Boxing | Oleksandr Usyk, majesty of the heavyweights and emblem of Ukraine at war

(Paris) Crowned world champion six months before the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Oleksandr Usyk, who hopes to become the sole heavyweight king on Saturday, approaches each outing in the ring with an extra bit of soul, carried by the support for millions of Ukrainians whose lives have been disrupted by the war.

Before facing Tyson Fury on Saturday in Riyadh for the long-awaited unification fight of the premier category, Usyk, WBA, WBO and IBF champion, displays an impeccable record of 21 victories, including 14 before the limit, for no defeats. His last fight: a success by stoppage by the referee against the Briton Daniel Dubois.

In the ring at the Wroclaw stadium in Poland, wearing a yellow and blue mouthguard and shoes, he dedicated his victory to “(his) country and the Ukrainian army”.

As a prelude, the public and viewers were treated to a recorded speech by Volodymyr Zelensky. “Ukraine is fighting thanks to the strength that you will see, the strength of our people as powerful as Oleksandr Usyk,” declared the Ukrainian president.

Because for more than two years, Usyk has had to take on the role of emblem of his country.

February 2022: While in London planning his revenge against Anthony Joshua, Russian President Vladimir Putin sends tens of thousands of invasion troops to Ukraine.

More useful in the ring

Usyk then responded to the general mobilization and returned home to serve as a volunteer in the army.

“I lived with the troops. I was there for the soldiers. With binoculars, I saw my enemies running, the tanks exploding, the houses destroyed,” he said in October 2023 in an interview with the Daily Mail. “I saw people without arms or legs. Those who could still walk looked like the living dead. »

After a few weeks, however, he was dissuaded from continuing armed combat, his compatriots believing that as a world star, he would be more useful in and outside the ring than at the front.

“The guys from the armed forces convinced me that I had to fight to help my country on the international stage, talk about it and bring opportunities to Ukraine to rebuild it,” he explained to AFP in January 2023.

It is in this context that he joins forces with the charitable organization United24 for fundraising for reconstruction. His personal foundation also contributes to the purchase of vehicles and equipment for the armed forces or to humanitarian aid. Above all, each of his fights turns into a platform for his country.

” Source of inspiration ”

Born in the city of Simferopol in Crimea, Usyk was not always seen as a symbol of resistance. After the annexation of his native peninsula by Russia in 2014, he was accused by many Ukrainians of remaining neutral and lambasted for declaring that Russians and Ukrainians were part of the same people.

But since the Russian invasion of 2022, the discourse has changed, with his promoter Alexander Krassyuk believing that Usyk represented “a real source of inspiration for Ukraine, for the guys who are on the front line”.

“When he speaks, his words are an inspiration to the Ukrainian people and to the soldiers fighting the enemy,” he says. “He gives them courage.”

And vice versa. Speaking about his rematch against Joshua in August 2022, Usyk explains: “In the ninth round, I realized that if I fell now, the souls of the fighters who defend our country would also fall. »

“I didn’t box for myself, I boxed for all those who defend the country. »

Before his historic fight against Fury on Saturday in Riyadh, Usyk can in any case look back on an impeccable sporting career, playing to his strengths: his arm and leg speed, his technique and his atypical left-handed boxing which earned him the nickname “cat”.

Turning professional in 2013, a year after his Olympic title at the London Olympics, Usyk first climbed the ranks at light heavyweight until capturing the unified title in the category in 2018.

He then decides to try his luck at heavyweight and finds himself from his third fight, in September 2021, official challenger to Anthony Joshua, holder of the WBA, WBO and IBF belts.

In London, in front of 60,000 spectators at the Tottenham stadium, he created a surprise by dethroning Joshua on points and unanimously by the judges.

A victory on Saturday against Fury, holder of the WBC title since 2020, would make him the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis, winner of Evander Holyfield in 1999.

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