In a much closer affair than their last meeting, Oleksandr Usyk downed Anthony Joshua via split decision to retain his plethora of heavyweight titles at King Abdullah Sport City arena.

Two judges gave Usyk the winning score of 115-113 and 116-112 while the third saw it 115-113 in the Englishman’s favour but with the split decision, an emotional Usyk retained his WBA, WBO and IBF belts as well as his undefeated status.

Six months removed from patrolling the streets of Kyiv against the invading Russians, Usyk entered the arena draped in his national flag and supported by words of encouragement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

But the Ukrainian ran into a very motivated Joshua who changed his gameplan, from his first fight battering, under new trainer Robert Garcia and targeted Usyk’s body while keeping him under pressure.

The tactic nearly worked for the former two-time champion with Usyk taken to the limit in the ninth round as he was chased around the ring by Joshua, who landed combinations and targeted Usyk’s ribs.

Usyk, undeterred, came out hard in the 10th round, hurting Joshua with an early right hook and forcing him onto the ropes for the first time in the fight.

The battering of Joshua was sustained in the 11th while the 12th was evenly fought, the fight ending with both fighters falling to their knees in front of each other on the canvas due to exhaustion.

With the decision going in the favour of Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua went on a tirade after tossing two of Usyk’s belts to the ground.

Usyk, who improved his record to 20-0 and 2-0 against Joshua, has his eyes set firmly on the last remaining WBC heavyweight belt which belongs to Tyson Fury in order to unify the heavyweight division.

When asked about Fury, Usyk said: “I am sure Tyson Fury is not retired yet. I am sure Tyson Fury wants to fight me. If I’m not fighting Tyson Fury, I’m not fighting at all.”

Fury, meanwhile, maintains that he is retired but it is a given he will be back to fight Usyk in what should be the most lucrative fight in boxing.

Joshua (24-3), meanwhile, has a lot to ponder about his next move. The Birt has been beaten twice consecutively for the first time in his career. He managed to avenge his loss to Andy Ruiz but Usyk proved a far superior challenge.

Where he goes from here remains to be seen but a bout with Deontay Wilder may not be that far-fetched to keep the money rolling.

Meanwhile, Britain had something to cheer in the form of Ramla Ali, who decimated Crystal Garcia Nova after one minute and five seconds in Saudi Arabia’s first female-sanctioned fight ever.

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