Oleksandr Usyk cements status as true legend – does he need to take the Tyson Fury rematch?

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk fought to a bloody, exhausted and brutal standstill in a battle for far more than the various championship belts they paraded at the end.

In the hot Saudi Arabian night, Usyk needed help to raise his weary arms in victory when he was given a slim split decision; there was then an unholy scuffle by men in suits to drape their belts across his blood-stained body. It had been 12 rounds of craft and brutality, desperate at times and packed with unforgettable moments. The men from the sanctioning bodies should have stood their ground and let the great man parade.

Fury believed he had done enough, Usyk could barely talk, but there was no abuse of power in that Riyadh ring, just a spectacle that will live for a long, long time in the memories of every witness. They had not celebrated at the final bell, just embraced, hugged, and Fury planted several tender kisses on Usyk’s head.

It was an emotional night, a fight for the right to be called the undisputed heavyweight champion for the first time since Lennox Lewis left a ring in a place called Paradise in 1999. Usyk now has the crown that Lewis has worn since that night. Lewis lost one of his belts a few weeks after his fight for the undisputed championship with Evander Holyfield and, amazingly, the same fate awaits Usyk; the IBF belt is likely to fall vacant in the next week or so.

The wait for the first undisputed heavyweight champion in 25 years is finally over, everybody howled at ringside, but the madness in boxing is beyond comedy. The craziness is boundless, it seems, but the monopoly on title fights by the big four sanctioning bodies is under threat because there is a serious move for boxers to fight for the undisputed title. There is a growing movement of sense in a sport that often appears to have no rules.

None of the potential repercussions mattered at the moment that Usyk’s hand was raised; he had been brilliant, bold, brave and determined. Fury had, for many rounds, boxed with calm and control, but Usyk had finally in round eight found the elusive patterns to score; in round nine, Fury was out on his feet, a punch from defeat and was saved by the bell when he collapsed heavily into the ropes and was given a count.

 (Nick Potts/PA Wire)
(Nick Potts/PA Wire)

It was drama beyond all expectations for a fight that had excelled way beyond the wildest dreams. Fury was lucky to survive the ninth, but he did, and he regained his legs and senses. It was a slugfest, a real old-fashioned slugfest. They were fighting for more than those baubles and accolades and prizes – it was a personal war, and the money was a bonus bounty.

There was no complaint with the scoring, but Fury will sensibly chase the narrative that he deserved victory. The scores were tight, very tight; one judge went for Usyk 115-112, one for Fury with 114-113 and the deciding vote was for Usyk with 114-113 – the knockdown in round nine won Usyk the contest.

They were tiny margins in the end, and that can happen in the biggest of fights and events. The rematch can be invoked by the loser and Fury is likely to activate the clause once his bruises have faded and he has spent time with his family.

Usyk will have to make his own decision; he is 37, he was the undisputed champion at cruiserweight, now it is heavyweight, he won Olympic gold, and he is unbeaten in just 22 fights. He is also a national idol. That, my friend, is a boxing legend.