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Oleksandr Usyk defeats Tyson Fury by split decision to become first undisputed heavyweight champion in 24 years

Oleksandr Usyk had Tyson Fury on the ropes in the ninth round. (Photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images)

The judges were divided, but the title is indisputable. Boxing has its first true heavyweight king in 24 years, and his name is Oleksandr Usyk.

The WBA, WBO and IBF champion defeated WBC champion Tyson Fury via split decision (115-112, 113-114, 114-113) on Saturday to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 2000. The fight is the first loss in Fury’s career.

It was a brilliant and even fight until Usyk knocked down Fury in the ninth round and took control. Usyk could have won the fight then and that would not have been the case if there had been a timely bell in Fury’s favor, but that knockdown ultimately became the difference on the scorecards.

“It’s a great time. It’s a great day,” Usyk said after the fight. “This is a great opportunity for my team, for my family, for my country!”

The ever-stoic Usyk shed tears after the decision was announced. Fury immediately disputed the decision and said he intended to exercise his rematch clause, claiming Usyk only won because of sympathy for his native Ukraine as the country continues to fight against Russia.

“I believe I won that fight. I think he won a few rounds, but I won the majority. What can you do?’ said Fury. “We both fought well, as best we could. His country is at war, so people side with the country at war, but make no mistake, I won that fight and I will be back. I have a rematch clause. “

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Usyk immediately accepted the challenge, not that there was much more he could do. He certainly made a strong case to be the favorite for the rematch, tentatively scheduled for October 12, according to ESPN, which also reported that Usyk went to the hospital over concerns about a broken jaw. His promoter reportedly said there was “no doubt” he would be ready for the rematch.

The fight started with both fighters fulfilling their expected roles. Usyk, looking as intense as ever, landed more important shots in the first round, while Fury played the clown, showing off and tantalizing Usyk as he did before the fight. The gigantic Englishman walked to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” and danced throughout the proceedings, including some skips during the Ukrainian national anthem.

Usyk, who took up arms for the Ukrainian army in the early days of the Russian invasion, probably did not appreciate that. He opened the second round by tagging Fury again. The smaller fighter was the aggressor, but some of Fury’s punches found their home as the fight progressed.

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Fury felt more comfortable over the next few rounds – as he continued to taunt Usyk – and managed to open a light cut above Usyk’s right eye in the fourth. Fury’s height and feints certainly caused Usyk problems, even if the Ukrainian didn’t show it.

A right uppercut wobbled Usyk in the sixth round, with Fury in complete control for the rest of the frame. The announcers even wondered why Fury was still clowning around when the opportunity to do damage was right there.

Usyk got back into his rhythm late in the seventh round, landing some shots at the end to steal some points on the Cards and continued to hammer away in the eighth. Fury’s face was soon bloody.

Then came the ninth round.

In the final minute, Usyk sent Fury limp into the ropes and continued to wobble him for the next 30 seconds. Fury, fighting to maintain his balance and senses, was saved by the bell after the ninth knockdown of his career, but referee Mark Nelson could well have stopped the fight there.

That ended up being the defining moment of a fight that went the distance, with Usyk doing whatever he needed to over the next three rounds to snuff out a response from Fury.

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The last undisputed heavyweight champion was Lennox Lewis, who defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999 to claim the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. As often happens in boxing, his undisputed reign didn’t even last until his next fight against Michael Grant, when the WBA stripped him of his title for not facing mandatory challenger John Ruiz.

After Lewis’s retirement, for much of the next two decades, the heavyweight titles were controlled by the Klitchsko brothers, who famously refused to meet for the undisputed crown. The next chance at an undisputed fight fell to Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, but the two fighters lost their crowns to Fury and Usyk respectively before they could pull it off.

That’s all why Saturday’s fight, the negotiating and the delays, was so big. Unfortunately, Usyk’s undisputed reign will be even shorter than Lewis’s, as the IBF title will be formally revoked ahead of the fight between mandatory challengers Filip Hrgovic and Daniel Dubois on June 1.

It’ll be fun while it lasts. Usyk’s rise since moving from cruiserweight has been methodical yet undeniably impressive, featuring the likes of Derek Chisora, Anthony Joshua, Dubois and now Fury.

His undisputed status will be short-lived, but the entire boxing world now knows him as the top dog of the division.

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