LONDON — Oleksandr Usyk had already proved his credentials as a truly special fighter during a phenomenal two-year run to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion.
But in toppling Anthony Joshua to become the IBF, WBO and WBA heavyweight champion of the world Saturday night, he emerged as a genuine generational talent.
Usyk joins only Evander Holyfield and David Haye in winning world titles both at cruiserweight and heavyweight, and this was a victory that could hold its own in any era.
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In front of more than 65,000 of Joshua’s fans, who crammed inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Usyk put on a boxing clinic to claim a richly deserved unanimous decision (117-112, 116-112 & 115-113). He now has a legitimate claim to be the planet’s No.1 pound-for-pound fighter.
Mexico’s three-weight world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is widely considered the top of that hypothetical list by virtue of his success across those divisions in his 59 professional contests.
But so good is Usyk’s 19-fight resume — plus the fact he has won all of his world title fights on the road — means that he belongs in the conversation alongside the brilliant Mexican.
Oleksandr Usyk’s world title fights
One argument that holds a lot of weight when it comes to deciding which man is No. 1 is that this victory in England’s capital is as good as, if not better than, any one of Canelo’s wins.
Eddie Hearn, the promoter of the show, said: “Personally I’d put him at two, after Canelo. When he was at cruiserweight everyone called him a top five pound-for-pound, but he went up to heavyweight and he went off people’s radars. But after that win he has to be right up there on everyone’s list.
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“Look at his resume, all these guys on the road, it’s unbelievable. Maybe we should have swerved him and put the belt in the bin, but that’s not what AJ is about.”
Usyk, meanwhile, has little interest in assessing his position amongst his peers. “I just want to live,” he said afterwards, in the press conference room in the bowels of the Tottenham stadium.
“I want to take my kids to school, I want to plant trees, water the apple trees and see my wife more often. I spent three months in training camp, I wish I could spend more time with my wife.
“I just want to live — I really don’t care what the critics say.
“There will always be people criticizing. I know what I am doing. If I am running I don’t stop until I stop. If I’m swimming I’m not stopping until I nearly drown.
“I am working very hard so I really don’t care what people say or think about me.”
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On his performance, Usyk smiled: “My plan was to walk in, to see, in the 12th round they told me to put some speed on, and then they said ‘and the new’.
“That was the plan and that is what I did.”