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Usyk beat Fury.

Why Usyk Beat Fury

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On may 19th, Tyson Fury faced Oleksandr Usyk in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to determine who’d be the first undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world since 1999. After what has been called one of the closest bouts in boxing, Usyk beat Fury by split decision and became the undisputed champion. In this piece, I’ll share some of my thoughts about the fight and its outcome. To see my pre-fight thoughts (written a few hours before the fight), click here

The Entrances

Watching both boxers enter the arena, I was struck by the different approaches they took. Usyk marched in with an intense stride and gaze, wearing a Cossack hetman’s uniform and to sounds that sounded either like a Ukrainian folk song or a modern song inspired by Ukrainian folklore. He repeatedly crossed himself and gazed upwards, appealing to God and maybe reaching out to his deceased father in heaven. Fury, on the other hand, waltzed into the arena wearing athletic leisurewear, including a backwards turned baseball cap, to the sounds of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero.” He seemed somehow unserious. Now, I understand that’s the Gypsy King’s style, but immediately it drew a difference between the two fighters. One came in as a warrior, wearing a uniform and appealing to God, his ancestor and his people. The other came in as an entertainer. 

Another small detail which nevertheless underscored the difference. While the Ukrainian anthem played, Usyk sang along with his right hand on his heart. While the UK anthem played, Fury paced around like a caged animal. I understand he’s an Irish Traveller, but that’s just disrespectful. 

Rounds 1-4 | The Noble Art

As round 1 started, it became apparent what each man’s strategy was. Usyk, being the smaller fighter with the shorter reach was hoping to exhaust the much larger Fury. Usyk came out swinging, but he came out swinging accurately and powerfully for Fury’s body. Fury, on the other hand, seemed to go for a combination of disrupting Usyk’s focus through taunting and defensive fighting, overwhelming the smaller man with his size and reach. It was as if Fury realised Usyk would be looking to drain him and sought to provoke the Ukrainian into going in for the kill early on.

Of the two approaches, Usyk’s was simpler, though far harder to implement. It’s theoretically very easy to say “bob and weave around the giant, punching his body to take the air out of him”, but putting this into practice takes a great degree of athleticism and discipline as well as a willingness (and the chin) to take the counter-punches. Fury’s strategy, as it appears, was more complex and relied on a combination of Fury’s ability to get under people’s skin (he certainly got under mine) and the size differential between the two men. However, once it became clear to Fury’s corner that Usyk was not falling for it, they quickly started calling for body shots to take away Usyk’s speed. Fury landed some impressive body shots, but ultimately Usyk’s solid defence and athleticism carried him through these first few rounds. 

The scorecard had Usyk winning rounds 1 and 2, while Fury carried rounds 3 and 4, even inflicting a cut above Usyk’s eye in round 4, which the cornermen quickly closed. However, Fury’s victories in rounds 3 and 4 carried a price. He had to move a lot more and expend a lot of effort to even hit the constantly mobile Usyk. Seeing as he was obviously the slower and less athletic fighter, these would ultimately prove to be pyrrhic victories. 

Rounds 5-7 | Furious Charge

When I said Fury is the slower fighter, that only means he was somewhat slower than Usyk. In the next 3 rounds, Fury demonstrated speed, accuracy and intelligent boxing, while retaining his advantages in strength and reach. Heeding his corner’s advice, he started punching more aggressively, especially with a right to Usyk’s body. The Ukrainian was thrown off his game and clearly lost rounds 5 and 6. He also lost round seven, but in the last 30 seconds, seemed to find his groove and started counterattacking fiercely against Fury. 

Throughout these three rounds, Fury seemed confident and fluid. He had thrown Usyk on the back foot and the Ukrainian seemed hapless at times. If the plan had been to exhaust Fury, it wasn’t working. Usyk was rocked several times in this period and did not make a good showing. In fact, Usyk was fighting almost completely defensively, which led Fury to resume the taunts and clowning from before. Usyk did not take the bait, of course, but the taunting just made Fury appear even more dominant. If he could spare effort on goofing around and still beat Usyk senseless, then it was probably a shoo-in for Gypsy King. 

Of course, in boxing as in life, even the ones that you land take it out of you. The next couple of rounds will show that, as the tide once again turned. 

Rounds 8-9 | Not Yet Sundered is Cossack Strength 

In my studies of Ukrainian folk and patriotic music, I’ve found in almost all songs the theme of overcoming a great foe and coming back from catastrophic ruin. If rounds 5-7 were the catastrophic ruin for Usyk, then the following few were his moment of triumph.

As I mentioned before, in the last 30 seconds of round 7, Usyk had a bit of a comeback. As soon as round 8 started, he was in full form, stalking Fury through the ring and landing blow after blow, often switching between downstairs and upstairs. While the goal was still, obviously, to cut down the big tree with body blows, it seemed Usyk was exploiting gaps in Fury’s defence, slipping in head shots as the big man covered his midsection. It was in the final moments of round 8 that Usyk delivered a devastating blow to Fury, an overhead left which with an audible smack bloodied Fury’s nose and causing a swelling beneath the right eye. Fury immediately acted defensively, hugging Usyk to buy time, dripping a trail of blood on the Ukrainian’s shoulder. The blood was so profuse that it even got on Fury’s gloves as he wiped his face and later on his bald head. As the round ended, I could swear I saw Usyk lick Fury’s blood off his gloves. 

Round 9 is probably the most famous of the whole bout. It’s certainly the most clipped one. It was almost entirely one-sided and consisted of Usyk punching away at Fury, continuing the upstairs-downstairs combos. After catching several of these powerful combos, near the end of the round, Fury was even knocked down, for the eighth time in his career, though he was saved by the bell. It was Usyk’s round. However, I must say that Fury put up an excellent defensive strategy throughout round 9. Whereas in round 8 he was nothing but a target for Usyk, in round 9 he proved more elusive, difficult to nail down. He dodged, he retreated, he leaned against the ropes to absorb the blows and he even counterattacked several times. Usyk finally got him with fewer than ten seconds to go, but for three minutes, the big man managed to survive the Ukrainian’s bloodlust. A lesser boxer would have gone down much earlier in the round and possibly lost by knockout then and there. 

Rounds 10-12 | The Traveller Returns

After the 9th round knockdown, Tyson Fury looked ready to go down. But now reality was setting in for Usyk as well. As we’ve said before, even the ones you land take it out of you and Usyk landed a lot of punches in the previous two rounds. While he still won round 10, it was clear that he was tired, while Fury was biding his time. Once it became clear that Usyk didn’t have enough gas in the tank to knock Fury out, Fury seemed to grow more confident. By round 11, he was giving as good as he was getting it. Of course, he was tired himself at this point, but still, round 11 was probably the closest round of the match, with Usyk apparently winning it by a single punch. 

Round 12 was another close one. Both fighters wanted to ensure victory, so they both gave it their all. Both men were swinging, almost wildly. Fury was the one who had the better showing in round 12. It seemed that he’d finally gotten to Usyk as the Ukrainian seemed to drop his defensive game in the name of scoring more punches, which he did. However, every time Usyk caught Fury, Fury gave back as good as he got and then followed through. Whatever else may be said about Gypsy King, he has a champion’s heart. I’ve heard it said that round 12 should have gone to Usyk, but honestly, I say it could have gone either way while leaning cautiously towards Fury. Usyk got a little reckless and Fury punished him for it.

Victory | “Father, we did it” 

In the end, the fight and the title of undisputed champion went by split decision to Oleksandr Usyk. When asked for comment, Usyk turned his eyes towards heaven and exclaimed in “Father, we did it!” In Ukrainian. He then thanked his team and dedicated his victory to his family, to Jesus and to Ukraine. He concluded with “Slava Ukraini” – Glory to Ukraine, the battle cry of Ukrainian warriors. His entourage gave the by now familiar countersign, “Geroiam Slava” – Glory to Heroes! He then thanked Tyson Fury and honoured his opponent’s sportsmanship. 

In post-fight statements, Tyson Fury also praised Jesus, leading to some quips on the internet that the sheikhs putting on the fight in Riyadh spent millions so two white guys could praise Jesus. However, then Tyson Fury went on to claim that he won the fight and implied Usyk got a sympathy decision because “his country’s at war.” It’s probably a good thing that Usyk, who was within earshot, doesn’t really speak English. 

The match contract had a rematch clause and the rematch is scheduled to take place in October. This fight was one of those that absolutely needs a rematch. It was closely fought between two masters of the art. Both men want and need a rematch. Tyson Fury obviously wants his belts back and Usyk’s championship will always be under doubt unless he proves himself once again against Fury. 

Warrior Beats Entertainer

Now, if you want my opinion on why Usyk won, I’ll hark back to what I said in the opening. It’s true that Usyk had the edge in speed and conditioning and that he had the more straightforward battleplan which he actually put into motion, while Fury had to improvise and adapt. However, fundamentally, it seems that Usyk simply wanted it more. When he walked into the ring, he walked in determined to win. Fury probably had the same determination, but here’s the crucial difference. From the attitudes they had during the ring walks and to their respective national anthems, I could see that if Fury wanted it, he wanted it for himself. Usyk, on the other hand, wasn’t just fighting for himself. He was fighting for his father and for his country. Usyk dedicated his victory to Ukraine and he knew that the world was not only watching Oleksandr Usyk fight, but also watching a demonstration of the Ukrainian fighting spirit. He had to win, for his people, for his country and for his father’s memory. 

Could Tyson Fury said he fought for the UK? Or for Ireland for that matter? Would these countries stand behind Tyson if he claimed to fight in their name and for the survival of their people? When Tyson Fury spoke out against Jewish malfeasance in the UK, he was raked over the coals and forced to apologise. Not being allowed to be nationalist cut Fury off from that great reservoir of strength and will that ultimately pushed Usyk over the edge. When we ask ourselves what could possess a man to pick and win a fight against a 6’9” giant, love of country and nation is one of the obvious answers. I guess that’s my hot take in this piece. Usyk beat Fury because Usyk fought for his people, while Fury was only allowed to fight for himself. 

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