Usyk: From Olympic Gold Medallist to Undisputed Heavyweight Champion

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Oleksander Usyk is the first undisputed heavyweight champion in 25 years

Oleksandr Usyk defeated Tyson Fury in a split decision on Sunday, reaching boxing’s pinnacle as the first undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era. 

Usyk is also the first undisputed champion in 25 years, the last being Lennox Lewis in November 1999 when there were only three recognised world titles.

The Ukrainian champion joins an exclusive list that includes Jack Dempsey, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson.

Usyk has made the journey from Olympic gold medallist to undisputed heavyweight champion within 12 years, from London 2012 to Riyadh in 2024.

After a stellar amateur career that included European, world and Olympic gold, Usyk turned professional and topped the cruiserweight division with 15 professional fights, remaining undisputed champion from 2018-2019.

The six years it took him to become undisputed cruiserweight champion can be compared to the four years it took Muhammad Ali to go from Olympic gold in 1960 to undisputed heavyweight champion in 1964 (in the era of WBA and WBC belts).

Usyk then made the difficult move up to heavyweight, but it has taken him just six fights to become undisputed champion in two weight divisions.

Usyk emulates the great Evander Holyfield, who also became undisputed champion in both divisions before the WBO belt was universally recognised as a world title. 

Sublime footwork, an ability to control the pace of a fight, and high punch output have moulded Usyk into an all-round boxing legend.

Perhaps the 37-year-old’s greatest strength, however, is a calm and measured response to pressure, both in and out of the ring.

Last week, he paid little attention to the antics of his hitherto unbeaten opponent, ‘Gypsy King’ Tyson Fury.

The British showman boxer often wins mind games battles before bouts, but Usyk continued with the obligatory face-off at the pre-match news conference even when Fury refused.

A day later, Usyk stood firm but didn’t kick or scream when a pumped-up Fury shoved him in the chest at the weigh-in.

That emotional intelligence and control carried through to fight night. Fury, having showboated in the first half of the contest, was in full rhythm and stunned his fellow champion with an uppercut in the sixth round, but Usyk did not panic.

The two judges who scored the fight to Usyk gave him rounds eight to 11, but it was the ninth round that was stellar.

Usyk knocked Fury back with several blows before the British boxer was saved by the bell. Another 10 seconds and it could have been over. The shock in the Fury’s face was obvious. 

It was a stunning win, but perhaps not all that surprising. Usyk is a consistent boxer who is driven to win matches, maintaining his work ethic from his Olympic days.

There will be a rematch with Fury in October, but for now Usyk reigns supreme in boxing’s glamour division.

He has taken the WBC belt from Fury, to add to the WBA, WBO and IBF belts he already has. 

“Thank you so much to my team. It’s a big opportunity for my family, for me, for my country. It’s a great time, it’s a great day,” Usyk told the media on Sunday.

“I am ready for a rematch.”

Usyk is yet another reason for keeping boxing in the Olympic Games. For without the sport’s ties with Olympic glory and national pride, where can the champions of the future hope to be nurtured?

Once boxers come through the Olympic qualifications and win medals at the Games, they are then temperamentally ready to consider professional careers. If boxers are exposed to professional opportunities and monetary temptations too early, it may hamper the development of their sparring skills and temperament.

The boxing world would be left much poorer without Olympic boxing.

All eyes are now on the Paris Games, where boxing is included, to spot the next Oleksander Usyk. Hopes are also still alive that boxing may eventually make the list for the Los Angeles Games in four years’ time.

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