As Anthony Joshua made a hasty retreat from the ring at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the look on his face was total shock. Joshua has loved the idea that he is learning about boxing as he goes. But on this night he was shown up as a lost student, Oleksandr Usyk was the master and walked away with the WBA, IBO, WBO, IBF world titles.
Usyk could not have handed out a better lesson in the sweet science. Joshua’s power and strength found their Kryptonite in Usyk, who buzzed around him all evening, beating him to the punch and had him throwing punches at thin air. Size doesn’t always matter.
Joshua has a rematch clause. With all thought of a fight for the undisputed title off the table, there will be a lot of studying needed before he considers getting in the ring with him again.
The champion did have some moments. There were moments went Joshua looked like he was landing some solid shots and might pull it out of the fire. But when Usyk had to adjust, he did. He was always a step ahead.
The decision was unanimous. Victor Fesechenko had it 117-112, Steve Weisfeld 116- 112 and Howard Foster 115-113.
Usyk, a former undisputed cruiserweight champion, joins a short list of boxers who have moved up in weight to claim the heavyweight title. It was not far off a century between Bob Fitzsimmons and Michael Spinks doing it. Since then Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer, Roy Jones Jr and David Haye managed it. None looked better than Usyk.
The pair won Olympic gold medals a year apart in 2012, but there looked light years of difference in ring education.
Usyk represented more than his achievements, he is the sort of clever boxing brain that enables him to perform under the greatest pressure. Against Joshua, he knew there would be tricky moments, but those had to be withstood if he was going to find his opportunities.
Some had expected Joshua to come out blasting, but in two fights since his loss to Andy Ruiz Jr he had appeared more circumspect and that saw him trail early as Usyk picked him off.
Usyk began quickly, popping a straight left and right jab through Joshua’s guard as the champion tried to find range with his jab. Then Usyk got back with another, harder, left, although Joshua came back moments later with a right on the top of Usyk’s head.
The Ukrainian seemed to be controlling things, showing plenty of upper body movement and leading off while Joshua prodded out a jab that was well short of its target and cocked the right. One Joshua right partially landed and drew a cheer, on hit a glove and did not.
There was another solid right landed by Usyk early in the fourth. Joshua seemed to be in a fast fencing match he neither expected nor wanted and when he threw a slow right hand, Usyk counted with a hard left hook, forcing him to hold, although Joshua came back with a right on the bell.
The fifth was again cagey, although possibly Joshua’s best round so far as he got through with a decent right.
The champion was starting to land cleaner shots in the sixth round, as one right had Usyk readjusting his gumshield before a solid right rocked him back on his heels and backtracking. They exchanged big shots in the seventh round, before Joshua stumbled backwards after being caught by a left.
In the eighth, Joshua looked more comfortable and landed a series of body shots, but in the ninth Ustk landed a good left before Joshua came back with a hard right that forced Usyk to hold.
But Usyk was still busy, still strong and while he wasn’t really threatening to knock Joshua out, he was scoring, while Joshua’s nose was looking a mess from Usyk’s peppering punches.
Joshua tried to punch his way out of trouble in the eleventh, but he was made to hold when Usyk backed him into a corner.
Usyk began the last like he wanted to put an exclamation mark on the fight. Joshua was being roared forward by his corner, but it was Usyk landing all the punches. In the final seconds, Joshua finally looked hurt as Usyk finished strong and Joshua fell back into the ropes, trying to avoid the Ukrainian’s final shots.
Joshua raised a fist at the final bell He might just have been happy it was all over.
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.