always a step ahead. By the ninth round, Joshua's eye was swollen and he was struggling to see.
The decision was unanimous. Victor Fesechenko scored it 117-112, Steve Weisfeld 116- 112 and Howard Foster 115-113 for Usyk to be crowned the new WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight champion.
“It was a good chess match,” Joshua said. “I’m just learning and studying this game, it was a great lesson.
“I’m not a sulker, this is a blessed opportunity to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. It’s a long process. I’m not going to go home and cry about it. Sulking is a waste of time It’s all about experiences, you have to trust the process.
“We always tend to look at things from a negative point of view, I am keeping a positive head on. I feel I had a good foothold in the fight and I am going to build on it. I just want to get back to the gym and improve.
“I’ve got to take it as a great lesson. If this was the end of the story, I’d be more emotional. But I believe in the process.”
Some had expected Joshua to come out blasting, but in two fights since his loss to Andy Ruiz Jr he had appeared more circumspect and that saw him trail early as Usyk picked him off.
Usyk began quickly, popping a straight left and right jab through Joshua’s guard as the champion tried to find range with his. Then Usyk got back with another, harder, left, although Joshua came back moments later with a right on the top of Usyk’s head.
Joshua seemed to get into a fast fencing match he neither expected nor wanted and when he threw a slow right hand, Usyk countered with a hard left hook, forcing him to hold, although Joshua came back with a right on the bell.
The fifth was again cagey, although possibly Joshua’s best round so far as he got through with a decent right.
The champion was starting to land cleaner shots in the sixth round, as one right had Usyk readjusting his gumshield before a solid right rocked him back on his heels and backtracking. They exchanged big shots in the seventh round, before Joshua stumbled backwards after being caught by a left.
In the eighth, Joshua looked more comfortable and landed a series of body shots, but in the ninth Usyk landed a good left before Joshua came back with a hard right that forced Usyk to hold.
But Usyk finished the better, sweeping the last four rounds on all three judges’ scorecards to make sure of the win.
He began the last like he wanted to put an exclamation mark on the fight. Joshua was being roared forward by his corner, but it was Usyk landing all the punches. In the final seconds, Joshua finally looked hurt as Usyk finished strong and Joshua fell back into the ropes, trying to avoid the Ukrainian’s final shots.
Joshua raised a fist at the final bell. He might just have been happy it was all over.
Promoter Eddie Hearn said that Joshua had no real choice but to take the rematch straight away.
“Usyk will be favourite going into the rematch but AJ can do so much better,” Hearn said. “We could have swerved that fight easy and maybe we should have. He deserves credit for that.
“I don’t see another option, he is not going to want a 10-rounder, he wants to win his belts back. I think he has to take it. The way it works, if he doesn’t take the rematch he may never get the chance to fight for his belts again.”