Anthony Joshua seemed to sense he needed to do something dramatic when the ninth round of his bout for the unified heavyweight titles with Oleksandr Usyk began in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
And Joshua came out and was blistering Usyk, ripping him with body shots that were savage with their intent. He blasted Usyk with straight right hands and a left hook that had dropped so many opponents before him.
When the 10th round began, Usyk fired off a four-punch combination to start it and was every bit as dominant in the 10th as Joshua had been in the ninth.
The difference was that Usyk continued that dominance over the 11th and 12th, as well. And when the scorecards were read, Usyk had won a split decision to win the heavily hyped rematch and retain his IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight belts.
Judge Glenn Feldman inexplicably scored the bout 115-113 for Joshua. But judge Victor Fesechko had it 116-112 and Steve Gray had it 115-113 for Usyk. Yahoo Sports had Usyk, 116-112.
“What a performance by Okeksandr Usyk,” Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn said. “That 10th round was one of the best I’ve seen. It turned the fight around. What he did in the 10th, 11th and 12th was incredible. That was the difference.”
Joshua lost his titles to Usyk in Tottenham, England, in September, leading to Saturday’s rematch. Joshua made a series of changes, including bringing Robert Garcia to train him.
Joshua was unquestionably better, but Usyk was remarkable. He threw a whopping 712 punches and his head and upper body movement not only helped him slip so many shots from Joshua, but it left him in position to crack Joshua with counter punches.
Joshua raised Usyk’s arm and then wrapped the two of them together in the flag of Usyk’s country, Ukraine. Joshua grabbed the microphone and spoke directly to the crowd, then led cheers for Usyk. He would say, “Hip, hip,” and the crowd responded, “Hooray.”
Usyk’s defense was excellent, though it needed to be. Joshua rocked him several times in the fight. But Usyk managed to avoid so many shots and might well have proven himself the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with that performance.
WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury has the only belt Usyk doesn’t hold. Fury retired in the ring after beating Dillian Whyte in April. He unretired for a couple of days two weeks ago, but said he’s retired again.
Usyk said he wants Fury but that if he doesn’t get Fury, he won’t fight again.
Joshua was much better on Saturday in the rematch, but he happened to go against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Usyk won a split decision to retain the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles, boxing brilliantly and surviving a strong body attack by Joshua.
“I’m sure Tyson Fury is not retired yet and I’m sure he wants to fight me,” Usyk said. “I want to fight him. But if I am not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”