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Oleksandr Usyk’s masterclass should offer the undisputed chance for Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury to meet in a title match

Oleksandr Usyk looks to get an undisputed title match vs. Tyson Fury by beating Anthony Joshua

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Over the course of 36 minutes on Saturday, Oleksandr Usyk stood in the pocket, challenging one of the hardest hitting heavyweights in recent memory to hit him. Usyk, in his rematch with former champion Anthony Joshua for the IBF, WBA, and WBO heavyweight titles on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, would duck his head, slide his torso to the right, or glide a step to the left to avoid the bombs Joshua would throw.

Usyk’s brilliance extends beyond his stellar defense. It’s his boxing prowess as a whole, and he showed it by dishing out a lot more punishment than he took. He would counter every punch with two, three, or even four of his own.

[It’s time to start or join a fantasy football league.]

He landed enough of his 712 punches on Joshua to earn a victory by split decision and keep his title. After being rocked in Joshua’s best round of the fight in the ninth, he may have won the fight in the 10th when he put on a master class.

The shameful scorecard judge Glenn Feldman turned in, which had it 115-113 for Joshua, shouldn’t tarnish his performance. Even Joshua realized he lost the bout.

At the conclusion of the match, he ran up to Usyk, gave him a big hug, and covered their shoulders with the Ukrainian flag that Usyk had brought along. Joshua led the crowd in chants of “Hip, hip hooray” in honor of Usyk after the scores were announced; judges Steve Gray and Victor Fesecheko had it for Usyk, 115-113 and 116-112, respectively, canceling out Feldman’s bizarre score. C.J. Ross scored a draw (114-114, to be exact) in the 2013 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez, despite the fact that nearly everyone else who saw the fight awarded Mayweather at least eight rounds. While most people thought Gennady Golovkin won their first fight in 2017, Adelaide Byrd scored the bout 118-110 for Alvarez.

Feldman’s mark belongs to that dreaded category.

But Usyk and Joshua did their jobs so well, he doesn’t deserve any more time. Since he began boxing as a teenager, Joshua’s opponents have mostly been dwarfed by the giant man standing in the ring with him. In 2012, he won the super heavyweight gold medal at the Olympics and, in his 16th professional bout, he became the heavyweight champion.

He lost all of his titles in 2019 after being knocked out by Andy Ruiz Jr. He won back the titles in the rematch with Ruiz six months later, but I think he gave a much more courageous and focused performance this past Saturday.

In his rematch with Ruiz, Joshua fought tentatively, if not fearfully. He apparently entered the ring with the sole intention of avoiding being hit. On Saturday, he competed with the explicit goal of winning, and he did so.

This past Saturday, he lost to a more talented opponent; however, his efforts should not be discounted because of this. Possibly the only two active heavyweights he wouldn’t have stopped given what he’d done were Usyk, the guy he was fighting, and Tyson Fury, the WBC heavyweight champion, by the ninth round.

Joshua and his new trainer Robert Garcia devised a strategy that involved doubling down on the jab, fighting with flex in his knees, and going to the body as often as possible. Joshua did all of that, and he also landed some devastating body shots on Usyk that would have killed almost anyone else. They clearly bothered Usyk, especially in the ninth.

But Usyk is a unique boxer who could be the best in the world pound for pound. He has now gone 24 rounds with Joshua, one of the biggest active punchers in the sport, and has yet to be knocked down. In the ninth and final round, he may have been hurt.

While some may assume that Usyk, or anyone else who favors head shots, is a runner, this is not the case. He stood in Joshua’s line of fire the entire night, but his sport knowledge and skill at setting traps protected him from harm. He could deflect a blow and then deliver a flurry of three, four, or even five blows.

He was very effective, landing a number of blows that stung Joshua. This was only Usyk’s fourth fight at heavyweight, but he was dominating Joshua and sending him to the canvas multiple times.

Usyk was fighting for his country, Ukraine, in the war between Russia and Russia. While visiting wounded soldiers, he was urged to accept the rematch and let them take charge of the war.

So he did, and it was obvious he was motivated by the thought of bringing happiness to his country despite the war raging and the displacement of millions of his people.

Making the fight with Fury for the undisputed title is the next logical step. You won’t find a bigger fight than this in the ring right now.

Usyk’s only undisputed title is the WBC belt, held by Fury, who announced his retirement from the sport two weeks ago. Fury tweeted “THE GYPSY KING IS HERE TO STAY!!!” after his fight on Saturday, tagging the WBC’s account. Fury was given until August 26 to notify the WBC of his intention to retain or relinquish his title.

Fury, at 6-feet-9 inches, has a sizeable height advantage over Usyk. He fights at around 275 pounds, so he’ll have a weight advantage of about 50 pounds. With his 84-inch reach, he’ll have a significant advantage in that department (by about six inches).

In two bouts against Joshua, another giant heavyweight, Usyk showed that his size was no disadvantage. He’s a remarkably gifted, hard-nosed individual who consistently wins when no one gives him a chance, thanks to his quickness, guile, cunning, some of the best footwork in boxing, and sheer toughness.

The time has come to give him the credit he deserves. He’s certainly in the conversation for the title of best fighter in the world at his weight class.