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Usyk splits decision to keep World Heavyweight title over Anthony Joshua



Oleksandr Usyk has clung on to his World Heavyweight title with a split decision win over Anthony Joshua after 12 hard rounds in Saudi Arabia.

The Ukrainian picked it up on two scorecards in the end, underlining his place as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but was pushed all the way by the two-time champion Joshua.

Speaking after the fight, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn described Usyk as ‘too good’ for his man, especially late on. As Joshua came back into it, Usyk pulled away.

“I felt Usyk won the fight because of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth,” said Hearn. “Going into those rounds I had it close, with maybe AJ slightly up, but the championship rounds showed from a championship fighter.”

The split decision might have been generous – a slim unanimous might have been more reflective of the fight – but shows how much closer this fight was than the first.

Usyk did what he does best: he made his opponent look bad, landed when he could and controlled the pace. Joshua started well, but the champ changed, and when his opponent seemed to find success in the 7th and 8th rounds, he changed again.

Tyson Fury, the holder of the other heavyweight title, claims to be retired. He is the only man who can match Usyk’s skills, especially at this size, and post-fight, Usyk said that he was only interested in the unification fight. It was Fury or nobody.

The first encounter between these two, in London eleven months ago, was as one-sided a decision as seen at this level, with Usyk handling Joshua with uncanny ease.

That certainly wasn’t the case in Jeddah: Joshua performed far better this time around proved that he can compete with the likes of Usyk, though in the end, he is just one step down from the rarified air that the champion inhabits.

Joshua took the mic at the end to pay tribute to his opponent, producing a long, if slightly confusing rant to pay tribute to his opponent, who stood politely as the contender went on. Usyk, as is his wont, looked on, took it in and smiled.

It has been suggested that AJ might retire: this showing proved that he does not need to, because as a boxer, he is better than has been shown in the past. He is, however, not close to the level of Usyk and, indeed, Fury – retired or otherwise.

Joshua seemed to have learned from his lessons in the first fight, beginning with control of centre ring and using his height and reach advantage to jab to the body, but as the early rounds passed, Usyk’s defensive abilities began to negate his opponent and gradually create opportunities.

The Ukranian landed more readily through the third and fourth, with AJ unable to find the same pressure. Repeated attempts to the body lead to a wayward low blow in the fifth, before producing some success in the sixth as Joshua managed to force Usyk onto the ropes for the first time.

Any success the Brit found, however, was fleeting. Usyk is a supreme defensive operator and had an upwards jab that Joshua repeatedly failed to pick.

AJ’s body attack continued and did trouble the champion, with a succession of liver shots winning him the eighth, before wearing the champion down in the ninth for his best round of the fight.

As the round ended, the challenger smiled at his opponent and, for the first time in 21 rounds with Usyk, it looked like he thought he could win.

There’s a good reason, however, why the Ukranian has never lost in a professional ring. He came out firing in the tenth, landing several hard lefts and upping to a tempo that the larger Joshua could not take, and by the end of the round, the contest had been upended.

The momentum shift took plenty from Joshua and, when he needed to push back, he struggled to find his target.

The eleventh was against Usyk’s, and with a knockout needed in the last, AJ threw the kitchen sink and edged the round, but not by enough.



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