Anthony Joshua broke down in tears in the post-fight press conference in Jeddah. He had fought gallantly, come at one point to within a whisker of beating Oleksandr Usyk, but it wasn’t enough. And at this point that was all too much for him.
Usyk retained the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles with a split decision win over Joshua, the man he had taken the titles from 11 months earlier in London. But, unlike last time, this wasn't a case of Joshua coming up short, this was a case of the brilliance of Usyk.
Joshua fought a great fight. He tactics at times seemed to be working. But the story of the fight came down to two rounds – the ninth and the tenth.
The fight was in the balance when Joshua had a brilliant ninth round, rocking Usyk repeatedly, driving him around the ring. He seemed just one clean blow from victory.
But the minute’s rest at the end of the round did wonders for Usyk. After all the punishment Joshua had dished out to Usyk in the ninth round, Usyk did the same to Joshua in the tenth, as he landed a series of hooks that stiffened Joshua’s legs and had him gritting his teeth in an attempt to stay upright.
The fight was won right there. Joshua’s tank was emptied and try as he might, as brave as he was, he couldn’t match Usyk in the last two rounds on his tired legs. It was the difference between victory and defeat. If Joshua had won one of the last three rounds, it would have been a draw.
Frustration quickly grew for Joshua in the aftermath, as he seemed to attempt to present two of the championship belts to Usyk, only to be held back by Usyk’s security and then threw the belts out of the ring. He then walked out of the ring and was halfway back to the dressing room before returning.
He grabbed the ring microphone for a slightly bizarre rant, praising Usyk but justifying himself. It was as if all the snipes he had taken over the years from critics all caught up with him in one moment of failure.
But this was not a failure. He had just found his limit when an extraordinary boxer went higher.
Usyk was inspired by the war-torn nation behind him, it meant more to him than just self pride. He said afterwards that he had seen victory in Joshua’s eyes in the eighth round but couldn’t let his nation down. This was a victory for Ukraine at one of the most crucial times in its existence.
It was his remarkable talent that got him through, though. Whenever Joshua had success, Usyk was able to stick with him and then find something extra.
“Size doesn’t matter when you are fighting in the ring,” Usyk said. “That is when spirit counts.”
Back in England, Tyson Fury typically tried to play down Usyk’s performance on social media. Soon, at least, the on-off retirement talk should be in the past.
“I am sure that Tyson Fury is not retired yet, I am convinced he wants to fight me,” Usyk said.
“I want to fight him and if I am not fighting Tyson Fury, I am not fighting at all. Only God knows whether I will fight him or not, but all these gentlemen here around me, my team, they are going to help me.”
This will not be the end of Joshua, although his streak of appearing in 12 consecutive world title fights will come to an end.
With the spotlight shifting to an Usyk-Fury fight, it gives Joshua the chance to regroup and be more active. While Usyk’s dominance over two fights would make a trilogy fight unlikely, there will always be interest in a Fury-Joshua fight down the line.
As for Usyk, he underlined his position as a boxing master and he will go down as an all-time great, having previously held the undisputed world title at cruiserweight. All that in only 20 professional bouts.