Oleksandr Usyk was always destined to defend his heavyweight titles in spite of Russia’s invasion of his native Ukraine. His countrymen made sure of that.
Usyk stepped away for a time to do his part in the war effort but Ukrainians made it clear they wanted him to beat Anthony Joshua in their rematch on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, in part to bolster morale in the besieged European country.
“He made his decision to take the rematch in these circumstances after he had received massive support from his Ukrainian compatriots,” Usyk’s longtime promoter Alexander Krassyuk said at the final news conference before the fight.
“He was in touch with high-ranking military officers and he visited the hospitals with injured soldiers. In every conversation he heard words of blessing and support to take the rematch. People wanted him to fight. People still want him to win.
“People want the Ukrainian flag to rise, people want the Ukrainian anthem to be heard throughout the whole planet. Not many men in the world can deliver this to millions of people. Usyk is able to do that. He does that through the sport of boxing.”
And Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) certainly doesn’t want to disappoint his supporters.
The former undisputed cruiserweight champion is known primarily for his ring acumen and sublime skill set, which befuddled Joshua in their first fight. He also trains as hard as anyone in the business.
Usyk’s handlers aren’t surprised by much of what he’s able to do. However, even they were impressed with the work he has put in to prepare for this fight.
“I can tell you, I’ve never seen anybody in 45-degree heat (113 Fahrenheit) ride a bicycle for 100 kilometers,” said his manager, Egis Klimas. “I’ve never seen anybody swimming the day before a press conference in London for 10 kilometers in the pool for five hours.
“I’ve never seen anybody hold their breath underwater for 4 minutes and 40 seconds, almost passing away. I hope all of this is going to be helping him on Saturday night.”
Said Krassyuk: “When we watched Usyk’s videos from the training camp we realized that he looks like a cyborg. He went through hell in the training camp in the last three months. It did not kill him but it made him even stronger. I’ve never seen him more determined than now.
“Not many champions in the world can share their experience going through the war and making their way to the ring to defend their heavyweight crown. It was an extremely complicated challenge for him, but he seems to have passed it.”
Meanwhile, Usyk is ready to do his thing.
“We learned from each other in the first fight, but this is a continuation and the first round on Saturday will be round 13,” he said through a translator. “We had enough time to study each other. We were born to compete for life, for belts, for everything.
“The one who does not compete, does not win. All our lives are competitions for something or somebody. That’s why we are competing. We’ve had enough time to study each other and this Saturday will be a great, great fight.”