Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk has retained his heavyweight titles after a thrilling rematch with Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia.
Usyk won on a split points decision after the pair went the full 12 rounds – 113 to 115, 115 to 113 and 116 to 112.
Until around March, Usyk was fighting on the frontline in Kyiv, but left the war-torn country to focus on his rematch with Joshua.
After the judges’ decision was declared, Joshua threw two of the title belts over the side of the ropes before storming out of the ring.
However, he returned and grabbed the mic, telling the King Abdullah Sports City: “If you knew my story, you would understand the passion.
“I ain’t no amateur boxer from five-years-old that was an elite prospect from youth. I was going to jail, I got bail and I started training my a*** off, I wanted to be able to fight.
“This guy beat me tonight, maybe I could have done better, but it shows the level of hard work I put in, so please give him a round of applause as our heavyweight champion of the world.”
The pair also briefly posed with the Ukrainian flag in a stand of solidarity in defiance of Russia’s ongoing assault in the country.
‘If I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all’
Following his win, Usyk paid tribute to the Ukrainian military, and says that he is only interested in fighting WBC champion Tyson Fury next.
Usyk said: “I did this victory for my country, for all people, militaries who are defending the country. Thank you very, very much.
He added: “I’m sure that Tyson Fury is not retired yet. I’m sure, I’m 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.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered his congratulations to his fellow countryman soon after the bout, tweeting: “Difficult, but so important and necessary VICTORY!
“Defending the title of world champion is a symbol that all those who are of Cossack sort will not give up their own, they will fight for it and will definitely win!”
The rematch in Saudi Arabia, follows their bout last year in London, where Usyk won the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight belts from the British boxer.
Their fight in Jeddah though was a different story, with Joshua giving a far better performance against the Ukrainian compared to that of last year, landing blows and occasionally unloading on Usyk.
But it was Usyk who came out on top, landing more punches on his opponent, with a higher work rate than AJ.
It is not the first time this year the UK has come second to Ukraine in a global event – with the country’s Kalush Orchestra winning the Eurovision Song Contest over Briton Sam Ryder, who was nudged into second place by the public vote – despite coming on top with the national juries. – Skysport