Amid the sand and serenity of Saudi Arabia on Saturday night, Oleksandr Usyk again proved too good for Anthony Joshua as he claimed a split decision points win to retain his WBA, IBFO and WBO world heavyweight titles.
After some tremendous action, the first judge had it 115-113 to Joshua, the second 115-113 to Usyk and the third 116-112 to Usyk. The win will hopefully now line up Usyk for a massive unification showdown with WBC/Ring magazine/lineal heavyweight king Tyson Fury.
Usyk shows champion quality
The atmosphere was far more subdued in Jeddah than when the pair met at a boisterous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last September, yet the action was fast and loose once again.
Joshua was victorious the last time he boxed in Saudi of course, claiming a decision win and the three of the four main sanctioning body belts once again after a controlled, somewhat risk-averse display in a rematch vs Andy Ruiz Jr.
However, Usyk is no Ruiz Jr, as he pointed out emphatically in Jeddah on Saturday night. There were critics who felt the Ukraine legend is not a natural heavyweight and too small for the division, but he showed he belonged here with another majestic performance.
The British challenger, who was some 23lbs heavier than his opponent at Friday’s weigh-in, started but could not close the distance as his elusive foe all night with Usyk’s jab and footwork the story of the night.
Joshua was expected to be much more aggressive in this rematch after being convincingly out-boxed by Usyk 11 months ago. He had his moments, connecting with hard body shots and uppercuts in round nine.
Fury next up for Oleksandr?
Luis Pabon from Puerto Rico was the man in the middle, while Glenn Feldman, Steve Gray and Viktor Fesechko were the judges at ringside. It was another intriguing fight, but the right man won again.
To claim another win over a heavyweight as dangerous as Joshua while war continues to rage in his homeland says much about the mental fortitude of Usyk, who is now universally recognised as one of the best ‘pound-for-pound’ fighters in the sport.
After three defeats in five fights, will the 32-year-old multi-millionaire from Watford now actually have the desire to attempt another comeback after this? An all-British heavyweight showdown against Tyson Fury suddenly looks a long way off but for the incomparable Usyk, a mouthwatering unification fight with the ‘Gypsy King’ to finally crown an undisputed world heavyweight champion could well be next.