Oleksandr Usyk proved once again that he is arguably one of the best fighters in the world with a brave victory over Anthony Joshua on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to retain his three heavyweight titles.
Now he’s only one belt short of being called the undisputed heavyweight champion – a title no one has ever held in the era of four belts. That last belt is, of course, in the hands of Tyson Fury, whose on-and-off retirement claims seem to be a rite of passage for top fighters.
Fury has long called for a heavyweight summit for all four belts, and was set to face Joshua for the undisputed title in August before an arbitration ruling forced a third fight with Deontay Wilder.
But a month before Fury scored a second consecutive KO from his rival, Joshua was turned upside down by his mandatory challenger, Usyk, putting plans for the undisputed title fight up in smoke.
As Joshua prepared for the rematch against Usyk, Fury defeated Dillian Whyte in April and immediately announced his retirement. But earlier this month, much to the surprise of absolutely no one, Fury claimed he would end his retirement with a third fight against Derek Chisora.
Of course, that’s a fight of minimal interest, and Fury was quick to dismiss the potential matchup to “retire” again.
Usyk left little doubt of his intentions after beating Joshua, standing in the center of the ring and calling his shot.
“I’m sure Tyson Fury hasn’t retired yet,” said Usyk (20-0 13 KOs) after the fight in the ring. ‘I’m sure. I’m sure he wants to fight me. I want to fight him. And if I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”
Sure enough, Fury responded minutes later in an Instagram video.
“I will destroy them both in the same night,” he said, referring to Usyk and Joshua. “Get your damn checkbook because ‘The Gypsy King’ is here to stay forever!”
And that’s all music to the ears of boxing fans, who have long enjoyed the chance to watch Usyk test against a much bigger man who is on the same level of boxing skill. Sure, Joshua is a big man at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, but Fury is 6-foot-9, 270-plus pounds and possesses the kind of jab and footwork that separates him from his compatriot, Joshua and most of the other fighters in sports.
“I want to fight him. And if I don’t fight Tyson Fury, I don’t fight at all.”
Joshua (24-3, 22 KOs) outperformed in the rematch after being nearly stopped by Usyk, 35, in the first meeting in September. But Joshua is not a smooth, natural boxer like Usyk. Fury, of course, is, and a clash between the two of them for all four heavyweight belts is a monstrous sporting event. It’s the kind of event that boxing far too rarely delivers.
Fury’s promoter, Bob Arum, told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel on Saturday that Usyk-Fury “will not be a hard fight to make,” and that the scholarship split should be 50-50. Perhaps only the second part is true, because the bigger the boxing match, the tougher the negotiations.
But this battle is far too logical – and dollars – to be left out. It’s a match-up that the Saudis have been looking forward to for December, and last year they were willing to shell out about $155 million for an undisputed title fight between Fury and Joshua.
The long-awaited Fury-Joshua fight may never materialize now, but the consolation prize is something better in this case.
Usyk’s use of angles, movements and a well-trained jab have made him a puzzle no opponent has been able to solve. He even showed in two fights against Joshua that despite only weighing 220 pounds, he has enough pop on his shots to do a lot of damage.
The way the Ukrainian survived round 9 – when Joshua wounded him to the body and left him reeling from the ropes – proved that Usyk has the kind of toughness it takes to beat Fury. He rallied for an even more dominant lap 10 and also showed the impact resistance needed to withstand the most dangerous shots.
Of course, there was never any doubt about Usyk’s character. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Usyk quickly took up arms in a territory defense battalion and served as a beacon of hope for those watching his fight at home after ensuring the fight was televised for free.
In the ring, Usyk has proven to be just as brave. He captured the 200-pound division before being installed as an underdog against Joshua in just his third heavyweight fight. So far, he has not met his equal.
Putting it all together against Fury figures is Usyk’s ultimate challenge. And while he wasn’t considered a puncher earlier in his career, that reputation has changed after Fury scored destructive KOs from Wilder twice.
The 34-year-old Englishman can switch positions seamlessly and his jab is one of the best in boxing. Unlike Joshua, Fury is much more adept at imposing his superior size on enemies. Fury bullied Wilder in his last two fights, leaning on him into the clinch and pushing him toward the ropes, forcing his opponent to struggle with all 270 pounds of him.
That seems like the recipe for success against Usyk… if there is one. And there’s no one better equipped than Fury. Fury is ESPN’s No. 1 heavyweight and No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer. Usyk is one slot behind him in both rankings.
Now boxing has to make sure it doesn’t get in the way. This is a fight we need to see.