It’s not easy to be a boxing fan. The sporadic and interrupted nature of the program allows for long intervals of inaction, resulting in diminished enthusiasm for a fan base with a notoriously short attention span. Corruption, controversy, and outright criminality make it hard to find a hero in a sport that often feels like it’s run by carnies. If anyone happens to find a fighter worth considering, chances are they will only see him two or three times a year at most, often with diminishing returns. It’s just not a problem other sports – and other sports fans – have to deal with.
Football fans can leave any typical Sunday after watching half a dozen exciting games to distract them from the horrors of their winding, hellish existence. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are two straight months of high octane adrenaline rush for guys named Gord. Basketball and baseball maybe even have championship games or tournaments or something, but I have no idea, and I never will. There is simply no way to find out.
The point is, boxing fans are more prone to crises of faith than almost everyone on Earth, and for good reason. We came to this sport because we hate each other and we know boxing will continue to allow us that. We don’t need miracles or a second coming. No one asks for proof of a savior. Direction and affirmation are intended for guidance counselors. We just need to be reassured that every now and then our bloodlust will actually be satisfied. Give us a bloody story to tell and we’re back. Sometimes one is enough.
After an eventful and disastrous year for boxing, Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua may have just helped restore confidence to the masses.
Boxing is, as we discuss so often in this space, stories. It is the events leading up to and directly following the fight that endure in history, often far more than the nuts and bolts of the fight itself. It is the mindset and stories of the athletes involved that help us put their actions in the ring into perspective, and ultimately into historical context. Who they are, where they have been and what it all means. These are the questions we ask as these stories unfold.
And as beleaguered and exhausted storytellers, you could hardly ask for better characters at a better time than Usyk and Joshua.
Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) is what sad children see in their nightmares: a globetrotting maniac with gaping teeth walking from country to country, picking up scalps and belts while spitting in the face of death and laughing along the way. Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) is what casting agents see in their wet dreams: tall and muscular with movie star looks and an affable British delivery that seems to be read from cue cards all the time. . Usyk, the invading warchief, once again enters foreign territory, where the golden child awaits him with an entire nation behind him. This is good shit, folks.
As Usyk and Johsua entered the ring at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on a DAZN televised card this Saturday, the only thing on everyone’s mind was the size disparity between the two fighters. Well, that and alcohol. Did I mention it was in England?
Usyk has spent the majority of his career battling the 200-pound cruising weight limit, where his resume speaks of himself as one of the greatest in the history of the sport, behind perhaps only Evander Holyfield. Making only his third heavyweight appearance, many felt his smaller body wouldn’t stand up to Joshua’s massive 6 ‘6 “, 240 lbs. Physique. Even at 6’ 3” himself and with a reach of 78 inches, Usyk is a near dwarf compared to today’s heavyweight mammoths. Joshua, in theory, would use his size and reach to keep Usyk on the outside, and when the time is right, he’ll put every ounce of his weight behind his thundering right hand.
Here’s the thing though; Joshua just doesn’t fight like that. He does not use his physical gifts to his advantage in a way that would benefit him against smaller men. Anyone who thought Joshua’s height would be Usyk’s Achilles heel forgot about Andy Ruiz or was ultimately banned from boxing for asking for Butterbean nudes. If none of the above describes you, you’ll remember Ruiz crushing Joshua in June 2019, inflicting the Briton his first career loss. Ruiz did so with a reach of 74 inches and a listed height of 6ft 2in, which, yes, maybe if he wore high heels and stood on a phone book. Either way, both numbers are significantly lower than Usyk’s.
Usyk’s success against Joshua was never going to come down to sizable advantages or deficits among the fighters. It was always going to be a matter of the brain. Usyk has them in spades, and that doesn’t even count those he’s pulled out of student brains in a series of botched medical experiments.
When the bell rang for the first round the first thing we noticed was that the size advantage for Joshua was not as big as we have been led to believe. With his broad shoulders and compact torso, Usyk has an imposing figure in its own right. As the round progressed Usyk began to drop his signature straight to the left which would be his punch for the rest of the night.
Usyk showed no fear of Joshua’s power and really didn’t need it. Joshua is a murderous finisher but tends to keep his gun in his holster until his target is dead on his porch. As Joshua waited, Usyk snuck out the side door and put him back together with quick punches and devious hooks to the body.
Rather, the tactical shift in Joshua’s favor that many predicted was starting to feel like target training for his maniacal Ukrainian opponent. In the third round, Usyk landed a massive left that staggered Joshua and his legs were shaking like Chris Arreola’s plumber on Super Bowl Sunday.
Joshua started to find his rhythm in the middle of the laps and was able to keep Usyk at bay. When he finally found a home for his much-vaunted right hand, Usyk’s chin came for him. As both fighters started to show signs of wear, it was Joshua who seemed to be catching up.
Usyk hit the gas again in the Championship rounds and had all kinds of trouble for Joshua. In the dying seconds of the fight, Usyk fired a barrage of gunfire that pushed Joshua onto the ropes and gave him one of those “Uh oh, I’m fucked up” smiles that all fighters do when they’re in trouble. . He would eventually make it to the final bell, but the result of the fight was written all over his face. Exhausted and dejected, Joshua sat down on his stool and awaited his fate.
To those watching, the result seemed obvious, but as everyone knows you basically have to shoot someone, set them on fire and bury their corpse under an active volcano to make a decision in the UK, there was still still a little bit of intrigue as the scores have been read.
To their credit, the judges were right with scores of 117-112, 116-112, 115-113, all in favor of Usyk. I hope someday I will set the bar low enough that the simple fact of not screwing up on a large scale and performing the bare minimum of my duties earns me praise and praise around the world. . You know, like a boxing judge?
Either way, Usyk has claimed his place at the top of the heavyweight division and a shit of belts that once belonged to Joshua in the process. I don’t know which ones because I’m not a psychopath. Look for it if you want to know. I do not.
With the victory, Usyk also punched his Hall of Fame ticket and secured his place in boxing lore. The details of the fight will be forgotten with time but the story is already part of the heavyweight legend.
Oleksandr Usyk, the mad-eyed nomad entering the king’s house and stealing his crown. Both general and buffoon, he is now a conqueror. A giant slayer.
Sure, this is all too romantic, purple prose bullshit, but all the stories are to some extent. How we tell them is as important as the details themselves.
Those who were there in the arena and those watching at home will all tell the story differently and with varying degrees of accuracy. But the end will always be the same.
Oleksandr Usyk, fighter at the heaviest weight of his career against the greatest opponent of his life, walking away with his hand raised in victory and a gaping smile on his face.
What a night.
What a story.
(Photo: Oleksandr Usyk, right, celebrates his victory over Anthony Joshua, left; Going through)