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Usyk’s Win Is a Plot Twist for Boxing’s Heavyweight Division

In mid-May, Fury and Hearn each announced an agreement for a midsummer bout between Joshua and Fury, with the W.B.A., W.B.C., W.B.O. and I.B.F. belts at stake. Days later, a judge ruled that Fury instead had to fight Wilder, who had filed an injunction to enforce the rematch clause in his previous fight with Fury. Although Fury and Wilder made plans to meet again, the W.B.O. ordered Joshua to face Usyk or risk being stripped of that title.

“Maybe we should have swerved him, and put the belt in the bin,” Hearn said at the news conference, indicating that a fighter of Joshua’s profile can vacate a title without losing visibility. “But that’s not what A.J.’s about.”

The upside, for fight fans, is a series of high-stakes, competitive heavyweight fights among name-brand fighters whose profile doesn’t depend on title belts. Joshua isn’t famous because he held the W.B.O. belt; the W.B.O. belt gets attention because Joshua held it.

“Would you still watch it without title belts?” Joshua asked a reporter, rhetorically, at the postfight news conference.

Oddsmakers favored Joshua, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighed 240 pounds, to retain his titles over the older, smaller Usyk. But Usyk used superior footwork and hand speed to buzz Joshua early. Joshua surged in the middle rounds, finally landing his jab, along with some heavy body blows.

By the ninth round, the damage was visible on each fighter’s face. Joshua sported a puffy right eye, and Usyk had red welts under each eye and, eventually, a cut in his right eyebrow. But Usyk upped his output in the final quarter of the fight, and he won the final four rounds on every judge’s card.

Joshua called the fight “a great experience.”

That’s a charitable way of saying Usyk took Joshua to school. According to CompuBox, Usyk landed 148 of 529 punches, compared with 123 of 641 for Joshua. Usyk also landed 44 percent of his power punches (96 of 220) while Joshua landed just 33 percent (71 of 214).