Who is Oleksandr Usyk, the ‘strange’ who defended his world boxing titles against Briton Anthony Joshua | world news

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The Ukrainian boxer who beat Britain’s Anthony Joshua in a thrilling rematch has been described as having ‘no fear’ and looking like the ‘joker’.

Yet with a war raging in his home country, Oleksandr Usyk, the reigning unified world champion, made it clear he was dead serious and fighting for his country when he defended his titles in the fight in Saudi Arabia.

So who is the man described by Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn as “a strange man”?

The payback

It was Usyk’s second fight against Anthony Joshua after beating the Briton on September 25, 2021 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, having won the right to challenge him for the WBO heavyweight belt by securing his previous win.

Even though he entered the fight as the defending champion and pre-fight favorite, Joshua was sent off with Usyk winning the judges’ unanimous decision.

This time, the duo faced off in Jeddah, with the fight aired on Sky Sports Box Office on Saturday night.

Image:
Anthony Joshua takes on Oleksandr Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September 2021

Defend Ukraine

Less than six months ago, Usyk held the barricades in his home country’s war with Russia, after joining the Territorial Defense Battalion.

He was in London when Russia invaded and came running back, flying to Poland and driving the rest of the way, to join his friends and countrymen in protecting his homeland.

He told CNN at the time that he was willing to kill to defend Ukraine and was not afraid to die.

He told the network: “My soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honor belong to my country, to my family. So there is no fear, absolutely no fear.”

Oleksandyr Usyk in the ranks of the Kyiv Territorial Defense Forces at the end of February.  Photo: Facebook/Ukrainian Boxing Federation
Image:
Oleksandr Usyk (2ndR) in the ranks of the Kyiv territorial defense forces at the end of February. Photo: Facebook/Ukrainian Boxing Federation

Back to boxing

By the end of March, however, he had left his homeland in order to prepare for his rematch with Joshua.

A second fight had already been agreed shortly after winning the first last year, but Usyk had been reluctant after the outbreak of war.

Yet in a video message in which he spoke mostly Russian on March 29, he said he believed he would serve Ukraine better by participating in the next boxing match.

“In this way, I can help my country more and better than I could by being in the Territorial Defense and going around Kyiv with a machine gun,” he said.

Klitschko’s support

He later revealed that he was encouraged in his decision to train for the fight by the Klitschko brothers, themselves former world heavyweight champions.

Usyk revealed in an interview with his sponsor Blockasset that some of his friends had disappeared and that he considered boxing “child’s play”, compared to war.

But he said after talking to Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko he decided to return to the ring. At the time, the mayor of Kyiv Vitali led the defense of his city.

Oleksandyr Usyk says he decided to return to the ring after talking to Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir, pictured here in Kyiv in March.  Photo: AP
Image:
Usyk says he decided to return to the ring after talking to Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir, pictured here in Kyiv in March. Photo: AP

“Scary Reflexes”

He was described as having “frightening reflexes”. One of his tricks is to throw four coins from his elbow at the same time – and catch them all. one by one.

It’s one of the reasons the 35-year-old is the bookmakers’ favorite for tonight’s game, despite being over 10kg lighter than Joshua.

proud dresser

There was a lot of fun after he showed up at a number of pre-fight events in a range of outfits that some compared to looking like a clown.

Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk during their press conference at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September 2021
Image:
Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk during their press conference at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September 2021

At his weigh-in for the September fight, he wore a red suit, dark green shirt, black and gold plaid tie and mustard vest, which many believed made him look like Batman character The Joker.

But he later revealed it was a modern take on the national costume of the Cossacks, an ethnic group that has lived in what is now Ukraine for centuries.

The Cossacks were formidable fighters and often made up the ranks of the armies of the Russian and Polish empires.

At a press conference for the upcoming fight, he wore a different outfit reminiscent of his Cossack ancestry, featuring a dark brown sleeveless tabard, a wide belt, and a white shirt with embroidered trim.

He is now often nicknamed the Cossack.

Eeyore’s Helper

Usyk with an Eeyore soft toy, at a press conference in August
Image:
Usyk with an Eeyore soft toy, at a press conference in August

Usyk revealed during one of his press conferences that one of the most important members of his team was the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore.

He said he bought a stuffed Eeyore toy for his daughter Elizabeth on a family trip to Disneyland Paris and she renamed it Liolia, a girl’s name.

She then presented Liolia to the boxer for good luck before he left for training camp and the toy has been by his side ever since.

He told reporters that Liolia was his “talisman”, adding: “She sleeps with me, she’s always near me. I’m not sure if she’s in my corner on Saturday night…she might be scared! But she will definitely be in my dressing room.”

He can sing (sort of)

At the end of the pre-fight press conference, he launched into song, with a rendition of the folk song “Oy U Luzi Chervona Kalyna”, which according to Rubryka.com has become one symbols of Ukraine’s resistance against Russian military aggression.

Usyk sings during the pre-fight press conference on Wednesday
Image:
Usyk sings during the pre-fight press conference on Wednesday

The oseledets

In his last fight against Joshua, he sported the ubiquitous shaved head in the world of boxing and martial arts.

But in his most recent pre-fight events, he was happy to be seen sporting a unique long lock, which some have compared to a ponytail, but is actually another nod to his Ukrainian heritage.

The oseledets, or chub, hairstyle is commonly associated with Ukrainian Cossacks, dating back to the early Middle Ages when it was frequently copied by warriors from other nations who wanted to capture some of the notoriety with which Ukrainian mercenaries were held.

The long central strip which was often braided or tied into a bun has undergone a number of revivals over the centuries in association with Ukrainian nationalism.

Oleksandr Usyk flaunts his chub haircut at a media event on August 15
Image:
Usyk sports his chub haircut at a media event on August 15

Multiple weight

Until 2019, he boxed at heavyweight, one or two weight levels below heavyweight (depending on the supervising organization), even though he had already won the Olympic heavyweight gold medal, before the start of his professional career, at the London Olympics.

He is only the fourth male boxer in history to simultaneously hold the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO titles and is the first Ukrainian to be an undisputed champion (at cruiserweight), which neither of the Klitschko brothers have. realized, mainly because they didn’t want to. to fight.

Raised in Crimea

While his parents are from northern Ukraine, Usyk was born in Crimea – now under Russian occupation – when it was still part of the Soviet Union.

His father was from Sumy and fought with the Soviet army in Afghanistan before becoming a security guard and his mother had moved to Simferopol to study, where they met, and Usyk grew up.

He was also a talented footballer and trained in local academy team SC Tavriya Simferopol until he was 15 years old.

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