Usyk beats Joshua, retains heavyweight boxing belts

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Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk has beaten Britain’s Anthony Joshua in a surprise split points decision and retained his WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world heavyweight boxing belts.

The fight in Saudi Arabia’s Jedda on Sunday was a rematch of one in London in September, which Usyk won on a unanimous decision to take the belts from Joshua, but fought with much more intensity and emotion.

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The pressure was on both more than ever, with Usyk this time representing a country fighting for its existence after Russia’s invasion in February, while Joshua was battling for his boxing future.

Usyk appeared comfortably ahead as the final bell rang at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena. But the American judge awarded the fight 115-113 to Joshua, with the British and Ukrainian judges deciding 115-113 and 116-112 to Usyk.

Oleksandr Usyk in action against Anthony Joshua
Oleksandr Usyk in action against Anthony Joshua [Andrew Couldridge/ Action Images via Reuters]

When he heard the winning words, “and still”, an emotional Usyk raised his left arm and pulled the Ukrainian flag over his face.

“I devote this victory to my country, to my family, to my team, to all the military defending this country,” the 35-year-old said through a translator. “Thank you very, very much.”

Saturday’s victory took Usyk’s professional record to 20 fights undefeated while Joshua, 32, suffered the third defeat of his career.

Joshua, who had held the Ukrainian flag aloft with Usyk as they waited for the decision in what seemed an acceptance of defeat, then had an uncharacteristic meltdown after a fight billed as “Rage on the Red Sea”.

He took two of the belts, dropping them as he left the ring and headed for the dressing room before turning around and stepping back between the ropes to take the microphone and address the crowd.

“Usyk is one hell of a fighter. That’s just emotion,” he declared.