In the intermediate aftermath of Anthony Joshua’s latest defeat, television cameras panned into the 67,000 strong crowd.
There were shots of inevitable despondency, gritted teeth, and respectful applause. Joshua himself looked dejected and yet hardly startled. His conqueror, Oleksandr Usyk, appeared satisfied and yet composed, refraining from any kind of elaborate celebration.
The overwhelming mood inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and indeed Joshua’s own camp, appeared one of disappointment – but not surprise.
The images were in keeping with the pre-fight inkling that many had been unable to shake off. It was the outcome that British boxing didn’t want and yet, the one-sided nature of the contest aside, the outcome that the British boxing feared would ring true.
The easy narrative is that Usyk, at the ripe old age of 34, has thrown a grenade into heavyweight boxing. Shattered dreams. Ripped up box office plans. Dispelled the notion of the much-awaited Joshua and Tyson Fury bout, potentially the crowning moment of a stellar era for British heavyweight boxing, ever taking place with both fighters perceived as champions in their prime.
The shrewd analysis, is that an all-time great, ignorantly dismissed by those who cast doubts about his effectiveness in a heavier weight category, simply came to the fore in a manner that has characterised his career.
An amateur career ends in Gold:
Many doubted whether the Ukrainian could move up to heavyweight and be as effective. His amateur record however, shows he was well accustomed to switching divisions long before turning pro.
A decade that yielded 350 fights saw him box at middleweight, light-heavyweight, and heavyweight level, finishing with a record of 335-15.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics ended in a quarter-final defeat, but it was at the Games in London four years later where the world began to take note of a raw talent.
In the heavyweight category, a then 25-year-old Usyk convincingly won gold. The inevitable venture into professional boxing duly followed.
Cruising to early titles:
If 26 was considered late for his professional debut, it didn’t take long for him to make an impression.
In his fifth fight in the the cruiserweight division, Usyk dismantled South African Daniel Brewer to become WBO intercontinental champion.
Five fights after that, and he unanimously out-pointed Poland’s Krzysztof Głowacki in his own back yard to take the WBO cruiserweight belt itself.
His dominance of the division was underlined in in July 2018 when another convincing points win saw off Russian Murat Gassiev, and added the WBC, IBF, WBO, and The Ring cruiserweight titles to his collection.
British boxing takes note after ‘The Bomber’ is blown away:
The Joshua-Fury story isn’t the first British boxing fairytale that Usyk has clinically culled – albeit temporarily.
Despite a pro-record of 15-0, in late 2018 the Ukrainian enjoyed anything but global status. Eight of his fights had been held in Ukraine and a further five in neighbouring European countries. The other two were non-PPV bouts in America.
That changed when he and Tony Bellew clashed in a main event at the Manchester Arena. It was to be Bellew’s last fight, the chance to ride the wave of his David Haye wins and sign off in a blaze of glory.
He started at a frightening tempo, and yet Usyk barely noticed. Head won out over heart as Usyk outboxed ‘The Bomber’ to the point where his exhausted opponent was easy pickings by the time he was knocked out in the eighth round.
It was to be the Ukrainian’s last fight at cruiserweight before moving to heavyweight, stopping Chazz Witherspoon before a second PPV fight, this time with Derek Chisora, where superior footwork and stamina proved too much for the latter to handle.
It was in the aftermath of that win, where Usyk first called out Joshua…
Usyk takes an unexpected opportunity:
Two fights for Usyk at heavyweight level had not been enough to sway Joshua’s intentions of fighting Fury. Intentions of course, which were duly scuppered by the legal wrangling instigated, successfully as it turned out, by Deontay Wilder.
The WBO subsequently ordered Joshua to fight Usyk and for those craving the ultimate British showdown, alarm bells started ringing.
Bellew himself sounded a warning, admitting to still being plagued by Usyk being “everywhere he turned” that night in Manchester. Boxing purists pointed that the superior skills and movement lay with the challenger. Boxing romantics said Joshua’s superior size and power would negate both factors.
It was the purists who were proved emphatically right.
The tools to frighten Fury?
Proof that Joshua himself sensed the size of the hurdle in front of him emerged in the form of a rematch clause. It’s an option the 31-year-old has little choice but to take, in a fight many now believe he has little chance of winning.
Ricky Hatton has already voiced his fears for the British fighter second time around. Wilder, who perhaps should have held fire before lamenting people taking pointless rematches, has said the outcome will be the same. Eddie Hearn has acknowledged his client must go up several notches or the result will be repeated.
Usyk’s ambitions now however, go beyond Joshua.
Should Fury, as expected, overcome Wilder this Saturday night in Las Vegas then Dillian Whyte awaits. A win over Whyte, plus Usyk prevailing second time around with Joshua, and boxing should finally get its glorious unification bout for the world heavyweight titles. Just not the one everyone expected.
Fury thus far has proved too awkward, too good defensively, and too skilled, for Wladimir Klitschko, Wilder, and numerous others. In Usyk, he’d be facing a lesser opponent in stature, but an equal in boxing ability.
It has taken considerable time for the boxing world to truly appreciate the prowess of Usyk. A devout christian, married with three children, he may be one of the more mundane characters in a sport well accustomed to hype and razzmatazz.
And yet, at 34, you sense throwing a few more grenades into the heavyweight division, not to mention British boxing narratives, is not beyond him.