Anthony Joshua’s boxing world was turned upside down in north London late on Saturday night in front of nearly 70,000 devoted fans.
Joshua was finished at the end, in pain, lucky to hear the last bell, barely on his feet, both eyes damaged, his nose bleeding and his world heavyweight title belts gone long before the official verdict. He was still throwing punches and never forget that.
In the late-night analysis of a fight gone horribly wrong, on a night so heavily stacked in his favour, it will not be the final scores that condemn him. Joshua had the height, the reach, the weight advantages, but Oleksandr Usyk still so easily caught, hurt and dominated him in just about every one of the twelve rounds. It was gripping to watch, unbearable at times, a delight.
Usyk was quite brilliant, punch perfect, his feet a dream, his judgement deadly, his desire simply overwhelming. He made a difficult fight look simple and left Joshua chasing fast shadows in every round. And Joshua simply never chased hard enough, he seemed hesitant, seemed to doubt his own power and convictions.
Joshua was the victim of a severe boxing lesson in a fight for three of the four heavyweight belts. It was both a privilege and deeply disappointing to witness from ten feet away; Usyk was magical, Joshua was too easily beaten. The summary might seem harsh and it is meant to be on what had been a joyous day.
The boys – and it is mostly boys and men – had swarmed the High Street in Tottenham, created a late-afternoon party as they trundled and laughed and walked to their seats; they looked good, the boys in their summer clothes, but a few hours later they left the glorious, neon walls of the stadium in shock and bewilderment. Joshua, at the last bell, shared their look. And he was hurt.
Usyk had promised a boxing lesson; Joshua was warned not to follow Usyk’s pattern, not to be hypnotised by Usyk’s mesmerising moves. Joshua might have listened, but once the first bell sounded and the noise had dropped slightly and thousands of lights from phones dimmed, Usyk waved his wondrous fists and Joshua was lost inside a damaging spell. His loyal trainer, Robert McCracken, spent each break between rounds trying to break the spell.
“I lost to the better man, I want the rematch,” said Joshua. It was first uttered, according to the promoter, Eddie Hearn, before Joshua had left the tunnel on the way back to his dressing room. At ringside, I was thinking rematch from about round three; the night went wrong so early and stayed wrong. Joshua was easily beaten.
Joshua was hurt several times, showed tremendous courage in the last round, but just never looked comfortable. Usyk found his rhythm early, read Joshua’s movements and was never once caught cleanly at any point in the twelve rounds. Usyk took the real sting from most shots, blocked, parried or avoided the others. Sure, it was masterful, but Joshua helped him look so good.
The ring was still packed with Usyk’s celebrating party when the post-mortems started at ringside and in the tunnels under the stands; the search for reasons, the creation of excuses, the rights and wrongs and schemes for future fights. Joshua offered nothing to excuse his performance and that is his raw honesty: “I got beat, next time I will win, I will be back in the gym next week.” Usyk, incidentally, had insisted on a rematch – he knew how much that fight would be worth long before the first bell on Saturday. Usyk made plans when plenty of others had their own ideas and agendas.
Elsewhere in the heavyweight world there is Tyson Fury and his unfinished business with Deontay Wilder next month in Las Vegas. Fury’s business with Joshua, a fight signed and sealed back in May, might be gone forever. There is also a man called Joe Joyce – a loser as an amateur to both Joshua and Usyk – and he is the WBO’s leading contender and will push for a crack at Usyk. Dillian Whyte is another figure in the reckoning and he is long, long overdue a world title fight.
In short, a rematch for the three belts will take an awful lot of diplomacy and common sense and cash; the three are seldom united in the boxing game. What a business; there was serious talk of stripping Usyk of one or more of his belts long before the stadium was cleared. A few years ago, Tyson Fury was having breakfast, less than 12 hours after beating Wladimir Klitschko, when he lost one of his three belts before his poached eggs arrived.
Joshua will now have to do some serious thinking and personal analysis, the type without pseudoscience attached, and discover what went wrong; Usyk is good, but he is not a marvel. Joshua had a very bad night. He will need to ask himself why? He will have to ignore the suggested reasons from others for his failings in the ring and then he will have to get his head right for the fight of his life. He will start as a massive underdog and his journey back will start this week. Can you imagine if Joshua beats him? It will be the greatest act of revenge in British boxing history. I like that.
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