Oleksandr Usyk ended Anthony Joshua’s reign as world heavyweight champion with a stunning unanimous points decision victory over his fellow 2012 Olympic champion in London on Saturday.
Joshua ended the 12th and final round of the contest backed up on the ropes, with the cheers of a crowd of more than 62,000 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium no match for the skills of his challenger.
The impressive Ukrainian triumphed 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 on the scorecards of the three judges in just the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion’s third bout as a heavyweight.
His victory, which extended Usyk’s perfect record as a professional to 19 wins from as many fights, saw him become just the third boxer after Evander Holyfield of the United States and Britain’s David Haye to win both the cruiserweight and heavyweight world titles.
His deserved success also scuppered immediate plans for Joshua to fight fellow British world champion Tyson Fury in a heavyweight unification bout.
Fury defends his World Boxing Council title against Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas next month.
“This means a lot for me. The fight went the way I expected it to go. There were moments when Anthony pushed me hard but it was nothing special,” said Usyk.
“I had no objective to knock him out because my corner pushed me not to do that. In the beginning, I tried to hit him hard, but then I stuck to my job.”
At 34, Usyk is three years older than Joshua and he was also giving away three inches in height as well as nearly 20lbs (nine kilogrammes) in weight.
But none of that made much difference as he followed David Ruiz in becoming just the second professional boxer to defeat Joshua.
The 31-year-old Joshua whipped his loyal supporters into a frenzy during a protracted ring walk but did not get carried away himself during a cagey first round where he tried to establish his left jab.
Usyk, moving well, continued to prove a difficult target to hit during the second round and the southpaw staggered Joshua with a powerful roundhouse left-hand punch to the head in the third.
Joshua, however, was making inroads with a cut emerging under Usyk’s right eye in the fourth round.
And come the sixth round, Joshua started to close the distance between himself and the challenger, landing a couple of stinging shots.
Joshua also succeeded with a couple of right hands, albeit without full force, in the eighth round having previously struggled to connect with that punch against the elusive Usyk.
But Usyk was still making contact with his impressive left hand in a ninth round where a late flurry by Joshua helped raise the voices of fans who had been stunned into relative silence by the skill of his opponent.
By the end of the tenth round, there was swelling under Joshua’s right eye.
Come the next, both boxers were tiring as the fight headed towards the 12th and final round, with Usyk appearing to land the cleaner shots in the closing stages as he backed Joshua onto the ropes.
Come the final bell, Usyk sank to his knees and made the sign of the cross in the middle of the ring in a gesture of apparent triumph which the judges then confirmed.