Usyk’s victory over Joshua clears the way to the undisputed championship, if Tyson Fury wants it

Oleksandr Usyk proved once again that he is arguably one of the best boxers in the world with a gutsy victory over Anthony Joshua on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to retain all three of his heavyweight titles.

Now, he is just one belt short of being called the undisputed heavyweight champion, a title no one has held in the four-belt era. That final leash, of course, goes to Tyson Fury, whose intermittent declarations of retirement seem to be a rite of passage for top fighters.

Fury has long called for a top heavyweight bout for all four belts, and was set to meet Joshua for the undisputed title last August before an arbitration ruling forced him into a third fight with Deontay Wilder.

But a month before Fury scored a second straight KO over his rival, Joshua was defeated by his mandatory challenger, Usyk, sending plans for the undisputed title fight up in the air.

As Joshua prepared for the Usyk rematch, Fury defeated Dillian Whyte in April and immediately announced his retirement. But earlier this month, to no one’s surprise, Fury claimed that he would end his retirement with a third fight against Derek Chisora.

Of course, that’s a bout of minimal interest, and Fury quickly dismissed the potential matchup to “retire” once again.

Usyk left little doubt about his intentions after beating Joshua, standing in the middle of the ring and marking his target.

“I’m sure Tyson Fury hasn’t retired yet,” Usyk (20-0-0, 13 KOs) said in the ring after the fight. “I’m sure. I’m convinced he wants to fight me. I want to fight him. And if he didn’t fight Tyson Fury, I won’t fight at all.”

Sure enough, Fury responded minutes later in an Instagram video.

“I will annihilate them both in the same night,” he said, referring to Usyk and Joshua. “Get out your damn checkbook because ‘The Gypsy King’ is here to stay forever!”

And all of that is music to the ears of boxing fans, who have long relished the opportunity to see Usyk tested against a much bigger man who is on his same level of boxing ability. Sure, Joshua is a big man at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, but Fury is 6-foot-9, over 270 pounds, and has the kind of jab and footwork that would separates himself from his countryman, Joshua and most other fighters in the sport.

Joshua (24-3-0, 22 KO’s) fared better in the rematch after the 35-year-old Usyk nearly stopped him in the first meeting in September. But Joshua is not a fluid, natural fighter like Usyk. Fury is, of course, and a clash that pits the two of them for all four heavyweight belts is a monstrous sporting event. It’s the kind of event that boxing rarely offers.

Fury’s promoter, Bob Arum, told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel on Saturday that Usyk-Fury “will not be a difficult fight to make” and that the purse should be split 50-50. Perhaps only the second part is true, because the bigger the boxing match, the more difficult the negotiations.

But this fight makes too much sense — and dollars — to fall by the wayside. It’s a matchup the Saudis have long had in their sights for December, and last year alone, they were willing to dish out roughly $155 million for an undisputed title fight between Fury and Joshua.

The long-awaited Fury-Joshua fight may never materialize now, but the consolation prize in this case is something better all the same.

Usyk’s use of angles, movement and an educated jab have made him a puzzle that no opponent has been able to solve. He even showed in two fights against Joshua that, despite weighing only 220 pounds, he has enough power in his punches to deal a lot of damage.

The way the Ukrainian was able to survive round 9, when Joshua hurt him in the body and sent him to the ropes, showed that Usyk possesses the kind of toughness needed to beat Fury. He bounced back with an even more dominant 10th round and also showed the stamina to absorb the more dangerous blows.

Of course, there was never any question about Usyk’s character. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Usyk quickly took up arms in a home defense battalion and served as a beacon of hope for those watching his fight at home after he arranged for the fight to be televised for free.

Inside the ring, Usyk has shown himself to be just as brave. He conquered the 200-pound division before being installed as a casualty against Joshua in just his third heavyweight fight. So far, he hasn’t found any stone in his shoe.

Risking everything against Fury is listed as one last challenge for Usyk. And while he wasn’t considered a puncher early in his career, that reputation has changed after Fury got two destructive knockouts over Wilder.

The 34-year-old Englishman can switch stances with ease and his jab is one of the best in boxing. Unlike Joshua, Fury is much more adept at imposing his superior size on enemies. Fury intimidated Wilder in his last two fights, leaning into him in the clinch and pushing him into the ropes, forcing his opponent to deal with his 270-pounder.

That seems to be the recipe for success against Usyk…if there is one. And there is no one better equipped than Fury. Fury is ESPN’s No. 1 and No. 5 pound-for-pound heavyweight boxer. Usyk is one place behind him in both rankings.

Now, the business of boxing must make sure he doesn’t get in his own way. This is a fight we need to see.

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Usyk’s victory over Joshua clears the way to the undisputed championship, if Tyson Fury wants it

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