Updated May 19th, 2024 at 11:12 IST

Usyk defeats Fury by split decision, becoming 1st undisputed heavyweight boxing champion in 24 years

Usyk’s heart and skill are enormous, and he overcame a major size disadvantage against Tyson Fury to become the world’s first undisputed heavyweight boxing champion in 24 years.

Oleksandr Usyk beats Tyson Fury | Image:AP
Advertisement

Oleksandr Usyk has been shorter, lighter and older than all of his opponents since he moved up to the heavyweight division.

Usyk’s heart and skill are enormous, and he overcame a major size disadvantage against Tyson Fury to become the world’s first undisputed heavyweight boxing champion in 24 years.

Advertisement

Usyk defeated Fury by split decision on Sunday, knocking down his hulking opponent in the ninth round and eventually earning a narrow win on two scorecards. The 37-year-old Ukrainian is the first heavyweight to hold every major title belt since Lennox Lewis.

Usyk (22-0) added Fury’s WBC title to his own WBA, IBF and WBO belts with a spectacular late-round rally in a back-and-forth matchup between two previously unbeaten champions from a strong era of heavyweight boxing. Two judges favored Usyk, 115-112 and 114-113, while the third gave it to Fury, 114-113.

Advertisement

“It’s a great time. It’s a great day,” said Usyk, who is 6 inches shorter than Fury and weighed in 30 pounds lighter this week.

Usyk started quickly, but then had to survive while the confident, charismatic Fury dominated the middle rounds. Usyk surged in the final rounds, just as the Olympic gold medalist has done so many times in his career, taking control with a dominant eighth and nearly stopping Fury in the ninth.

Advertisement

Usyk hurt the 6-foot-9 Fury (34-1-1) with a left hand and eventually sent him sprawling into a corner in the final seconds of the round, getting credit for a knockdown right before Fury was saved by the bell. Fury struggled to mount a consistent attack after nearly getting stopped, and the knockdown turned out to be the decisive factor in the decision.

“Thank you so much to my team,” Usyk said while fighting back tears in the ring. ”It’s a big opportunity for me, for my family, for my country. Slava Ukraini!”

Advertisement

Fury kissed Usyk on the head after the final bell, and Usyk hugged Fury several moments after the decision was read. Fury also said he wants the rematch in October.

“I believe I won that fight,” Fury said. “I believe he won a few of the rounds, but I won the majority of them, and I believe it was one of those what-can-you-do, one of them ... decisions in boxing. We both put on a good fight, best we can do.

Advertisement

“You know, his country is at war, so people are siding with a country at war. But make no mistake, I won that fight, in my opinion, and I’ll be back. I’ve got a rematch clause.”

Usyk is the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis held the honor for five months in 1999 and 2000. He is also now the lineal heavyweight champion by beating Fury, who beat Wladimir Klitschko to earn that distinction in 2015.

Advertisement

After moving up from cruiserweight, Usyk upset Anthony Joshua to win three title belts in 2021. He kept them through a rematch and another defense while angling for the ultimate payday of a fight against Fury in Saudi Arabia.

Usyk landed 41% of his 407 punches, while Fury landed just 31.7% of his 496 punches, according to CompuBox statistics. Usyk both threw (260 to 210) and landed (122 to 95) more power punches.

Advertisement

Usyk has now joined the elite club of fighters who held every major world championship belt at heavyweight — and he is the first to do it in the four-belt era, which began in 2007. The list of undisputed champions includes Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson.

The most recent undisputed heavyweight champ was Lewis, who beat Evander Holyfield in late 1999 and enjoyed a five-month reign. He soon lost a title because of the territorial squabbles that have beset boxing for the past quarter-century and routinely prevented the biggest fights from happening.

Advertisement

Fury and Usyk both asked for this matchup, and they finally got together in the ring largely because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia, which made the financial rewards simply too great for the fighters’ typically recalcitrant promoters and the sanctioning bodies to reject. Fury will reportedly make more than $100 million for the bout.

To reach the lucrative Western pay-per-view audience, the bout didn’t begin until 1:45 a.m. on Sunday morning at Kingdom Arena.

Advertisement

Usyk was aggressive from the opening bell, repeatedly getting inside his taller opponent’s defenses to land body shots. Fury was his usual carefree self, even putting both arms on the ropes in a corner and pretending to dodge punches when Usyk advanced.

But Fury picked up his attack from the third round, working his size advantage and his typically unpredictable movement to throw right hands behind his sharp jab. Fury appeared to hurt Usyk with body shots right at the belt, and he rocked Usyk twice in the sixth with vicious uppercuts.

Advertisement

Usyk rallied, bloodying Fury’s nose and face with a left hand. Usyk then punished Fury in the ninth, hitting him with another concussive left before battering the British star around the ring. Fury sagged into a corner while barely staying on his feet with about 10 seconds left in the round.

Referee Mark Nelson could have stopped the fight, but he ordered Usyk away for a standing count interrupted by the bell.

Advertisement

On the undercard at Kingdom Arena, Australia’s Jai Opetaia retained his IBF cruiserweight title with a clear unanimous decision over Mairis Briedis. Ireland’s Anthony Cacace also claimed the IBF super featherweight title when he stopped Joe Cordina in the eighth round.

Earlier, 41-year-old former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev returned to the ring for only the second time since 2019 with a decision loss to Sweden’s Robin Sirwan Safar.

Advertisement

Published May 19th, 2024 at 11:12 IST