Anthony Joshua’s bid to recapture the unified heavyweight titles ended in disappointment as Oleksandr Usyk produced a terrific performance to win by split decision in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
In a clash billed as the Rage on the Red Sea, a spirited Joshua, 32, showed some aggressiveness and intent – a vast improvement from their first fight – but could not match the brilliance and ring savviness of the Ukrainian who improved his record to 20 wins from 20 contests.
Two judges scored the fight 115-113 and 116-112 to Usyk and the third gave it 115-113 to Joshua.
While there were some close rounds, Usyk – in just his fourth bout since moving up from cruiserweight to heavyweight – was the deserved winner.
At the end of the fight, a furious Joshua – quite bizarrely – picked up two of Usyk’s belts, dropped them out of the ring and strode towards the dressing room, before turning round and getting back into the ring to give an impassioned speech.
“Usyk is one hell of a fighter. That’s just emotion,” he said. “If you knew my story, you’d understand the passion. I’m not an amateur boxer. I was going to jail and I got bail and I started training.
Joshua breaks down in his post-fight press conference after loss to Usyk
“It shows the passion we put into this. For this guy to beat me tonight, it shows the levels of hard work he must have put in, so please give him a round of applause as heavyweight champion of world.
“They said that I’m not a 12-round fighter. I ain’t 14 stone, I’m 18 stone, I’m heavy. It’s hard work. This guy here is phenomenal.”
Joshua also went up to Usyk and said to him: “I was studying Ukraine and all the champions from your amazing country. I’ve never been there. What’s happening there, I don’t know but it’s not nice.
“You’re not strong, how did you beat me? Because of skills. I had character and determination.”
He has now suffered back-to-back defeats against Usyk, with the champion retaining the WBA (Super), WBO and IBF titles he won in London last September.
Joshua had some success in the fight – and enjoyed his best round in the ninth, charging Usyk down and unloading a flurry of punches, reminiscent of the AJ of old.
But such is the brilliance of Usyk, he came back fighting in the 10th round and was landing clean blow after blow. Usyk landed a five-punch combination, and Joshua became a sitting duck.
Joshua fatigued and Usyk – who just a few months ago was defending his nation against the Russian invasion – took full advantage in the championship rounds.
“I devote this victory to my family, my country, my team, to all the military defending this country – thank you so much,” he said, before calling out WBC champion Tyson Fury.
“I’m sure that Tyson Fury is not retired yet. I’m convinced he wants to fight me. I want to fight him. If I’m not fighting Fury, I’m not fighting at all.
“Only God knows whether I will fight him or not but all these gentlemen here around me, my team, they are going to help me.”
Fury recently announced his retirement but has until 26 August to decide on whether he will relinquish the belt.
The Gypsy King criticised both fighters on social media, and hinted he may not yet be done with boxing. The carrot of a clash with Usyk – one which would certainly cement the winner’s legacy as an all-time great – is dangling.