By: Hans Themistode
Was he ever truly in the conversation? Of course not.
The best heavyweight in the world had ultimately come down to a pair of British natives and an American with a heavy right hand. Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, and Deontay Wilder all looked the part.
Joshua was a Greek God. His body was seemingly made from granite, his good looks made all of the women melt and his propensity for knockouts fit the bill perfectly. Tyson Fury didn’t have all of the hulking muscles. But he had quite possibly the best attribute on his side, reputation. Sure Fury could have an occasional lackluster showing, but with wins over Dereck Chisora, Wladimir Klitschko, and Deontay Wilder – Fury’s placement amongst the best in the world is well warranted.
Although Fury and Joshua stole most of the headlines, former heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder was never forgotten. His physique seemed punitive and his fighting style could be described as both archaic and one track-minded. That said, Wilder holds arguably the most deleterious right hand in boxing history.
It was those three, no one else, who was considered the best that the heavyweight division had to offer. But while they enjoyed the superlative words hurled in their direction and eyed matchups against one another for heavyweight supremacy, Oleksandr Usyk stood quietly in the shadows with a gap-toothed smile.
The Ukrainian has never been viewed as an afterthought. As an amateur, Usyk racked up a record of 335 wins against just 15 losses, making him one of the most accomplished in history. Along the way, Usyk defeated current unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev and current heavyweight contender, Joe Joyce. During the 2012 Olympic Games, Usyk breezed through the competition and found himself posing for pictures as he bit into his gold medal.
Once there was nothing left for him to accomplish in the unpaid ranks, Usyk made a b-line for the pro game. In just his tenth pro fight, he easily outboxed Krzysztof Glowacki for his first world title. Then, he took down the likes of Mairis Briedis, Murat Gassiev and Tony Bellew to wrap up an undisputed cruiserweight title run.
Usyk didn’t immediately make his announcement but we all knew it was coming. A move to heavyweight was inevitable. But once he officially made the jump, no one noticed his entrance. The Ukrainian and pound for pound didn’t stomp into his new weight class. Nor did he grab a microphone and toss around curse-filled threats. No, he didn’t violently kick open the door, he both casually and quietly walked through.
Once inside, Usyk’s gold medal still dangled around his neck, the four major world titles that he snagged while in the cruiserweight division were also sitting across his fairly broad shoulders. Still, no one cared or acknowledged his presence.
Even with a mandated world title shot at his disposal and the opportunity to demand immediate respect, Usyk calmly allowed several to skip him in line. He gladly stood aside and allowed both Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. part two, to take place. He moved to the side again, though involuntarily, as Joshua was forced to accommodate IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev.
Even as Joshua took care of business once more and despite Usyk being guaranteed the next title shot, he openly accepted a backseat again. This time, to allow Joshua to take on Fury in an undisputed showdown. In the meanwhile, Usyk would take on amateur rival Joe Joyce.
Yet, with Deontay Wilder grabbing Fury by the hand and leading him to the dance floor, Joshua was left with defending his crown against Usyk. The game plan was simple, Joshua would placate Usyk by granting him his title shot and immediately leave him comatose on the canvas after a few rounds. Not only was that Joshua’s thought process, as he guaranteed a knockout win, but most believed their showdown would shake out in that exact same manner.
Usyk, of course, paid no attention to it. The Ukrainian continued to flash that same gap-toothed smile and made both media members and fans laugh with a quirky personality and broken English. His common catchphrase was “I’m feel, I’m very feel.” That very line even brought a chuckle to Joshua at times numerous times throughout their fight build-up.
Still, despite his effervescent attitude and accomplishments, Usyk’s time as a heavyweight was on the verge of being labeled a complete failure. After struggling with journeymen Chazz Witherspoon and Dereck Chisora in his first two dips in the heavyweight pool, many believed Usyk was in for a long and painful night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the United Kingdom this past Saturday night.
As the pound-for-pound star sauntered his way to the ring in front of a wildly pro Joshua crowd, his focus stood squarely on sending the masses home apoplectic. After 12 rounds of fairy one-sided action, Usyk did just that.
From the very beginning, Usyk dominated. He easily outboxed and outmaneuvered Joshua while consistently finding a home for his straight left hand. The middle rounds saw the former heavyweight titlist find a bit of his rhythm but it was Usyk who closed the show strong, almost stopping his man before the final bell.
Now, with three of the four major world titles tucked underneath his arm, the once incredulous looks that were glared in the direction of Usyk have turned into looks of worry. Those who doubted him are now sporting a sheepish expression on their face as this wasn’t the outcome many were anticipating.
Regardless of Usyk’s dominant victory, those in boxing circles will still point a confident finger in the direction of the winner of Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury on October 9th, as the heavyweight division’s best fighter. Those assumptions, however, are undoubtedly wrong.
Usyk has never been second best. Not as an amateur, not in the Olympic Games, not as a cruiserweight, and certainly not as a heavyweight either.