How Oleksandr Usyk’s win over Anthony Joshua casts doubt on the heavyweight division’s future

Every boxing fan’s dream bout was finally within reach.

Anthony Joshua — the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight belt holder — would get past Oleksandr Usyk.

Tyson Fury — the WBC heavyweight champion — would once again defeat Deontay Wilder.

No longer would anything stand in the way of Joshua and Fury stepping into the ring and duking it out for all four heavyweight belts. For the first time in over two decades, a true unification bout would crown an undisputed heavyweight champion.

Usyk had other ideas.

The former cruiserweight champion stunned Joshua on Saturday with a clinical performance, dominating from start to finish to earn a unanimous decision (117-111, 116-112, 115-113) in front of 65,000 fans in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

At 6’3″ and 221 pounds, Usyk was viewed as a small heavyweight compared to Anthony Joshua, an established champion who towered over him at 6’6″ and 240 pounds. 

Although Usyk succeeded in his first two fights at heavyweight, neither opponent was of Joshua’s stature. For Usyk to stand a chance, he would need to truly outbox Joshua, who would certainly be on the hunt for a knockout blow. That’s exactly what happened. 

Usyk delayed boxing’s opportunity for an undisputed heavyweight title fight and is now the WBA (super), IBF, and WBO heavyweight champion of the world. 

How did Usyk beat Joshua?

Usyk controlled the pace of Saturday’s fight from the opening bell, keeping Joshua off-balance with his lateral movement and pace. 

Usyk immediately attacked Joshua in the first few rounds, sticking him with straight left hands and right hooks while the champion appeared flat-footed and a bit nervous. 

Joshua was hurt several times in Saturday’s bout, including in the fourth round with a sweeping left hook. Even when Joshua began to find a rhythm in the middle of the fight, Usyk responded with clean shots, keeping Joshua from establishing his jab or putting him against the ropes. 

According to CompuBox, Usyk outlanded Joshua 148 to 123. He recorded more punches in seven rounds, including a 29-9 edge in the 12th and final round in which he almost knocked Joshua out. 

“The fight went the way I expected it to go,” Usyk said after the bout. “There were a couple of moments where Anthony Joshua pushed me hard, but just nothing special.”

What happens next for Joshua and Usyk?

Joshua and Usyk did have a rematch clause in their contract, and Joshua plans to exercise it, according to Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn. 

“Anthony will go again,” Hearn told Sky Sports Boxing. “He has been beaten by a pound for pound great fighter.” 

Hearn said Joshua “will want to go straight back into that rematch” with Usyk, though the new champion said he isn’t rushing into it. 

“I’ve been working so hard since January in preparation for this fight,” Usyk said. “It took me some half a year, and I didn’t see my family for so long. I miss my children, I miss watching them play. I want to go home, I want to stay with my family, I want to be happy with them. I’m not thinking about the rematch at the moment.” 

What does this mean for the heavyweight division?

Boxing has not had an undisputed heavyweight champion since Nov. 13, 1999, when Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield to unify the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. Now, the sport will have to wait even longer. 

If Joshua won, he would have been in position to face Fury, who he signed a two-fight contract with in March to unify their titles. That is, if Fury defeated Wilder in their third fight on Oct. 9. 

Now, Joshua and Usyk are locked in for a second fight, keeping three of the major belts out of play for the winner of Fury and Wilder. This is the second time in the last three years that the heavyweight division has been denied an undisputed bout, as Joshua lost his titles by technical knockout to Andy Ruiz Jr. in June 2019, delaying a potential clash with Wilder.

Fury, who is now ESPN’s top-ranked fighter in the division, previously mapped out his desired next five fights, which included a fight against Joshua in March. However, it is likely that a second bout between Joshua and Usyk will take place during that time, delaying a potential undisputed title bout until late 2022 or early 2023. 

Looking ahead even that far feels premature.

Unlike that loss to Ruiz Jr., in which Joshua simply got caught off guard before returning to win the rematch handily in a unanimous decision, there’s far less of a guarantee that Joshua bounces back against Usyk, a pound-for-pound extraordinaire who outboxed the champ fair and square. It’s not just what happened in Saturday night’s stunner, it’s how it happened. Suddenly, that Fury-Joshua fight doesn’t feel like a date with destiny.

Of course, there’s also the potential for Wilder to pour gasoline on the fire. However unlikely, all it takes is one punch for the Bronze Bomber on Oct. 9 to drop Fury and send the entire division into absolute pandemonium.

Buckle up because the next fight could bring forth even more heavyweight turbulence.

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