Anthony Joshua takes microphone from champion Oleksandr Usyk to vent frustrations
Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13KO) secured a second consecutive victory over former two-time world champion Anthony Joshua (24-3, 22KO) to defend the unified WBO, IBO, WBA 'Super', IBF and Ring Magazine titles and in doing so confirmed his place at the top of the heavyweight division.
35-year-old southpaw stylist Usyk triumphed on a split decision at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, taking it 116-112 and 115-113 respectively on the cards of Ukraine's Viktor Fesechko and Britain's Steve Gray, although Glenn Feldman of the USA scored 115-113 for Joshua.
However, the result infuriated Joshua, who picked up two championship belts – the WBA and Ring Magazine titles – and threw them out of the ring before arguing with a member of Usyk's team and storming off briefly.
Immediately after his third professional career defeat, Joshua then returned to seize the microphone to vent his emotions in a passionate outburst.
"I'm stealing this Usyk, I'm sorry, but it's because of the passion we put into this," Joshua told the crowd during his awkward two-minute speech. "If you knew my story you would understand the passion. I ain't no amateur boxer from five-years-old that was an elite prospect from youth. I was going to jail, I got bail and I started training my arse off, I wanted to be able to fight," he roared.
It was Usyk's moment, yet Joshua was alone with the microphone and kept on talking.
"This guy to beat me tonight, maybe I could have done better, but it shows the level of hard work I put in so please give him a round of applause as our heavyweight champion of the world," Joshua said.
When the defending champion Usyk got his opportunity to speak, he said, "I did this victory for my country, for all people, militaries who are defending the country. Thank you very, very much.
"This is already historic. Many generations are going to watch this fight, especially the round when someone tried to beat me hard, but I withstood it and turned it in a different way."
Video clips have since surfaced on socia media of Joshua getting involved in arguments on his way back to the dressing room. An older gentleman said something along the lines of "Keep it professional", to which AJ snapped back aggressively to shout: "What?! Who you talking to?" The man was left miffed at the outburst.
He then broke down in the post-fight press conference stating he was upset deep down in his heart before having to wipe tears from his eyes.
Managing Editor of Ring Magazine, Tom Gray, reacted to the result with: "I thought Usyk was the comfortable winner last night (8-4). But, ironically, I was more impressed with Joshua, who produced a far better performance than last time. He's just a step or two behind this guy when it comes to speed and skill and while I was initially pissed at AJ's reaction, I'm cutting him some slack. He should have maintained his professionalism but he was hurt. We've all been there. It's just the vast majority of us don't make an arse of it in front of millions of people."
Tim Rickson, BBN Editor: "I thought AJ was better in this fight, so I'm pleased he made improvements to make the fight closer and more exciting, but the scorecard that read 115-113 in his favour was outrageous. It feels to me like Usyk can land 20 punches, but if Joshua lands one back it's a round scored to him. For me, Usyk won this fight very clearly. Joshua made it closer than the first fight but not close enough to even consider him winning. Most of his punches landed on Usyk's gloves and arms, but the crowd roared in delight every time.
"He's a passionate guy, so I can forgive his antics after the fight. I'm gutted for Usyk that AJ took his moment away from him and made it all about himself. Fighting with his own team doesn't bode well for the future. I would like to see him get rid of all the 'yes men' in his team and work with someone who won't treat him like a superstar and humble him a bit. Now Sugarhil isn't working with Tyson fury anymore, that would be the perfect coach for AJ. He said himself that he's not a 12-round fighter, so Steward would be able to make him the killer he once was again. There's so many big heavyweight fights out there for him, so I don't believe he should consider retirement any time soon. He won't want to go out like that, I'm sure, so I expect to see him back in the ring this year."
Usyk did have to endure tremendous pressure from an implacable Joshua, who delivered a vastly-improved performance from their first fight in September last year.
After just two pro fights in the heavyweight division, Usyk outpointed the champion Joshua in his own backyard in Tottenham with an outstanding performance. Formerly an undisputed champion down at cruiserweight, the history-making Ukrainian proved himself one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the world today.
Joshua triggered an immediate rematch, determined to restore his place as a top-tier heavyweight. To that end he brought in a new trainer, Robert Garcia, to join Angel Fernandez in his corner and devoted himself to rectifying the mistakes he made in the first fight.
Joshua had lost before meeting Usyk, but avenged his defeat against Andy Ruiz on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in 2019. He was fighting to become a three-time heavyweight champion and knew his legacy depended on victory tonight.
Usyk let his southpaw jab flicker out, sometimes feinting, occasionally landing. He let a quick cross fly through and blocked Joshua's right well. Joshua though got on the front foot, sending his right hook to the body and leaning when the Ukrainian stepped in close.
He continued those attentions to the body, driving his right into the body when he could and seeing an opening to let it shoot the head.
But Usyk remained elusive, bobbing his head round further jabs and chipping away at the bigger challenger.
Joshua threw his shots with weight behind him, they were heavy even when Usyk took them on his gloves or the elbows.
He grew in confidence, letting his own punches flow more in the fourth round. He looked for Usyk as he threatened uppercuts. The Ukrainian, though, finished that round with an excellent left cross.
The pace quickened in the fifth round, only for a brief pause when Joshua swung an uppercut in below the belt. Joshua continued that attack to the trunk and hit the body with a hard right. Usyk looked to dissuade him, landing a countering left as Joshua came in.
The challenger now, Joshua continued to press Usyk, much more willing to engage than in their first fight. His right missed but he clipped Usyk with a good left hook. Joshua dug to the body as Usyk had to stay on the back foot.
Usyk had though marked up him round his right eye.
The fight was closely contested through the first six rounds. Usyk's hand speed told at times, his left a sniping shot that caught Joshua through openings.
In the eighth round, Joshua slammed a heartening left hook into the body. Usyk came back at him, probing at Joshua with a combination of punches. As Usyk peppered him to the head, Joshua swatted a right down to club Usyk away.
Joshua started to break through in the ninth round. He finally drove Usyk into the ropes and Joshua kept up the pressure, hammering at the Ukrainian with heavy hooks. He dug in a wicked body shot and smile spread across Joshua's face. He was about to seize momentum his way.
Yet Usyk changed the fight again. He raised the tempo in astonishing fashion in the next round. He stunned Joshua with an accurate right hook. He unloaded with stern lefts and drove Joshua back step after step. A heavy right barrelled into Usyk's chin but he took it and pressed on with his assault, whipping shots into Joshua as the 10th round ended.
Usyk was handling the pressure and Joshua knew he need to find something special in the last round. He tried valiantly, hitting hard punches into the head once again. But Usyk kept his feet beneath him and kept on moving, working well even off the ropes. He closed the fight like a champion, not letting up in the 12th round.
It was Usyk who finished strongly, clipping Joshua with heavy counter-punches to close out the final seconds of the bout.
The decision was closer than expected, but Usyk was a deserving winner.
Usyk vs Fury
Usyk holds three of the four major heavyweight belts. There is one missing from his collection. Tyson Fury, ostensibly retired, still holds the WBC title. That's the only fight Usyk is interested in.
"I'm sure that Tyson Fury is not retired yet," the champion said. "I'm sure, I'm convinced he wants to fight me.
"I want to fight him and if I'm not fighting Tyson Fury, I'm not fighting at all."