You’d be forgiven if you’re starting to grow a little weary of hearing ‘Sweet Caroline’ being belted out this year, but at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday night, in front of 60,000 boisterous fight fans, even the most ardent of Neil Diamond detractors would have found it hard not to get goosebumps in the build-up to this battle between two-time heavyweight champion and former undisputed cruiserweight champion.
Though it wasn’t the all-British showdown with Tyson Fury many had hoped for, the feeling that something special might unfold when Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk took to the ring was palpable. And boy, we were certainly not left disappointed.
In an absolutely spellbinding encounter in London, Usyk seized Joshua’s IBF, WBA, and WBO belts after outboxing and outclassing the Brit over twelve rounds in a magnificent display, earning a unanimous decision win on the judge’s scorecards.
The fight started as a chess match, with both men exchanging jabs and feinting often, trying to lure the other into early mistakes. A lot had been made about size ahead of the bout, but in the opening rounds, Usyk gave as good as he got and his left was looking particularly feisty, continually causing problems. None more so than at the end of the third, when the Ukrainian shook him with a huge left that had the Watford fighter seriously hurt.
Joshua started to turn the screw after that early scare, and his heavyweight power started to cause the smaller man problems. A crunching body shot in the fifth earned a huge roar from the crowd, while in the sixth another monster right ostensibly gave Usyk cause for concern.
Although Joshua’s size advantage looked like it was starting to make an impact, Usyk weathered the storm and began to take the fight by the scruff of the neck. ‘The Cat’ boxed beautifully, prodding away with his jab impeccably, and threatened to run away with the fight in the latter stages. His movement was giving Joshua fits.
AJ needed something dramatic, but Usyk has never been stopped or put on the canvas in his professional career so far and the home fighter, whose tank was on the verge of depletion and had suffered a nasty swelling over his right eye, never really looked like he would change that stat. In the final seconds of the twelfth and final round, Usyk was on the verge of stopping Joshua but he was able to stick it out until the bell.
Usyk, who broke into tears when his arms were raised, put in a boxing clinic tonight, staking his claim as boxing’s pound-for-pound champion and it’ll likely go down as one of the most memorable heavyweight fights in recent history. Speaking to Sky Sports after the fight, Usyk said, “This means a lot to me. The fight went exactly the way I expected it to go.
"There was times when Anthony pushed me hard but nothing special. I had no objective to knock him out. My corner pushed me not to do that. My trainer said ‘no’ and to ‘stick to my job.’
"I've been working so hard since January. It took me some half a year. I miss my children. I want to go home. I'm not thinking about the rematch.
"You didn't see the best Usyk. I can be much better."
Joshua, who will almost certainly activate the rematch clause, wasn’t at the races tonight but he’s come back from defeat to reign supreme once before and only a fool would rule him out from doing it again.