Oleksandr Usyk’s victory builds a clear path to the undisputed championship — if Tyson Fury wants it

Oleksandr Usyk proved once again that he is arguably one of the best fighters in the world with a brave win over Anthony Joshua on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to retain his three heavyweight titles.

Now he’s just one belt away from being dubbed the undisputed heavyweight champion – a title unrivaled in the four-belt era. That final strap is, of course, held by Tyson Fury, whose recurring retirement claims seem like a rite of passage for top fighters.

Fury has long called for a heavyweight summit for all four belts and was poised to meet Joshua for the undisputed title last August before an arbitration decision forced a third fight with Deontay Wilder.

But a month before Fury scored a second consecutive KO against his rival, Joshua was turned upside down by his mandatory challenger Usyk, sending plans for the undisputed title shot up in smoke.

In April, while Joshua was preparing for the rematch against Usyk, Fury defeated Dillian Whyte and immediately announced his retirement. But earlier this month, Fury surprisingly claimed that he would end his retirement with a third fight against Derek Chisora.

Of course, this is a fight of minimal interest and Fury was quick to dismiss the potential matchup to “retire” again.

Usyk left little doubt about his intentions after defeating Joshua, standing in the center of the ring and firing his shot.

“I’m sure Tyson Fury isn’t eliminated yet,” Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs) said after the fight in the ring. “I’m sure. I am convinced that he wants to fight me. I want to fight him. And if I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”

In fact, Fury replied minutes later in an Instagram video.

“I will destroy them both in the same night,” he said, referring to Usyk and Joshua. “Pull out your damn checkbook because ‘The Gypsy King’ will stay forever!”

And that’s all music to the ears of boxing fans who have long reveled in the opportunity to see Usyk test against a much taller man who is at the same level of boxing ability. Sure, Joshua is a tall man at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, but Fury is 6-foot-9, 270-plus pounds and possesses the kind of jab and footwork that sets him apart from his compatriot Joshua and most others Fighters makes a difference in sport.

“I want to fight him. And if I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”

Oleksandr Usyk

Joshua (24-3, 22 KOs) fared better in the rematch after being nearly stopped by Usyk, 35, in their first meeting in September. But Joshua isn’t a flowing, natural boxer like Usyk. Anger is natural, and a clash in which the two fight for all four heavyweight belts is a monster sporting event. It’s the kind of event box that far too rarely delivers.

Fury’s promoter Bob Arum told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel on Saturday that Usyk-Fury “won’t be a tough fight” and that the purse split should be 50-50. Maybe only the second part is true, because the bigger the boxing match, the tougher the negotiations.

But this fight makes way too much sense — and money — to fall by the wayside. It’s a clash the Saudis have been waiting for in December and just last year they were willing to shell out around $155m for an undisputed title match between Fury and Joshua.

The much-anticipated fight between Fury and Joshua may never materialize now, but the consolation prize is something better in this case anyway.

Usyk’s use of angles, movement and a educated jab have made him a conundrum that no opponent could solve. He’s even shown in two fights against Joshua that despite weighing just 220 pounds, he has enough pop on his shots to do a lot of damage.

The way the Ukrainian was able to survive Round 9 – when Joshua injured him in the body and staggered him onto the ropes – proved Usyk has the toughness needed to beat Fury. He rallied with an even more dominant round 10 and also showed the impact resistance necessary to withstand the most dangerous shots.

Of course, there was never any doubt about Usyk’s character. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Usyk quickly took up arms in a territorial defense battalion and served as a beacon of hope for those watching his fight at home after he arranged for the fight to be televised for free.

In the ring, Usyk has proven just as brave. He conquered the 200-pound division before being used as an underdog against Joshua in only his third heavyweight fight. So far he has not met his counterpart.

Use it all together against Fury characters to be Usyk’s ultimate challenge. And while he wasn’t considered a puncher earlier in his career, that reputation has changed after Fury scored two devastating KOs from Wilder.

The 34-year-old Englishman can switch stances seamlessly and his jab is one of the best in boxing. Unlike Joshua, Fury is much more adept at imposing his superior size on enemies. Fury bullied Wilder in his last two bouts, leaning on him in the clinch and pinning him on the ropes, forcing his opponent to fight with all 270lbs of him.

That seems to be the recipe for success against Usyk…if there is one. And nobody is better equipped than Fury. Fury is ESPN’s #1 heavyweight and #5 pound-for-pound boxer. Usyk is one place behind him in both rankings.

Now the boxing business needs to make sure it doesn’t get in its own way. This is a fight we need to see.

https://www.espn.com/boxing/story/_/id/34431845/oleksandr-usyk-victory-anthony-joshua-builds-clear-path-undisputed-championship-tyson-fury-wants-it Oleksandr Usyk’s victory builds a clear path to the undisputed championship — if Tyson Fury wants it

Emma Bowman

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