Meadowlark Lemon or Curly Neal would have nothing on Oleksandr Usyk, who once again had to travel to a foreign land to win another high-profile bout. His latest conquest came in Jeddah where he pulled away from Anthony Joshua in the championship rounds to retain his heavyweight titles.
In the past several years the nomadic Usyk has won fights in Poland, the United States, Germany, Latvia, Russia, England, and now Saudi Arabia.
Have fight, will travel.
Look it up, nobody has been the globetrotter this guy has been in recent modern day history. Unlike some marquee boxers who are afraid to leave their home zip codes, Usyk is a guy that has never hesitated to ever bring out his passport.
He has so many frequent flyer miles he probably gets upgraded each trip to first class.
Some of this is born out of necessity, given that the boxing market in Ukraine is not that robust, and he started his career as a cruiserweight, which is the proverbial no-mans land of boxing's weight classes. Usyk was always destined to be a road warrior.
But unlike his stablemates Vasiliy Lomachenko and Sergey Kovalev, who carved out lucrative careers in America, Usyk never really had that opportunity given that he was a cruiserweight, and then thrown into the World Boxing Super Series, where he eventually unified the division in fine form.
His run as a heavyweight started off a bit shaky, where quite frankly it took him awhile to get acclimated to boxing at a higher weight versus men who were significantly bigger than he was. But now, he finds himself with the WBC, IBF and WBO belt around his waist.
The fight this weekend was one that was pretty tight and tense for three-quarters of the fight. 'AJ' was actually better than he was last September when they first clashed in the UK. This time around, Joshua made Usyk more uncomfortable as he wasn't so prone to react to his feints and was more consistent in going downstairs.
Joshua had his most dominant round of this rivalry in the ninth, as he visibly hurt Usyk with a series of body shots. In this stanza, size absolutely mattered, and it felt as though the momentum had clearly shifted in this bout. The fight was seemingly in the balance, and you wondered if Usyk would wilt from this pressure.
To the contrary, in the 10th he re-established control of the fight by striking Joshua with a right hook that he never saw, which buzzed him. From there Usyk went on a two-fisted onslaught that had Joshua reeling. He made it out of the round, but the damage was done.
“I mean in the ninth round I ran over (to Joshua’s corner). I thought we had him," said Eddie Hearn, who certainly had a vested interest in this contest. "The 10th round was one of the best rounds I’ve seen to turn a fight — not back around because it was very close at that point — but what Usyk did in the 10th, 11th and the 12th was incredible and that was the difference tonight.”
"Many generations are gonna watch this fight, especially the (10th) round when someone tried to beat me hard but I withstood it and turned it in a different way, thank God,” Usyk said.
Great fighters aren't always great, but they find a way to be just that when they need to be.
That was Usyk on this night in desert, this certainly wasn't his best, but he found a way. Most of the time with him it's about skill, the way he separated himself from Joshua was about his will to win. “I did all this victory for my country, for my family, for my team, for all the military who is defending the country,” said the victorious champion.
Moving forward, there is only one bout that really matters in this division - Usyk and Tyson Fury (who at this moment is un-retired, again). While Usyk is the unified champion, it's the WBC belt-holder that is considered the games best heavyweight. And given his advantages in height and size (coupled with his high boxing IQ), it's a reasonable assessment.
(For the record, Fury wasn't too impressed by what he witnessed on Saturday, "I'll be honest with you guys, after watching that, the both of them were s***e. It was one of the worst heavyweight title fights I've ever seen.". He later surmised: "It was bulls***! I would annihilate both of them on the same night. F***ing s***e. Get your f***ing check book out cause the Gypsy King is here to stay forever!)
With that said, you can't crown Fury the king of the heavyweight division until he gets past this guy. It's that simple. If not, it's just empty rhetoric from 'the Gypsy King'.
At this point for Usyk, it's all-or-nothing for him
“I am convinced he wants to fight me. I want to fight him. And if I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”
SATURDAY NIGHT NOTES
From DAZN in the early afternoon, to the cards on ESPN and Showtime, there was a plethora of prizefighting. Here are some thoughts on what I saw...
- I know many of you had Zhang Zhilei nudging Filip Hrgovic, but I couldn't really disagree with the verdict as I thought that Zhilei simply had too many dead spots in-between the occasions when he stunned Hrgovic. But even in victory, I came away thinking, 'this is the guy that everyone was avoiding for an IBF eliminator?'
- Callum Smith at 175 is a threat. Yeah, I know Mathieu Bauderlique isn't an elite light heavyweight by any means, but you can see that the wiry Smith, who is no longer draining himself to make the 168 pound limit, now has his legs back underneath him and has carried his power up with him to 175.
- I'll say it, the WBA hates Batyr Akhmedov. That is evident after he was on the short end of the stick in losing a split decision to Alberto Puello for their junior welterweight in the Showtime co-main event in Hollywood, Florida. After a tough start, Akhmedov just steadily put the pressure on Puello, and dug to the body. No, this fight wasn't anywhere near a robbery, Puello actually made a good case for himself as the victory.
But two judges Benoit Roussel and Mark Streisand both had it 117-111 for Puello.
Akhmedov never had a chance.
- Brandun Lee won a wide unanimous decision over Will Madera, but was nearly stopped in the third around after eating a huge right hand near the end of that round. This was no 'flash' knockdown, he was badly dazed by that punch. Lee is finding out that as he moves up the ladder, things like tucking in his chin, understanding distance and spacing, are vital for his overall development.
Showtime Sports, Esther Lin
- Omar Figueroa announced his retirement after getting thrashed over eight rounds by Sergey Lipinets. Figueroa never truly understood that his youth and physical prime were fleeting and to be protected. He lived an undisciplined lifestyle as a fighter that aged him prematurely. Combined with a physical style inside the ring, this wasn't too much of a surprise.
Showtime Sports, Esther Lin
- Speaking of which, Emanuel Navarette was getting all he could handle from Eduardo Baez, who for five rounds was the far superior guy at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego. Navarrete, who's as fundamentally flawed as any world champion, was really struggling in there. He looked lethargic and even more uncoordinated than usual.
But a single left hook to the body, ended the night suddenly for Baez.
Perhaps it was his long layoff (Naverrete's last outing was in October) or more alarmingly, his lifestyle in-between bouts. As the aforementioned Figueroa found out, this game has a way of finding out the truth about boxers in the most uncompromising of ways.
Ruben Torres was getting all he could handle from the tricky Cristian Baez, but he ended things suddenly as he basically did a Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz-like left hook. Yeah, you could argue it wasn't sportsmanlike, but it was still very legal....The bout between WBA light heavyweight champion, Dmitry Bivol and Gilerto Ramirez is a done deal for Nov. 5 per Eddie Hearn and the WBA, and will take place in the Middle East(buzzkill).....Floyd Schofield, who is now with Golden Boy Promotions, will headline their Oct 20 'Fight Night' card in Indio, California....I am now getting ready for 'Week O' in college football....I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.....