Anthony Joshua's Loss to Oleksandr Usyk Throws Heavyweight Boxing into Chaos

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2021

Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine, left, hits 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 epitaph-carvers can go ahead and get to work.

And as they chip away on the headstone of Anthony Joshua's career, here's a suggestion:

"Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us."

The charismatic British muscleman was in charge of all he surveyed 847 days ago, before encountering one Andy Ruiz Jr. and finding himself slumped on a stool at Madison Square Garden watching an unheralded American slinging four title belts over his shoulders after a seventh-round TKO.

Six months later, though, he made it all go away.

Or so we thought.

Abandoning his power-based style, the 6'6", 240-pound Adonis stayed on the outside the second time around against Ruiz, avoided prolonged exchanges and earned back his empire with a wide decision.

But while the marketing folks at Matchroom Inc. and the production teams at DAZN celebrated the rematch result as a reascension, what it seems to have been was just a stay of professional execution.

Because on Saturday night in London, former undisputed cruiserweight champ Oleksandr Usyk—smaller, lighter and presumably less powerful than his heavyweight opponent—delivered what could be a knockout blow to Joshua's long-term legacy with a clear-cut decision in their IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO title fight before 65,000 fans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

It was a 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 win in the eyes of the judges—and the B/R card agreed with the latter score—but once you got past the shock of what you were seeing, it didn't seem that close.

British heavyweight champion boxer Anthony Joshua leaves the arena after losing to Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk during their heavyweight boxing match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London on September 25, 2021. - Usyk defeated Joshua on points. (

And as Joshua quickly exited the ring without a post-fight interview, he took his aura with him.

Instead of a long-planned showdown with countryman Tyson Fury or an international slugfest with American Deontay Wilder, it's back to the drawing board for now-twice-damaged goods.

And before you make the comparison to Lennox Lewis, don't bother.

Though Lewis did have two title reigns ended by KOs, his losses were more easily dismissed by perfect shots delivered by two powerful punchers in Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, rather than the clear stylistic deficiencies that existed for Joshua against Usyk.

And both of Lewis' losses were also avenged by confident KOs, too, which seems more a stretch for a fighter like Joshua. 

A contractual clause for an immediate rematch that was largely dismissed during fight week as a pro-Usyk gimmick is now a significant issue for Joshua and his team. Shell-shocked promoter Eddie Hearn cited Joshua's competitiveness while insisting after the fight that the option would be exercised, but the goings-on over the previous 36 minutes provided little reason to believe the result would change.

Unlike in the Ruiz fight, where Joshua had dropped his man and was chasing a stoppage when he got clipped, Usyk was the faster, more mobile and more effective fighter from the opening round on.

He landed stinging punches in the initial stages, fended off what passed for a rally in the middle rounds and got back to dominating down the stretch, prompting a swollen, exhausted Joshua to sag against the ropes as the bell rang. Had there been another minute left, the big man looked destined to hit the canvas, and Hearn said afterward he feared his client had suffered damage to his right eye socket.

"There were a couple moments that Anthony pushed me hard," Usyk said, "but nothing special."


Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Adding insult to injury, Hearn grudgingly agreed.

"We talked about overthinking it and getting too technical," he said.

"He tried to do that with arguably one of the top pound-for-pound technical fighters in the world. I thought Usyk had the perfect game plan and credit to him for it. The rematch is very tough. Knowing him, he'll want to get straight back into it. But based on that performance, he'll have to do something different."

As for the future of the heavyweight division, it suddenly looks different, too.

Fury will face Wilder in their arbitrator-mandated trilogy match on October 9 in Las Vegas, exactly 595 days after the Gypsy King hammered the then-champ into a seventh-round corner surrender.

With Joshua again reduced to a bit player, the WBC claimant will have to consider hurdling a less marketable, more dangerous obstacle in Usyk, or reconsider the importance of an undisputed reign.

Usyk would stand four inches shorter and give away five inches in reach to the powerful but fundamentally limited Wilder, and those disadvantages would swell to six inches and seven inches when stacked up next to Fury—who's 30-0-1 as a pro and 5-0-1 with three KOs since a three-year hiatus.

Outside of the title-competing foursome, though, some other men may work into the picture, too.

Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker entered Saturday as the second- and third-ranked contenders behind Usyk, according to the WBO, and could work their way into the picture if Joshua is shelved for a long stretch.

Joyce is 6'6" and has 12 KOs in 13 wins, while the 6'4" Parker is more of a stylist and held the WBO title himself for nearly two years before losing the belt to Joshua in 2018. And sitting at No. 4 is Ruiz, who was denied a chance for his own Joshua trilogy but dropped nearly 30 pounds before beating ex-title challenger Chris Arreola over 12 rounds in his return bout in May.

Either way, it's a whole new ballgame because of Usyk, who, according to former HBO boxing voice Jim Lampley, will be a difficult out no matter who or where he fights.

"A southpaw Joe Frazier," Lampley told Bleacher Report. "And why did [Joshua] fight him anyway? Southpaw, quicker, better skills. What is Eddie Hearn smoking?

"Wouldn't fight [Fury] in England and might not be able to lure him elsewhere. Wilder likely gets outboxed by Usyk, but there would be suspense. Only needs to land one right hand."

Let the reconfigured games begin.