Oleksandr Usyk Stuns Anthony Joshua by Decision, Wins Heavyweight Titles

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2021

Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine, left, throws a punch at Anthony Joshua of Britain during their WBA (Super), WBO and IBF boxing title bout at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

The heavyweight division has a new unified champion, as Oleksandr Usyk put on a brilliant display to upset Anthony Joshua by unanimous decision Saturday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

The judges scored the bout 117-112, 116-112, 115-113, per the DAZN broadcast.

It was the performance of a lifetime for Usyk, who many thought would have a hard time handling Joshua's power. Instead, he flipped the script, staggering the champion several times throughout the fight and pouring it on at the very end of the bout. Here's a look:

DAZN Boxing @DAZNBoxing

What a finale! 💥 #JoshuaUsyk https://t.co/ZMFNunGO7B

Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) now holds the WBO, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles. He's no stranger to hardware, having unified the four major belts at the cruiserweight division in 2018. Now, he's reached the pinnacle in boxing's biggest division.

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and combat sports journalist Ariel Helwani praised the performance from the 34-year-old Ukrainian:

Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani

What a performance, what a win for Usyk. Wow. That was amazing. Watch Wilder win in 2 weeks and screw it all up. Gotta love it.

Damian Lillard @Dame_Lillard

Rematch gone be even tougher for AJ. Usyk gone get more comfortable at this weight and he gone know AJ better… lookin forward to it

For Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs), this is the second time he's lost his collection of heavyweight titles. He was famously knocked out by Andy Ruiz Jr. in December 2019 but came back to beat Ruiz in the rematch. Joshua looked like he was all set to put together a superfight with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but Usyk, a mandatory challenger, had other plans.

Usyk started the fight brightly, using plenty of feints and a twitchy jab to keep Joshua off balance. his best punch in the first round was a left hand down the middle that he set up with some twitchy head movement. Joshua kept fighting for control of the center of the ring, pivoting off his right leg and pumping the jab.

ESPN's Mike Coppinger liked what he was seeing from the challenger out of the gate:

Mike Coppinger @MikeCoppinger

Round 2: Usyk applying nonstop pressure and it’s clearly the right strategy. Lots of feints from both men. High-speed chess match so far. Joshua, despite being the bigger man, not able to assert himself. No inside fighting yet. No leaning from AJ. 10-9, Usyk. 20-18, Usyk

Usyk's frenetic pace and accuracy started to pay dividends in the third round. He landed a couple of hard left hands up the middle in the first couple of minutes of the frame, then wobbled Joshua at the end of the round with an overhand left.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

USYK ISN’T AFRAID 😳 #JoshuaUsyk https://t.co/OEcByTQ2lb

After a brief stumble to start the fourth, Joshua appeared to get his legs back under him. He also did a better job of reading his opponent and getting his timing down after looking mesmerized for three-plus rounds. 

The fifth and sixth rounds saw Joshua find some success by going to the body with the right hand. It forced the smaller Usyk to think more before setting up his combinations and created some much-needed breathing room for Joshua.

Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix felt it was a good response from AJ:

Chris Mannix @SIChrisMannix

Terrific response from AJ, who has picked up the pace in the middle rounds. Usyk moving just a little slower now. AJ starting to land the bigger shots. Good fight.

After letting Joshua take control for a couple of rounds, Usyk stormed back in the seventh. He sent Joshua stumbling backward on a straight left early on, then kept the pressure on for the remainder of the round. Every time Joshua looked like he might be in a position to start bullying Usyk, the latter made the necessary corrections. 

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Usyk having his way 👀 #JoshuaUsyk https://t.co/srMGlZwFYM

Joshua was still dishing out his own punishment, and both fighters' faces showed the toll of the fight in the 10th round. Usyk had developed a nasty cut over his right eye, while Joshua's own right eye was nearly swollen shut.

In the final rounds, when Joshua clearly needed a big punch, Usyk delivered some of his best work of the fight. He walked down the bigger man, throwing massive punches that again staggered Joshua. The final flurry in the last seconds had Joshua on the ropes. Only the final bell saved him. It was the perfect capstone to a brilliant night of work that saw him deservedly win three heavyweight belts.

The outcome came as a surprise to many, but not to Usyk himself. He knew he had the goods, per TalkSport's Michael Benson:

Michael Benson @MichaelBensonn

Oleksandr Usyk: "The fight went the way I expected it to go. There were a couple of moments where Anthony Joshua pushed me hard, but just nothing special."

Usyk will have to wait and see if Joshua exercises his rematch clause. Joshua will be disappointed, but there were a few bright spots for him in this match and he remains dangerous. If the rematch doesn't happen, Usyk could now be set up to take on the winner of the Fury-Deontay Wilder matchup, which is set for Oct. 9.