Anthony Joshua suffered yet another defeat to the dazzling fists of Oleksandr Usyk but still found redemption as he pushed the pound-for-pound Ukraine star to the limit of his endurance.
Joshua was overworked to give up a split decision at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah with scores of 113-115, 115-113, 116-112, confirming he is now a peripheral figure among the division’s elite. heavyweight.
But as Usyk retained the WBA, IBF and WBO titles to set up the prospect of a unification clash with Tyson Fury, he was repeatedly injured by a converted underdog in the first encounter at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Joshua lacked the gas or class to reclaim his belts, but he came out on his shield in a thriller that atoned for his passive display in London nearly a year ago.
For a second time, Usyk operated on a different level, his movement and ringcraft taking him away from the Briton’s most dangerous shots, while his accuracy and workload swept him to put him in charge on the scoreboards. edge.
Joshua is no longer a dominant force in the division and another disappointment was his angry post-fight reaction when he grabbed two of Usyk’s belts and dropped them from the ring.
He also confronted the champion, asking him how he won, before then claiming the microphone to address the crowd.
“I tell you my story. I was going to jail. I got released on bail and started training, because if I had been convicted I wouldn’t have been able to fight,” Joshua said.
“I could have done better, but it showed the hard work he had to put in to beat me. Please give him a round of applause as the heavyweight champion of the world.
“I am not a 12 round fighter. I am a new breed of heavyweight. Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston – they say “he doesn’t throw combinations like Rocky Marciano”, because I have 18 rocks, I’m heavy.
“It’s hard work. This guy has phenomenal talent. We’re going to cheer him on.”
Usyk’s win was built on resilience as much as skill as he held off a sustained ninth-round attack before finding fresh gear in an all-action 10th that held until the final bell.
It was a classy display of left-handed genius, but despite all of Joshua’s improvements under new coach Robert Garcia, he only showed the flashes of unbridled aggression he needed.
Midway through the fight, he landed a left loop to the body that forced an injured Usyk onto the ropes, but instead of following he wavered and the moment was over.
Usyk, which was watched in Ukraine on free TV, gave his homeland reason to rejoice over Russia’s invasion.
“I want to thank everyone who prayed for me and thank God for the help he has given me,” said the two-weight world champion.
“I dedicate this victory to my country, to my family, to my team, to all the soldiers who defend the country. Thanks a lot.
“Many generations will watch this fight, especially the round where someone tried to beat me hard, but I resisted and shot a different way. Thanks to God.”