Oleksandr Usyk stormed through his rematch fight against Anthony Joshua in Jeddah on Saturday to retain his heavyweight titles by a split decision.
The 35-year-old Ukrainian proved unbeatable during the 12-round contest, maintaining his steely nerve to dominate Joshua with a series of heavy blows. Joshua appeared to break Usyk’s momentum in the ninth round and landed a spell of punches on his opponent, before retreating into defeat.
He was awarded a score of 115-113 from one judge, but Usyk ultimately emerged the stronger contender and earned scores of 115-113 and 116-112 from two judges to retain his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles.
Meanwhile, Ramla Ali won her contest against Crystal Garcia Nova of the Dominican Republic in Saudi Arabia’s first ever female boxing match.
The 32-year-old Ali won in a first-round knockout, improving her career record to 7-0.
Emotions run high
The heavyweight title rematch was billed as the “Rage on the Red Sea,” a headline that certainly captured the mood of the night.
After suffering his second consecutive loss against Usyk, the 32-year-old Briton picked up two of the Ukrainian’s belts, threw them out of the ring and charged towards his dressing room, before returning and taking the microphone to give an impassioned speech.
“If you knew my story, you would understand the passion,” Joshua said, adding of Usyk: “I’m telling you this guy to beat me tonight, maybe I could have done better, but it shows the levels of hard work he must have put in so please give him a round of applause as our heavyweight champion of the world.”
Usyk claimed victory against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that he is personally invested in.
Earlier this year the 35-year-old traveled back to his homeland and joined the territorial defense battalion in Kyiv to help out in the war efforts.
In March, Usyk received permission to return to training and prepare for his fight against Joshua, although he expressed reluctance at the time.
“I devote this victory to my country, to my family, to my team, to all the people, militaries who are defending the country,” Usyk said via a translator after the fight. “Thank you very, very much.
“This is already history,” he added. “Many generations are going to watch this fight, especially the round when someone tried to beat me hard. But I (withstood) it and turned it in a different way.”
Usyk also made clear his desire to challenge Tyson Fury, just one week after the WBC heavyweight champion said he is ready to “walk away” from boxing.
“I’m sure that Tyson Fury is not retired yet. I’m sure, I’m convinced he wants to fight me. I want to fight him,” Usyk said. “If I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”
‘I was mad at myself’
Joshua broke down into tears during his post-match press conference, saying that he was “upset” by his performance on Saturday.
“It’s really, really hard for me to say I’m proud of myself,” he said. “I’m upset, really, deep down in my heart.”
He also explained his emotional outburst after the match, adding: “When you try and do things from your heart, not everyone is going to understand. It was just from the heart. I knew I was mad at myself. Not at anyone, just myself. I was like I got to get out here because I’m mad.
“When you’re angry you might do stupid things, so I was mad. But then I realized this is sport, let me do the right thing.”
Ahead of the rematch, fellow British boxers Carl Froch and Kell Brook said that a second defeat to Usyk would spell the end of Joshua’s boxing career.
Despite the rumors, the 32-year-old showed no signs of hanging up his gloves just yet.
“I’m a fighter for life. The hunger never dies,” he said.
CNN’s Ben Morse contributed reporting to this story.