By Paul Magno | May 20, 2024

To be honest, I had no degree of real excitement in anticipation of Saturday’s heavyweight unification bout between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk. Yeah, yeah...crowning the first fully unified heavyweight champ of the 4-belt vs. best...yeah, yeah. But I was so sure that Fury would handle Usyk that I really couldn’t summon much energy for the fight.

In the big picture of things, of course, I was wrong. The bout turned out to be a close, entertaining affair with some high-drama moments. Usyk ended up winning via split decision by scores of 115-112, 114-113, and 113-114.

But for the first eight rounds of the fight, I was absolutely right.

Once the feeling-out ended and the fight started, Fury owned things. He was moving, controlling the distance, and even hurting Usyk with uppercuts and body shots. At one point it looked like just a matter of time before he took the Ukrainian out.

Then the ninth round happened. 

Usyk hurt Fury with a big left hand and followed that up with a barrage of punches that rocked “The Gypsy King” big-time and, really, could’ve forced a referee stoppage. Thankfully, though, referee Mark Nelson facilitated the completion of a good fight by doing the right thing-- ruling a knockdown as Fury was clearly being held up by the ropes. Yeah, a case could be made that Nelson should’ve stopped the fight or that he could’ve called a knockdown earlier, as Fury bounced off the ropes a few times prior. But Fury is a fighter known to go to the ropes on his own (and he had done so in this same fight). In this case, he was out on his feet and only held up by the ropes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a second or two before Nelson’s decision to call the knockdown. If he was trying to “save” Fury, as he’s been accused of doing, he would’ve called the knockdown much sooner, sparing Fury from taking a few extra shots. I’ll rip officials a new one when they deserve it, but Nelson doesn’t deserve it in this case.

After that, the tide had turned. But, actually, not as much as raving fans basking in the glow of a great moment would lead one to believe.

From the tenth on, the fight was actually pretty even. Usyk never hurt Fury again and Fury finished the fight with a pretty decent twelfth round (he won the twelfth on all three judges’ scorecards).

So, if we’re adding things up, we get two fairly even rounds in the beginning, followed by five where Fury was clearly in charge, then three clear Usyk rounds, then two final rounds that could’ve been split 1-1. That’s how I got to a 114-113 card for Fury.

That’s certainly not the sexy boxing decision, but it would’ve been the correct one.

Never underestimate the role of psychology in boxing-- both in the actual fight and in how fans/media digest the outcome of a fight. Fury is a shit head coming off an embarrassing showing against former UFC champ/boxing novice Francis Ngannou, as well as some other nonsense. Usyk and his story are beloved. Usyk also had the highlight reel moment of the bout. I understand the overwhelming feeling that Usyk won. Watch the fight again in a couple weeks, though. after the buzz and emotion wear off, and re-score it. If you’re honest with yourself, you may be surprised at what you see when you do the re-tally.

But never mind all that. The only decision that counts is that of the judges. Usyk won and he is now the undisputed 4-belt heavyweight champ. Notice how I didn’t say “lineal” champ? Because, well, the actual heavyweight title lineage ended with Lennox Lewis and no matter how many boxing “historians” twist themselves into knots taping together history that makes sense, you can’t claim a lineage without an actual lineage. But, that’s a topic for another day.

Usyk wasn’t better than I expected. I always thought he was very good. His single-minded focus and determination is probably his best asset as a fighter-- something that could be taken advantage of by a more fluid and improvisational fighter with more sustained focus than Fury. He WAS more durable than I anticipated, though. Up until this fight, he’s shown signs of being a bit fragile, especially to the body, when he’s been touched at heavyweight. I doubted his durability, casting aside his two bouts with a foggy-minded and stylistically mismatched Anthony Joshua, and questioned whether he could take Fury’s biggest shots. He almost didn’t-- and Fury’s performance will be held up to scrutiny for not pushing to finish things when he had Usyk clearly hurt-- but “almost” doesn’t count and Usyk withstood what he had to withstand.

If all this sounds hypercritical and negative for a fighter coming off a career-defining performance and a historical accomplishment, it’s probably because Usyk, in many circles, is washed over by such a wave of gushingly positive, “he can do no wrong” warm-fuzzy positivity. Bravo to fans if/when they find an object for their loving fixation. I just wish American fighters would be handled with such a warm, story-building embrace. There’s almost a desperate mythology draped over the guy, a cult-like fandom that cried for nearly three full weeks at the suggestion that he may have been hurt by a body shot against Daniel Dubois. Anything that pushes back against this mad love will definitely look like “hate.”

But reality is reality, even when it’s uncomfortable to hear.

It shouldn’t really matter, anyway. Even when put into perspective, Usyk still holds official victories over the (near) consensus top two heavyweights in the world. Belts or no belts, lineage or no lineage, rematch or no rematch, Usyk has to be regarded as the no. 1 heavyweight in the world and a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer. What more needs to be said?

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