"You didn't see the best Usyk. I can be much better,” declared a victorious Oleksandr Usyk in the ring just moments after dethroning Anthony Joshua to become the new unified world heavyweight champion.
It’s a bold claim from the Ukrainian maestro, who stepped up from being undisputed cruiserweight ruler to successfully overcome the defending heavyweight champion in his own backyard with another masterful performance.
Further staking his claim as arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today, Usyk showcased the ring brilliance that first made him a 2012 Olympic Gold medallist and earned him cruiserweight supremacy before securing heavyweight history.
Much was made in the build up about the size disadvantages he had to deal with against ‘AJ’. But, in spite of being outweighed by 19 pounds and giving away three inches in height and four inches in reach, it was Usyk who had Joshua hurt and sagging on the ropes, eager for the bell to sound (which came five seconds earlier than the official timer).
“Today 12 years ago, my wife said yes. I am double happy,” Usyk continued, revealing his wedding anniversary coincided with his historic feat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “I miss my children and watching them play. I want to go home and be with them.”
Despite wearing the fresh marks of battle and still collecting his emotions after 12 rounds in London, the focus during the immediate aftermath was on who’s next for Usyk. While the new champion rests with family and lets his wounds heal, there are many potential options for the first defence of his heavyweight reign when he returns.
Humble after his second career defeat, Joshua applauded Usyk’s performance but admitted he would be activating his immediate rematch clause. Such comments were met with a backlash from the boxing landscape, with many suggesting it’s the wrong step to take.
Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn and those around the now former heavyweight champion were keen on the return meeting happening next too. A rematch is already being targeted for early next year but Usyk already envisioned he would have to beat ‘AJ’ twice to fully tighten his grasp on the unified titles.
Days before his latest travelling success in front of the 65,000 English capital crowd, Team Usyk confidently predicted victory and stated “then we’ll see you for the rematch”. With unrelenting self-belief, Usyk would enter a second clash as a sizeable favourite, though boxing’s greatest road warrior may finally get the opportunity to perform much closer to home in his maiden defence.
Ask anyone in boxing what the biggest fight that could be made is and Tyson Fury against Joshua would most likely be the answer. That was before Usyk rocked up to London with his shaved head, villain-like suit and concussive left hand to shake up a division that was quickly going stale.
The widely-desired all-British showdown could yet happen down the line but Usyk has his eyes now set on becoming undisputed king in a second division. To do so, he’ll have to topple an even bigger and more imposing figure in ‘The Gypsy King’.
That’s if the towering WBC champion can successfully end his rivalry with Deontay Wilder in their trilogy match-up. But an Usyk vs. Fury showdown, for all the gold in boxing’s glamour division, would undoubtedly be an intriguing spectacle.
While Fury will enter the trilogy as an overwhelming favourite to secure a second straight triumph, Wilder possesses the devastating power that could alter proceedings in an instant.
If ‘The Bronze Bomber’ can avenge his stoppage defeat to Fury in their highly-anticipated third encounter then an undisputed showdown with Usyk could lie in wait.
It’s another interesting clash of styles that Usyk would relish and one that would likely be held in one of America’s leading fight venues.
Other Outside Options
The most obvious and seemingly easiest fights to make don’t always come to fruition in boxing. If a Joshua rematch somehow doesn’t take place next or the winner of Fury vs. Wilder isn’t available, then there are always other options for the reigning heavyweight champion.
Joe Joyce has been pushing for the Usyk bout since overcoming domestic rival Daniel Dubois and is highly ranked with the sanctioning bodies involved. If the more high-profile clashes can’t be made then ‘The Juggernaut’ could find himself in a position to challenge the Ukrainian genius.
Dillian Whyte is another UK heavyweight who has long been pursuing a world title shot. With the promotional connections involved with both Whyte and Usyk, it’s another high-profile clash that could be set in England if agreed.
If Usyk ends up going into a showcase homecoming for his maiden title defence, after being on the road for so long in his career, there are other less likely options. Andy Ruiz Jr. is a former champion still rebuilding his career under Eddy Reynoso since losing his rematch with Joshua and is a notable name that could make for a Usyk challenger.
Meanwhile, a Murat Gassiev rematch may have little interest at heavyweight following Usyk’s one-sided masterclass in their previous World Boxing Super Series final bout. Another former opponent, Michael Hunter, and Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz are other less prosperous options down the line.
Whatever Usyk’s next move is, the new heavyweight king has finally broken through to the sport’s mainstream landscape with his supreme dethroning of Joshua and forever sealed his legacy as an all-time great.
Header image: Matchroom Boxing