Usyk celebrates his victory - Photo [NBC sports]

Heavyweight Update: What’s Next for Boxing’s Premier Division?

Angus gives an update on the current state of the heavyweight scene and what is to come in the ever-exciting division.

All eyes were on the heavyweights again on Saturday, August 20, when the highly anticipated rematch between Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk and Briton Anthony Joshua took place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was the first time back in the ring for the pair of them after the thrilling first fight, which took place in London in September 2021. The rematch produced yet another competitive, exhilarating fight. Ultimately, the result remained the same as Usyk outboxed Joshua to retain his WBA (Super), IBF, and WBO titles which he took off Joshua last year, while also adding the vacant Ring Magazine title to his collection.

The remaining major heavyweight belt, the green WBC belt, is held by Joshua’s fellow countrymen Tyson Fury, who supposedly retired but is now rumoured to return to the ring to face Usyk.

The Rematch

The start to the second fight was a very tactical one, and many onlookers were keen to see how Joshua’s approach would change under his new head trainer Robert Garcia. Joshua made this apparent during the opening rounds as he fought in a lower stance, kept the fight at distance, and was less vulnerable to traps set by Usyk. The first few rounds were close ones, and arguments could be made for either fighter winning each round. Following on, beginning in the fourth and fifth, both fighters began to let their hands go more. Joshua attempted to hurt Usyk to the body while Usyk focused on circling Joshua and landing combinations.

Usyk’s jab makes its way through Joshua’s guard – Photo [Yahoo! Sports]
The fight continued to be closely contested through six rounds as fans and pundits remained split on who was winning the contest. Heading into the second half of the fight, both fighters appeared more tentative, but Usyk was finding his rhythm and was firmly believed to be ahead at the end of the eighth round.

The 9th round presented the biggest opportunity for the night for Joshua. Perhaps as Joshua’s persistent body shots caught up with Usyk, the Briton applied serious pressure on the Ukrainian, really using his strength and physical advantages to rough up the Ukrainian and press him on the ropes. At points in the final minute of the round, it looked as if Joshua might stop Usyk as he consistently drove him backward into the ropes. However, the crafty Ukrainian managed to measure Joshua’s offence and return to his corner at the round’s conclusion.

Joshua catches Usyk with a jab in the 9th round – Photo [Mirror]
Much to everyone’s surprise, Usyk emerged in the 10th to display a complete contrast from his disastrous previous round. He notably upped his output and caught Joshua with solid shots multiple times. Usyk absorbed what Joshua threw back at him without much trouble, perhaps disheartening the Englishman who came out of his lower stance and started fighting with to fight with straight, slow legs. This trend continued in through the 11th and 12th, as Usyk continued to counter Joshua and catch with combinations.

After the final bell, it seemed obvious Usyk had outboxed Joshua fairly comfortably for a second time. There was a moment of uncertainty as the judges’ scorecards were announced, and the American judge Glen Feldman scored the bout 113-115 to Joshua. However, the other two judges, Ukrainian Viktor Fesechko and Englishman Steve Gray, scored the bout 116-112 and 115-113 to Usyk, awarding him a well-deserved majority decision victory.

Usyk with his belts and draped in his country’s flag following victory – Photo [The Guardian]
The Aftermath

The spectacle did not end with the final bell as drama ensued after the announcement of the decision. Joshua appeared dismayed with the decision, struggling to accept that he had lost two fights in a row. Quickly it appeared the Briton’s emotions got the better of him as he took hold of two of Usyk’s belts, the Ring Magazine and WBA (Super) titles, and launched them out of the ring. He then seemed to exchange strong words with members of Usyk’s team before storming out of the ring and heading towards his dressing room. However, right before entering the tunnel to leave the area, he abruptly changed his mind and marched back to the ring.

Joshua throws two of Usyk’s belts out of the ring after losing by majority decision – Photo [The Sun]
A strange, somewhat awkward interaction then occurred between the two fighters as Usyk, in an attempt to console the emotional Joshua, said, “You are a very strong guy, very strong”. However, Joshua responded rather aggressively, stating, “I don’t care about being strong, I have that skill. Being strong doesn’t win boxing. Skills win boxing. You’re not strong. How did you beat me? How? Because of skill. I had character and determination”.

Joshua and Usyk exchange words post-fight – Photo [The Sun]
Joshua then went in search of a microphone. Next, instead of the traditional post-fight interview proceedings occurring, he decided to take matters into his own hands and launched into a monologue. In the rather unusual speech, Joshua covered various points. He congratulated Usyk on his win multiple times, explained how he himself began boxing in his late teens to learn to fight in case he was sent to prison, explained that he is a “new breed of heavyweight” much bigger than those in the past, and finally touched Ukraine and its ongoing conflict with Russia. Upon completing his piece, he handed the mic back to the television presenter and exited the ring.

Since the fight, Joshua has received a fair amount of backlash for his actions after the fight. The main criticisms were that he acted unsportsmanlike by throwing the belts, his monologue was laden with explicit language, and that he stole what could have been a historical, memorable moment for not only Usyk but for Ukraine as a whole as they continued battling tough times. Others have come to the defence of Joshua, saying they understand he was likely somewhat dazed and emotional after losing a grueling fight that meant a lot to him and which he had his sights set on for the better part of a year. However, the general consensus is that Joshua should not have made the speech, and perhaps blames lies on members of his team for failing to intervene and allowing him to go ahead with it.

Joshua himself took to Instagram the day after the fight to issue an apology to Usyk and the fans. He acknowledged that his emotions got the better of him, stating, “I’ll be the first to admit, I let myself down. I acted out of pure passion and emotion and when not controlled it ain’t great.”

Joshua delivers his passionate post-fight speech – Photo [Bleacher Report]
What’s Next?

Usyk’s second win over Joshua closes out this chapter and shows that Usyk is a true heavyweight champion and that last year’s performance was no fluke. Unsurprisingly, talk began almost immediately after his victory about the Ukrainian facing the currently retired WBC champion Tyson Fury. The Briton states he was done with the sport after defeating fellow countryman Dillon Whyte at Wembley Stadium back in April.

Fury knocks out Whyte with a vicious uppercut – Photo [CBS Sports]
Despite the Gypsy King being adamant about his retirement, it seems his mind is already wavering as rumours of the fight being agreed upon have already begun. News has emerged in the past few days that talks are ongoing for the fight to take place in February of 2023 during the same weekend or the weekend after the NFL’s Superbowl LVII. It is reported the bout will also take place in the Middle East and that the fighters are willing to take a 50-50 purse split.

Among the boxing community, Fury is considered a sizeable favourite in this fight. This is down to the pure physical advantages he holds over Usyk as he is the bigger, stronger, and longer man, combined with the fact that, like Usyk, he is an extremely crafty boxer. Although far out from a potential fight, current betting odds reflect this opinion. Most bookmakers have Fury as a 4/11 favourite, with Usyk coming in as the underdog with 2/1 odds for him to be victorious.

Andy Ruiz at a media workout in the lead up to his clash with Luis Ortiz – Photo [FIGHTMAG]
It seems it is time for Joshua to regroup and return to the drawing board. There are some talks that he may fight Dillon Whyte for a second time this December. However, if this does not materialise, there are plenty of other options available to him. A two-time former opponent of Joshua’s, Andy Ruiz, who also managed to defeat him on one occasion, is back in action this weekend on Sunday, September 4. He fights the tough Cuban Luis Ortiz, so there is potential for Joshua to face the winner of this contest.

Wilder is set to return in October against Helenius – Photo [Premier Boxing Champions]
Furthermore, the powerful American Deontay Wilder returns to ring after what will be over a year’s hiatus on October 15. He faces the tough Finnish Veteran Robert Helenius in a fight the Bronze Bomber is expected to win. Wilder and Joshua were heavily linked with each other back in 2018-2019; however, terms for a fight could never be agreed upon. Perhaps the fans will see this fight next year if Wilder can come through Helenius in a few weeks’ time.

Regardless of what happens, it seems the heavyweight is reignited again as it always is following a blockbuster fight. No matter whom Joshua or Usyk go on to fight, there are various intriguing fights to be made, and boxing fans are likely in for a tremendous end to 2022 and start to the new year.

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