Usyk's heavyweight glory in Riyadh hailed as 'Ukrainian victory'

Usyk is the first boxer to become undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield in 1999

By AFP

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Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk (left) punches Britain's Tyson Fury during their heavyweight boxing world championship fight in Riyadh on Sunday. — AFP
Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk (left) punches Britain's Tyson Fury during their heavyweight boxing world championship fight in Riyadh on Sunday. — AFP

Published: Sun 19 May 2024, 6:34 PM

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led the tributes to Oleksandr Usyk whose victory over British fighter Tyson Fury in Riyadh made him the first undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion in a quarter of a century.

The 37-year-old, who briefly served as a soldier in the Ukrainian army after the Russian invasion of February 2022, spoke of a "great moment" "for me, for my family, for my country" after his points victory over Fury in Riyadh the early hours of Sunday morning


"The Ukrainians hit hard! And in the end, all our opponents will be defeated," Zelensky said on Telegram soon after the fight was over.

Usyk's success in becoming the first heavyweight ever to hold four belts simultaneously shows that "Ukrainian endurance and strength give birth to Ukrainian victory", added the head of state of the war-torn country.


The mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, a former world heavyweight champion boxer, stressed that Usyk "showed the world that Ukrainians are capable of defeating a strong opponent in a difficult fight".

"This victory is very important victory for Ukraine today," said Klitschko, who held the WBO and WBC titles albeit not simultaneously

His younger brother Wladimir Klitschko - another ex-heavyweight world champion - was ringside in Saudi Arabia but echoed his sibling's words.

British heaveyweight boxer Anthony Joshua and football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo before the start of the fight. — Reuters
British heaveyweight boxer Anthony Joshua and football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo before the start of the fight. — Reuters
Oleksandr Usyk celebrates with former boxer Wladimir Klitschko after winning the fight. — Reuters
Oleksandr Usyk celebrates with former boxer Wladimir Klitschko after winning the fight. — Reuters

"Can you imagine how much pressure this man had these past weeks and here in this ring? Losing was not an option," he told Sky Sports.

"It doesn't matter how big, how tall, how heavy, what his reach is and how mobile Tyson Fury was, Oleksandr Usyk showed he is the best fighter in modern history.

"I'm very proud of Oleksandr Usyk and I'm very proud to be Ukrainian."

Born in the Crimean town of Simferopol, Usyk was accused by many Ukrainians back in 2014 of sitting on the fence over Russia's annexation of the peninsular. He was also castigated for saying that Russians and Ukrainians were the same people.

Since Russia's 2022 invasion however the tune has changed and the armed forces showed their full support for Usyk following his victory.

"Ukraine is once again showing that it is a strong nation capable of fighting for its identity, its language, its culture and its traditions," said Mikola Oleshchuk, Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force.

A fighting unit posted an enthusiastic message: "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to those who defend it and to those who glorify it!"

For television presenter and actor Sergiy Prytula Usyk's win was a boost for the entire nation.

"He won today. And with him, Ukraine has won. And when Ukraine wins, he and all of us will win with her!" he posted.

Jamala, the Ukrainian winner of the 2016 Eurovision Song contest limited herself to a simple: "Thanks to you! We are proud."

By adding the WBC title of his opponent of the day to his WBA, WBO and IBF trophies, Usyk is the first boxer to become undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield in 1999.

Usyk got the better of the opening rounds before Fury hit his stride in the fourth, engaging in some showmanship as he started to catch Usyk with vicious body shots, but the Ukrainian battled back with several stinging reminders of his power.

Usyk turned the tide in the eighth round and few would have been surprised had the referee stopped the fight in the ninth as the Ukrainian's powerful punches to the head left Fury reeling.

The previously undefeated Briton managed to hang on until the bell but he struggled through the final three rounds of the fight as Usyk chased him down to edge him out on the judges' scorecards.

"Thank you so much. ... It's a big opportunity for me, for my family, for my country. ... It's a great time, it's a great day," a tearful Usyk said.

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