Thursday, June 20, 2024

Fury vs Usyk: Oleksandr Usyk completes remarkable journey to undisputed heavyweight greatness -Dlight News

Oleksandr Usyk is better at this game than you, and you, and you and you. Oleksandr Usyk is better than everybody. Heavyweight boxing has a new king, a new all-time great. He calls himself ‘The Cat’ and he racks up quite the luggage bill.

For nine months, all he thought about was Tyson Fury. For nine months, all he did was plan for the shifty 6ft 9in, 19-stone behemoth standing between him and undisputed heavyweight glory. He missed the birthdays of his children, he missed the birth of his daughter, he skipped family holidays. And how his sacrifices were rewarded.

“Do this. Do this. Do this. Work. Run. Boxing. Eat. Sleep. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Listen, I’m not a child,” joked Usyk in his post-fight press conference, recalling his strict training regime during the build-up to Saturday’s fight.

A wacky monologue of cartoon-like noises and mimicking became a release of joy, relief and perhaps closure for a man who has devoted his life to achieving the ultimate goal in boxing. The steely-eyed, unflappable professor of his craft could finally let his guard down for good, literally and metaphorically.

Usyk had just weathered a storm of Fury body shots, been an extra 10 seconds away from knocking out the Gypsy King, and out-pointed the undefeated WBC champion to become the first undisputed heavyweight ruler of the four-belt era.

Riyadh and the world had been treated to a clinic from both men: Fury’s elite early jab work to control the distance off the back foot followed by the plunging body shots to pierce his opponent’s vulnerability, and Usyk’s beautifully-disguised reaching left hooks coupled with lightning counters and a stunning ninth-round assault that embodied the best of his devastating accuracy and clinical power.

The optics of the size difference were daunting, only to be erased by Usyk and the bravery of a front-foot approach that rarely looked like shying away. He pressed Fury, harassed Fury, ate some nasty uppercuts for his troubles, dropped rounds in the process, and bit back with some of the most clutch closing minutes of championship boxing in recent memory.

Fury had drawn on showboating immediately in a bid to derail Usyk’s composure, the Ukrainian responding by retreating two or three steps, smiling in the face of his opponent’s antics and remeasuring his task. Any temptation to be lured into an emotional trap had come and gone. That, in truth, had been the case for much of the build-up.

With the pressure at its highest, the 37-year-old did it his way. He hadn’t come this far not to.

People will have their own introduction to the Usyk story. It might have been his gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where he defeated the knockout machine Artur Beterbiev in a warning of his potential for greatness. It might have been the tales of his 355-15 amateur record as he stepped up to the professional ranks. It might have been the period in which he beat Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev in their home countries to become undisputed cruiserweight champion. For many, it might have been the most brutal of knockout punches to stop Tony Bellew in Manchester in 2018. For others, it became the unanimous decision win while sharing the ring with another familiar face in Derek Chisora in 2020.

The story travelled quickly. A sleight of hand wizard with frightening footwork, elite ring IQ and the perfect balance of attack and defence, hurtling towards heavyweight title contention with dreams of disruption and ambitions of nestling among history’s icons.

How good was he really? Anthony Joshua discovered just how good as he found himself on the receiving end of a commanding unanimous decision victory for Usyk at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September 2021, another visit to the UK seeing the Ukrainian this time leave with the WBA, IBF and WBO titles in his most meaningful step yet towards undisputed.

Usyk walked away from a lucrative rematch with Joshua when Russia invaded Ukraine at the start of 2022. He returned to his home country to enlist in the territorial defence force and take up arms. When he was permitted to return to boxing, he rose to the occasion with style and determination, handling a ferocious effort from Joshua to win clearly. Even then, a vastly-improved performance from the Olympic champion would be undone by the technical supremacy of Usyk.

Fury’s path to undisputed had began in 2015 when he stripped Wladimir Klitschko of the unified WBO, WBA and IBF titles in Dusselfdorf, before stepping away from the ring for more than two years as he contended with mental health issues.

He would return in 2018 after a monumental weight loss to take on WBC belt-holder Deontay Wilder in a Las Vegas epic that controversially ended in a draw, before convincingly stopping the American in the 2020 rematch. A trilogy fight soon arrived, Fury settling things for good by knocking out Wilder in the 11th round in another blockbuster contest.

Next it was Dillian Whyte on an emphatic Wembley Stadium UK homecoming, next it was a third fight against Chisora, before Fury swerved the upset of his career after being knocked down in a match against former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. Finally, Usyk was on the horizon, but not before a couple of postponements, the latter due to a cut to Fury’s eye sustained in sparring.

Usyk would appear the quintessential proposition and test for the trickiness of Fury, whose teasing feints had now been bolstered by the knockout touch cultivated by SugarHill Steward and his Kronk philosophies. And equally, Fury represented the benchmark moment for Usyk’s heavyweight journey, the defining exam of how his skillset had translated through the weights. The two were destined to collide, you might argue they had been for some time.

This was Usyk’s moment, and Ukraine’s moment. The pizazz of Usyk the artist matched by the valiance of Usyk the warrior, culminating in riches. Fury demanded the best Usyk. He demanded Usyk dig deeper than ever mentally and work harder than ever physically, and Usyk found the answer.

As the final bell sound, Fury embraced his counterpart and kissed his head in a sign of respect. He knew he had been in with a great.

The dreams of predecessors having moulded heavyweight sovereignty into boxing immortality. The blueprint for boxing cinema is heavyweight conquest. A common starting point for aspiring fighters is awe for heavyweight destruction. At the spine of boxing history is heavyweight magnificence, heavyweight controversy, heavyweight drama. Rule that, and forever you shall be remembered.

Riddick Bowe and his bin, Spinks and his shocks, Jack Dempsey and his million-dollar gate, Muhammad Ali and his greatness. Now Usyk as the newest face of the most storied plot in boxing.

He becomes a unique addition to the heavyweight pantheon. A different kind of character armed with a different kind of skillset to that which might have prevailed throughout history. One boxing shall talk about and cite for years to come.

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