Oleksandr Usyk fought back tears after being declared the undisputed world heavyweight champion.

Not since Lennox Lewis’ victory over Evander Holyfield in 1999 has a fighter earned such a status. Having produced the finest performance of his career to earn a split-decision victory over Tyson Fury and to record his finest ever win, Usyk then struggled to contain his emotions before he had a chance to leave the ring.

The 37-year-old had essentially been preparing to fight Fury since his victory in August 2023 over Daniel Dubois. He had endured the postponement of two dates with Fury before their eventual meeting at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and he also fought for the third time since Russia’s murderous invasion of his country, Ukraine.

“My people are very happy I think,” he said after being awarded scores of 115-112 and 114-113 by two judges, with the third judge seeing it 114-113 for Fury. “My people… it’s a big win not only for me but for my country and for the soldiers who defend my country.

“It’s a great time. It’s a great day.

“Thank you so much for my team, Mr. Excellency [Turki Alalshikh of the General Entertainment Authority]. Thank you for the big opportunity for me; for my family; for my country.”

The previously undefeated Fury had appeared on course for victory until Usyk made the crucial mid-fight adjustments that meant that Fury not only lost for the first time, but was almost stopped in the ninth round.

“I believe I won that fight,” the 35-year-old Fury said. “I believe he won a few of the rounds but I won the majority of them, and I believe… what can you do? It’s one of those decisions in boxing.

 “We both put on a good fight – the best we could do. His country is at war so people are siding with the country at war, but make no mistake, I won that fight and I’ll be back. I’ve got a rematch clause. I thank Jesus for all the victories he’s given me. I’ve got a split-decision loss to a good little man and I thank him again.

“We go back to our families and we run it back in October. Good luck to Oleksandr. Well done. God bless.

“Go back; have a rest up; spend some time with our families and get it back on in October. I believe I won the fight but I’m not going to sit here and cry and make excuses. It was a good fight.”

Before the start of his interview, Fury had twice said “Well done” to Usyk before kissing him on the head.

“I’m exhausted,” said Usyk’s promoter, Alex Krassyuk. “I think he [the referee Mark Nelson] stole a KO in the ninth, but it was a tremendous performance.”

“That’s what the contract says,” said Frank Warren, Fury’s co-promoter. “It’s what he wants. It’s Tyson’s call. Whatever he wants to do, it’s up to him. The clause in the contract says immediate rematch.”

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