Sunday, May 19, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Fury-Usyk

In a thrilling fight full of twists and turns, Oleksandr Usyk made a vital adjustment in the eighth round that directly led to his victory over Tyson Fury: throwing his right hook. 

Usyk started the fight well, landing a series of left hands from different angles. In particular, Fury had a lot of problems tracking Usyk's overhand left. But as the great fighters do, Fury made adjustments. He wisely decided to get off the ropes, which allowed for more mobility defensively and better angles to land his counters. In the middle rounds, Fury's varied offensive attack was too much for Usyk's one-handed display. By the end of the sixth, Fury was dominating the action. He had solved Usyk's initial puzzle earlier in the bout and was now controlling the fight.

Usyk (left) landing a straight left
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

But in the eighth, Usyk brought out the hook. His adjustment from one shot at a time to combinations gave Fury defensive fits. By the end of the eighth, Fury's nose was smashed up and the momentum had returned to Usyk; Fury would never fully recover. In the pivotal ninth round, Usyk landed a series of hard shots with Fury against the ropes. During that flurry of punches, Usyk connected with two crushing right hooks that were essentially free shots. Fury didn't see them coming and had no defense for them. 

I'm sure that you've heard the phrase "battered from pillar to post" before. This is literally what happened in the ninth. Usyk's onslaught caused Fury to stumble from one corner of the ring to the other. Usyk smacked him into the ropes multiple times before referee Mark Nelson called a knockdown toward the end of the round (more on this later). 

Usyk didn't step on the gas in the 10th or the 11th, but he controlled Fury and still battered him with a few big left hands in each round. The 12th was more competitive. I thought that Usyk had the better moments, but all three judges gave it to Fury. 

The judges' scores were 114-113 and 115-112 for Usyk and 114-113 for Fury (I had it 116-111 for Usyk). Each scorecard was defensible in my opinion. I thought that there were up to four rounds, specifically the 1st, 2nd, 7th, and 12th, that could have gone either way. In the first and seventh, Fury had seemingly won the round, with the exception of a couple of big shots that Usyk landed. Those rounds are the definition of "what you like" for a judge: Fury's volume and consistency or Usyk's more telling blows. 

Although I believe that Fury had a case for winning, I don't think that he got his tactics right at the beginning of the fight. He spent the first two rounds trying to counter off the ropes. And these were mostly voluntary choices by him. This led to Usyk having moments of early success with his left hand. Fury could have started off the match in all sorts of ways – for instance, on his front foot or circling – but I think that the decision to hang by the ropes gave Usyk early confidence that he could get to Fury. 

Fury was at his best in rounds 4, 5 and 6. More often in the center of the ring, he used his quick, short counters to beat Usyk in exchanges. He wisely decided to take some of the sting off his shots, and he quickly realized that throwing his punches at 70% or 80% force could still do more than enough damage. In the fifth round, Fury crushed Usyk with a short uppercut that badly wobbled the Ukrainian. 

But it wasn't just one punch from Fury. During this passage of the fight he displayed his entire arsenal, connecting with straight rights to the body, pinpoint left hooks, and quick combinations. He was so dominant after the sixth round that it looked like the fight was only going to go his way. 


What has made Usyk so special throughout his career is his ability to beat back danger on his way to winning. He has an unusual skill of performing at his highest level after experiencing duress, and not the duress of being down a round or two, but the duress of having his chin cracked or his body pulverized by a big shot. 

Usyk can somehow remove himself from the present danger, to disregard it, to nullify it even though it is happening to him. It's like he flicks a switch. It's binary. He's hurt or he's losing; now he's not! This pattern played out in the two Anthony Joshua fights, the Tony Bellew fight, the Michael Hunter fight, and even against Daniel Dubois, where at the very least he was badly hurt by a shot that was ruled a low blow. 

It is when he appears to be at his lowest point in the fight where suddenly he regathers himself and becomes unbeatable. He seems to draw a mental line in the sand where he says, "no more." 

Fury getting through with a right hook
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

I don't remember a successful combination from Fury in the last five rounds of Saturday's fight. Fury was so spooked in the final rounds that he stopped jabbing with conviction (the southpaw right hook can come right over the orthodox jab). 

Usyk doesn't waste punches. He also doesn't show everything in his arsenal unless he needs to. He can win with an economical punch selection or can be more expansive if the fight requires it. He starts with his left and only when he needs more from his bag of tricks does he go to them. His approach maximizes the element of surprise. Late in the fight, Fury had no idea how to defend the right hook. He hadn't seen it yet. He didn't know the angles for the shot or Usyk's facility for throwing and landing it. 

One quick note on referee Mark Nelson: In the ninth, Nelson made a series of decisions that upset many boxing fans. Let's innumerate them: 

  1. He could have called a knockdown on Fury earlier in the round than when he did. 
  2. He could have stopped the fight instead of calling a knockdown.
  3. He gave Fury too much recovery time after the knockdown. 

I think that fans have a right to be upset with Nelson regarding points 1 and 3. Fury had hit the ropes from a punch multiple times in the round. Only when it looked like a finishing blow could potentially happen did Nelson call the knockdown. And Nelson was certainly generous with giving Fury a few extra seconds after the knockdown. 

But for point number 2, I'm glad that Nelson didn't stop the fight. His job after the knockdown was to evaluate whether Fury had the ability to protect himself and if he was in the condition to continue. I'm sure that Nelson realized that the end of the round was near and I'm also positive that the ref fully understood Fury's recuperative powers in previous fights when he had been hurt.  

Although I don't think that Nelson bathed himself in 100% glory during the ninth, I think that his decision to let the fight continue was the correct call. Fury was never badly hurt throughout the rest of the fight or in serious danger of hitting the canvas again. Ultimately, Nelson played a major role in letting the fighters decide the outcome of the bout, which is what I think a ref should do whenever he or she can. Yes, many referees would have stopped Saturday's fight in the ninth, and they would have been able to defend their actions, but the conclusion to Saturday's fight was much more satisfying because Nelson allowed the fight to continue.  


Fury-Usyk was a wonderful addition to the heavyweight annals. Both boxers displayed an ability to fight in different styles and make pivotal adjustments. Both were hurt and found a way to stay on their feet. There was tension and excitement throughout; it was riveting stuff.  

Was it a perfect fight? No. I think that both fighters were a little too comfortable in the championship rounds. Neither really stepped on the gas. Fury was trying to regather himself and didn't make a concerted effort to win the 10th or 11th; Usyk was happy to bank rounds without expending more energy than he needed to. The fight didn't have the relentlessness and desperation found in Ali-Frazier 3 or Fury-Wilder 3, where there was a feeling that both guys in the ring were fighting for their life. Saturday's fight didn't transcend the sport, becoming something more epic or primal, but it was a great advertisement for what boxing can offer at the highest level. 

Usyk, undisputed, celebrating the victory
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

I've heard too many boxing fans complain that they don't make heavyweight fights like they used to, but this era has produced Fights of the Year like Joshua-Klitschko and Fury-Wilder 3 and Rounds of the Year in Joshua-Klitschko, Joshua-Ruiz 1 and Fury-Wilder 1. I've also really enjoyed Hrgovic-Zhang, Parker-Joyce, Wilder-Ortiz 1, and Ruiz-Ortiz.  

Today's heavyweight division features terrific personal stories as well. Fury's comeback from depression and other mental health challenges inspired many. Ruiz becoming the first Mexican-heritage heavyweight champion after coming in as a last-minute replacement was the stuff of cinema and legend. How about Joseph Parker's talents in comedy or Joe Joyce's prowess in art? The ferocious power displays from Anthony Joshua, Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder have been thrilling.  

This heavyweight era will now be defined by Usyk, a complicated character who can be menacing or the biggest joker on the stage. He's a dancer, a prankster and devoutly religious. Beating everyone on their home turf or in neutral settings, Usyk is the sport's supreme road warrior. Think about the mental strength it takes to win fight after fight without home support, and almost always as the B-side. He just goes from place to place knocking off champions and challengers. 

He has now become undisputed champion at cruiserweight and heavyweight. He has never received a gift from the judges. All of his victories have been earned, a number of them after being hurt or behind in the fight.  

In the last few years, Usyk has had to deal with the devastating consequences of the war in his homeland. Over the last two years, Usyk has spent nights in bomb shelters. He's experienced missile attacks and bombs. He's seen death, the destruction of nearby residential buildings, and the ending of a previous way of life. And he has had to compartmentalize that anguish and despair and prepare for the guy in front of him in the ring who wants to batter him and take his world title.  

Since the war started, Usyk has defeated two of the bigger punchers in the division (Joshua and Dubois) and one of the craftiest fighters in modern heavyweight history (Fury). These performances have demonstrated Usyk's deep psychological and emotional reservoirs of strength. He has refused to wilt or yield. He has beaten opponents who are much bigger and hit harder. He has not let any of those disadvantages stand in his way. At his core, he has a will that cannot be broken. He will persevere. He will beat back what's in front of him. He will find a way. He will win.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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1 comment:

  1. AnonymousMay 20, 2024

    Loving your work, Adam. You're now my go-to man for anything boxing related.