Usyk beats Fury by split decision; now undisputed champ

Published 8:39 pm Saturday, May 18, 2024

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Oleksandr Usyk defeated Tyson Fury by split decision on Sunday to become the first undisputed heavyweight boxing champion in 24 years.

Usyk (22-0) added Fury’s WBC title to his own WBA, IBF and WBO belts with a spectacular late rally highlighted by a ninth-round knockdown in a back-and-forth bout between two previously unbeaten heavyweight champs. Two judges favored Usyk, 115-112 and 114-113, while the third gave it to Fury, 114-113.

“It’s a great time. It’s a great day,” Usyk said.

Email newsletter signup

Usyk started quickly, but then had to survive while the confident, charismatic Fury dominated the middle rounds. Usyk surged in the final rounds, just as the Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist has done so many times in his career, taking control with a dominant eighth and nearly stopping Fury in the ninth.

Usyk hurt Fury (34-1-1) with a left hand and eventually sent him sprawling into a corner in the final seconds of the round, getting credit for a knockdown right before Fury was saved by the bell. Fury struggled to mount a consistent attack after nearly getting stopped, and the knockdown turned out to be the decisive factor in the decision.

“Thank you so much to my team,” Usyk said while fighting back tears in the ring. ”It’s a big opportunity for me, for my family, for my country. Slava Ukraini!”

Fury kissed Usyk on the head after the final bell. Fury also said he wants the rematch in October.

“I believe I won that fight,” Fury said. “I believe he won a few of the rounds, but I won the majority of them, and I believe it was one of those what-can-you-do, one of them … decisions in boxing. We both put on a good fight, best we can do.

“You know, his country is at war, so people are siding with a country at war. But make no mistake, I won that fight, in my opinion, and I’ll be back. I’ve got a rematch clause.”

The 37-year-old Usyk is the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis held the honor for five months in 1999 and 2000. He is also now the lineal heavyweight champion by beating Fury, who beat Wladimir Klitschko to earn that distinction in 2015.

Usyk is 6 inches shorter than the 6-foot-9 Fury, and he weighed in 30 pounds lighter than the hulking British star this week. The size difference didn’t matter to Usyk, who has used his athleticism and skill to counter every challenge he has faced since moving up from cruiserweight to heavyweight in 2019.

Usyk upset Anthony Joshua to win three title belts in 2021, and he kept them through two defenses while angling for the ultimate payday of a fight against Fury in Saudi Arabia.

Usyk landed 41% of his 407 punches, while Fury landed just 31.7% of his 496 punches, according to CompuBox statistics. Usyk both threw (260 to 210) and landed (122 to 95) more power punches.

Usyk has now joined the elite club of fighters who held every major world championship belt at heavyweight — and he is the first to do it in the four-belt era, which began in 2007. The list of undisputed champions includes Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson.

The most recent undisputed heavyweight champ was Lewis, who beat Evander Holyfield in late 1999 and enjoyed a five-month reign. He soon lost a title because of the territorial squabbles that have beset boxing for the past quarter-century and routinely prevented the biggest fights from happening.

Fury and Usyk both asked for this matchup, and they finally got together in the ring largely because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia, which made the financial rewards simply too great for the fighters’ typically recalcitrant promoters and the sanctioning bodies to reject. Fury will reportedly make more than $100 million for the bout.

To reach the lucrative Western pay-per-view audience, the bout didn’t begin until 1:45 a.m. on Sunday morning at Kingdom Arena.

Usyk was aggressive from the opening bell, repeatedly getting inside his taller opponent’s defenses to land body shots. Fury was his usual carefree self, even putting both arms on the ropes in a corner and pretending to dodge punches when Usyk advanced.

But Fury picked up his attack from the third round, working his size advantage and his typically unpredictable movement to throw right hands behind his sharp jab. Fury appeared to hurt Usyk with body shots right at the belt, and he rocked Usyk twice in the sixth with vicious uppercuts.

Usyk rallied, bloodying Fury’s nose and face with a left hand. Usyk then punished Fury in the ninth, hitting him with another concussive left before battering the British star around the ring. Fury sagged into a corner while barely staying on his feet with about 10 seconds left in the round.

The referee could have stopped the fight, but he ordered Usyk away for a standing 8-count interrupted by the bell.

On the undercard at Kingdom Arena, Australia’s Jai Opetaia retained his IBF cruiserweight title with a clear unanimous decision over Mairis Briedis. Ireland’s Anthony Cacace also claimed the IBF super featherweight title when he stopped Joe Cordina in the eighth round.

Earlier, 41-year-old former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev returned to the ring for only the second time since 2019 with a decision loss to Sweden’s Robin Sirwan Safar.