Oleksandr Usyk defeats Tyson Fury by split decision to become first undisputed heavyweight champion in 24 years

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - MAY 18: Oleksandr Usyk punches Tyson Fury during the IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO and Undisputed Heavyweight titles' fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk at Kingdom Arena on May 18, 2024 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images)
Oleksandr Usyk had Tyson Fury on the ropes in the ninth round. (Photo by Richard Pelham/Getty Images)

The judges were split, but the title is undisputed. Boxing has its first true heavyweight king in 24 years, and his name is Oleksandr Usyk.

The WBA, WBO and IBF champion defeated WBC champion Tyson Fury on Saturday by split decision (115-112, 113-114, 114-113) to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 2000. The fight is the first loss of Fury's career.

It was a brilliant and evenly matched bout, until Usyk knocked down Fury in the ninth round to take control. Usyk could have won the fight then and there had it not been for a timely bell in Fury's favor, but that knockdown wound up being the difference on the scorecards.

"Is great time. Is great day," Usyk said after the fight. "Is big opportunity for my team, for my family, for my country!"

The always stoic Usyk let the tears flow after the decision was announced. Fury immediately disputed the decision and said he planned to exercise his rematch clause, claiming Usyk only won due to sympathy for his native Ukraine as it continues to fight Russia.

"I believe I won that fight. I believe he won a few of the rounds, but I won the majority of them. What can you do?" Fury said. "We both put on a good fight, best we could do. His country's 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."

Usyk immediately accepted the challenge, not that there was much else he could do. He certainly made a strong argument to be the favorite for the rematch, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12, per ESPN, which also reported that Usyk went to the hospital due to concerns of a broken jaw. His promoter reportedly said there was "no doubt" he would be ready for the rematch.

The fight began with both fighters filling their expected roles. Usyk, looking as intense as ever, landed more significant shots in the first round, while Fury played the clown, showboating and goading Usyk like he did before the fight. The gargantuan Englishman walked out to Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" and danced throughout the proceedings, which included some skipping during the Ukrainian national anthem.

Usyk, who took up arms for the Ukrainian military in the early days of Russia's invasion, likely didn't appreciate that. He opened the second round by tagging Fury again. The smaller fighter was the aggressor, but some of Fury's punches found their home as the fight progressed.

Fury got more comfortable over the next few rounds — while continuing to taunt Usyk — and managed to open a slight cut above Usyk's right eye in the fourth. Fury's length and feints definitely gave Usyk trouble, as much as the Ukrainian didn't let it show.

A right uppercut wobbled Usyk in the sixth round, with Fury in full control for the rest of the frame. The announcers even questioned why Fury was still clowning around when the opportunity to do damage was right there.

Usyk got back into his groove at the end of the seventh round, landing some shots at the end to steal some points on the cards and kept hammering away in the eighth. Fury's face was soon bloody.

Then came the ninth round.

In the final minute, Usyk sent Fury limp into the ropes and kept wobbling him for the next 30 seconds. Fury, fighting to maintain his balance and senses, was saved by the bell after the ninth knockdown of his career, but referee Mark Nelson could have very well stopped the fight there.

That wound up being the defining moment of a fight that went the distance, with Usyk doing all he needed for the next three rounds to snuff out a response from Fury.

The last undisputed heavyweight champion was Lennox Lewis, who defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999 to claim the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. As often happens in boxing, his undisputed reign didn't even last until his next fight against Michael Grant, as the WBA stripped him of its title for not facing mandatory challenger John Ruiz.

After Lewis' retirement, the heavyweight titles were controlled for much of the next two decades by the Klitchsko brothers, who famously refused to face each other for the undisputed crown. The next chance for an undisputed fight was Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, but the two fighters lost their crowns to Fury and Usyk, respectively, before making it happen.

All of that is why Saturday's fight, through the haggling and delays, was so big. Unfortunately, Usyk's undisputed reign will be even shorter than Lewis', as the IBF title will be formally stripped ahead of the bout between mandatory challengers Filip Hrgovic and Daniel Dubois on June 1.

It will be fun while it lasts. Usyk's rise since moving up from cruiserweight has been methodical yet undeniably impressive, moving through the likes of Derek Chisora, Anthony Joshua, Dubois and now Fury.

His undisputed status will be short-lived, but the entire boxing world now knows him as the top dog of the division.