Saturday, May 18

For those curious about the evolving fan experience on fight night in Saudi Arabia, when BoxingScene arrived at the remote Kingdom Arena for Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk there were fans having a flag confiscated, despite theirs being a flag dedicated to Usyk, and not Ukraine. For those curious about the potential evolution – or lack thereof – of narcissism’s John Fury, he could again be seen front and centre when his son first arrived at the arena, and then when the then-WBC heavyweight champion made his way to the ring.

Before he did so, British heavyweight rivals Frazer Clarke and Fabio Wardley were reunited at ringside for the first time since their bruising British and Commonwealth heavyweight title fight on Easter Sunday, and reportedly told each other of their desire to fight again.

None of which did much to enhance the unremarkable atmosphere that instead of resembling anything like that at The O2 Arena the night of Wardley-Clarke was often closer to that of a morgue. Joe Cordina-Anthony Cacace was the nature of fight that would have been enhanced by the presence of a passionate British audience – Cordina appeared to have struggled too much to make 130lbs – but instead by most of those present it was largely overlooked.

There, regardless, was finally some tension in the air among the 22,000 sold-out crowd in the moments before the main-event fighters did their ring walks. What then unfolded was the highest-calibre and most dramatic and absorbing of fights – one in keeping with the rich traditions of the heavyweight division – that even the most cynical of observers would have briefly stopped caring or forgotten entirely about where it was taking place.

Throughout what were the difficult opening rounds for Usyk, BoxingScene watched one of the broadcast microphones being angrily swatted away from the Ukrainian’s corner. BoxingScene also observed, on occasion, adverts being played on the big screens between rounds instead of highlights of what had just unfolded. Adverts, no less, to promote the fight between Fury and Usyk – when surely those present were the very last in the world who needed reminding of when and where it was taking place?

It was shortly after 2am in Riyadh when Usyk left Fury fighting for survival in that dramatic, career-changing ninth round but the time was also ultimately irrelevant. What was unfolding – as one Colin Hart, a retired reporter present at the Fight of the Century, the Thrilla in Manila, the previous undisputed heavyweight title fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield and more could attest, having also travelled to Riyadh to be present – was a fight so admirably clean and absorbing that a rematch is essential and, it is to be hoped, on course for later in 2024.

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