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Tyson Fury Narrowly Misses Chance to Become Undisputed Heavyweight Champion - What You Need to Know

Tyson Fury had an opportunity to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion in nearly 25 years when he stepped into the ring in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 18. Oleksandr Usyk was the only thing standing between him, and heavyweight immortality.


A former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Usyk had never lost as a professional, with 22 wins across the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions. The Ukrainian southpaw held the WBA, WBO, and IBF belts, each of which he took from Anthony Joshua in a 2021 bout. In squaring off with Fury, he was putting all three titles on the line.


For his part, Fury held the WBC title, which he won by knocking out Deontay Wilder in 2020. The Briton (whose first matchup with Wilder ended in a draw, the lone blemish on his record) also came into the contest as the lineal champion, which he earned by beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2019. (A lineal champion is a boxer who has defeated a weight class’s previous lineal champion; no actual belt is awarded for the title.)


The stakes of a Fury-Usyk matchup couldn’t be higher. The winner would be the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis and the first undisputed heavyweight champion since the WBO became the fourth major sanctioning body in 2007.


The Leadup


Fury’s and Usyk’s camps were in negotiations for several years for the much-anticipated heavyweight clash. In March of 2023, it looked as if boxing fans would finally get what they had been clamoring for, when the two sides agreed to terms for a December 23 showdown.


As the date approached, Usyk stayed sharp in an August knockout victory over Daniel Dubois. Fury, who hadn’t been in the ring since concluding his trilogy with Dereck Chisora in December 2022, squared off in October with former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in a non-title fight.


Although Ngannou had never competed professionally as a boxer, Fury struggled during the match, suffering a knockdown in round three and having to dig deep to edge out a controversial split-decision victory. Fury took a beating, particularly to his left eye, which was badly swollen by the end of the night. The injury forced Fury’s camp to postpone the clash with Usyk to February 12.


Less than two weeks before fight night, there was another snag when Fury got cut above his eye while training. The injury forced another postponement, which left the WBC champion “devastated.”


Usyk took the delay in stride, saying he didn’t blame Fury for what happened. He was so focused on becoming undisputed heavyweight champion that he stayed in training camp while his wife gave birth to their fourth child in late January. Usyk said he would be prepared for Fury when they eventually met on the rescheduled date of May 12.


The Fight


There would be no more delays. On May 12, Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk stepped into the ring in Riyadh.


The bout started well for Usyk. Despite giving up 6 inches in height, 7 inches in reach, and more than 40 pounds, the southpaw took the first round on all three judges’ scorecards, in large parts thanks to his aggressiveness. The Ukrainian continued to pressure Fury over the next four rounds, but Fury’s skillful boxing and counterpunching kept the contest close.


In round five, The Gypsy King began taking control, moving forward for the first time, and landing hard shots to the body. All three judges scored rounds five through seven for the Briton.


Usyk began to increase his output in round seven, however. In round eight, he started to get the momentum back. Showing his championship mettle, he landed a massive right hand that opened a cut on Fury.


A bleeding and battered Fury came out for the ninth round looking to reestablish his jab. Usyk kept inside of his opponent’s long reach and landed two big overhand lefts. Fury swung back with an uppercut that missed, and Usyk unloaded with another overhand left that sent the WBC champion stumbling around the ring.


Fury remarkably avoided any additional punches from Usyk, but when he careened into the turnbuckle, referee Mark Nelson correctly ruled it a knockdown. The Briton stayed on his feet as Nelson gave him a standing 10 count, ending the round.


Usyk didn’t push his advantage in round 10. While he won the frame on all three judges’ scorecards, he failed to finish Fury. By the 11th round, both competitors looked exhausted. Usyk landed harder shots, but Fury showed his resilience by staying in the fight. In the 12th, Fury took the fight back to his opponent, landing a right hand that staggered the former cruiserweight champion. All three judges awarded the final round to Fury.


The Aftermath


The contest proved both men were worthy champions. As they awaited the results, the competitors waded through of sea of people inside the ring to share a long embrace.


A long delay preceded the announcement of the decision, heightening the drama. When it finally came, the judges were split. One scored the bout 114-113 for Fury, but he was overruled by the other two judges, who scored it 115-112 and 114-113 for Usyk. Looking at the scorecards, commentators pointed out that the difference was the ninth-round knockdown.


In a post-match interview, Fury lamented the decision, saying he believed he won the fight. Frank Warren, Fury’s promoter, said his boxer would exercise his rematch clause and that they wanted Usyk back in the ring as soon as possible.


Less than two weeks later, it was announced that Usyk and Fury would rematch on December 21. Boxing fans—and especially Tyson Fury fans—can’t wait.


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