“If size mattered, then the elephant would be the king of the jungle.”

Newly crowned undisputed heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk said this a few times in interviews before his fight with Tyson Fury. It is a fitting quote on several levels. This line has been attributed to Rickson Gracie, a member of the legendary Gracie family of mixed-martial-arts fame. Rorion Gracie was one of the co-founders of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, and Royce Gracie represented the family and won UFC 1 and UFC 2 (initially, UFC cards were one-night tournaments).

Part of marketing the initial UFC events was to answer the question of which fighting style was the best. That brings us back to the quote. The Gracies were neither the biggest nor the strongest competitors; their technique and toughness allowed them to dominate combat sports in a way that is still difficult to believe. Using leverage and angles, the family made the terms Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Gracie jiu-jitsu nearly interchangeable.

After Oleksandr Usyk became the undisputed champion of the cruiserweight division, he decided to take on another challenge and move up to the heavyweight division, with its long lineage and no upper weight limit. Reactions to Usyk moving up to heavyweight were mostly unanimous; talented fighter, but there are weight classes for a reason. Will he be able to take punches from full-fledged heavyweights? He is giving up at least thirty pounds to the top guys in the division. And so on. In the ultimate illustration of why they do not fight on paper, Oleksandr Usyk slayed the biggest, baddest guy in the heavyweight division.

It is not that Tyson Fury fought badly, or had an off night, either. The early rounds saw Fury use his reach advantage to keep Usyk away from him, landing the harder punches while Usyk had difficulty sustaining offense. After the first few rounds, Fury began to hold longer in clinches, using his body weight to sap the smaller Usyk of energy. But Usyk did not tire. Though he was behind on all three judges’ scorecards after the seventh round, Usyk began to land his left hand over Fury’s right glove, which was positioned low, at about collarbone height. There was a shift towards the end of the seventh round or the beginning of the eighth round when Usyk began landing the more impactful shots. Fury began bleeding from his nose.

By the end of round nine, Usyk had gone from rabbit to lion, unleashing a devastating barrage of punches on Fury in the last thirty seconds of the round. As noted on the broadcast, referee Mark Nelson would have been well within his rights to wave the fight off- if this fight had not been for the undisputed heavyweight championship, Nelson could have stopped it. Fury’s response validated Nelson’s decision to allow Fury to finish round nine. Fury was still competitive in the final three rounds, including winning round twelve on all three of the judge’s scorecards.

This fight was everything that the heavyweight division can be. Fury, large and bombastic as ever, came out strong, and through five or six rounds, it seemed like he was just too big for Usyk. However, the Ukranian was no pushover. Within a few rounds, through his perseverance and with a few tactical adjustments, Usyk started taking it to the bigger man. Fury stopped playing to the crowd and started covering up. Somehow, he survived Usyk’s onslaught in round nine. While the 10-8 round proved to be the difference in the scoring, Fury was still in the fight despite having just sixty seconds to recover from Usyk’s sublime 9th-round barrage.

Thankfully, there was a contractual automatic rematch clause, so we can see Usyk and Fury run this back. There have been recent examples of mandatory rematch clauses being a nuisance to boxing fans, such as Devin Haney vs. George Kambosos 2. In this case, it could not have worked out better. It is tough to predict what Tyson Fury will do. But unless the Gypsy King decides to go into pro wrestling and challenge for the WWE Championship, I have a tough time believing Fury would not want to attempt to avenge his first defeat as a professional.

Fury was not gracious in defeat, implying that the judges felt bad that Usyk’s home country of Ukraine was at war when giving him the majority decision win and claiming that he broke Usyk’s jaw (although maybe the X-ray technician was biased somehow). When someone gets applauded for being eccentric and entertaining in victory, as Fury has been, it is tough to expect they will become respectful and subdued in defeat.

But the main takeaway is not about Tyson Fury. It is about Oleksandr Usyk. He dominated a division no one cared about, they said. He was too small for the heavyweight division, they said. After all the noise fades and the dust settles, what remains is that Oleksandr Usyk is undisputed heavyweight champion and the king of the jungle.

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