KING ABDULLAH SPORTS CITY, Saudi Arabia — Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk retained his world heavyweight titles with a split decision win over Anthony Joshua on Saturday in a rematch in Saudi Arabia that was closer than last year’s first fight.
Both fighters held up the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag as the judges’ scores were read out at King Abdullah Sport City arena near Jeddah. When he was declared the winner, Usyk hid his face behind the flag.
The 35-year-old Usyk kept his WBA, WBO and IBF belts six months after serving in the Ukrainian army as part of the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion.
Encouraged by a pre-fight message from Ukraine’s president, Usyk carried the weight of a war-torn nation in a fight that was on free-to-air TV in his native country and he had to weather a sustained body attack from an improved Joshua to secure the win.
Both boxers looked exhausted at the final bell. Usyk fell to the canvas and looked to the sky and was soon joined there by Joshua, who embraced his opponent and appeared to offer his help to the plight of Ukraine.
In an expletive-laden speech inside the ring, Joshua praised Usyk for fighting so well in the circumstances.
Usyk also claimed the Ring Magazine belt with the win. There’s only one heavyweight title that Usyk doesn’t own — the WBC one that was vacated this year by Tyson Fury, who says he is retired.
When asked about Fury, Usyk said: “I am sure Tyson Fury is not retired yet. I am sure Tyson Fury wants to fight me. If I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”
Two judges gave it to Usyk, one 115-113 and the other 116-112. The other gave the fight to Joshua, 115-113.
Joshua, a two-time heavyweight champion, fell to his third loss in 27 fights and his career is at a crossroads.
Where Usyk goes from now appears to depend on Fury.