Oleksandr Usyk retained his three heavyweight titles with a split decision victory over Anthony Joshua in their rematch on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
One judge scored the bout for Joshua, 115-113, but was overruled by tallies of 115-113 and 116-112 in favor of Usyk, who defeated Joshua for a second time.
Joshua, who entered the ring as champion when the two met in September in London, fared far better in the return bout under the guidance of new trainer Robert Garcia, but it still wasn’t enough.
Usyk, 35, kept his WBA, WBO and IBF belts six months after serving in the Ukrainian army as part of the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion.
Round 12: Joshua had some of his best moments of the fight with few powerful shots that caught Usyk’s attention as he pressed for the KO, but the champ absorbed the shots and kept throwing with ferocity, outhustling Joshua to close the fight strong. Close round. 10-9, Usyk. 116-112, Usyk.
Round 11: Joshua has his moments with the body shots again, but Usyk far sharper. He was able to slide around AJ and connect to the head over and over. One round remaining. 10-9, Usyk. 106-103, Usyk.
Round 10: Usyk responds with an even bigger round than Joshua had in the ninth. Had Joshua in some trouble after he let his hands go with power combo after power combo. AJ was able to fend him off with a big counter right but Usyk kept pushing after. 10-9, Usyk. 96-94, Usyk.
Round 9: Joshua with a huge round! Usyk in big trouble here. Joshua finally hurt Usyk to the body and followed up as the champ was reeling with a bundle of big shots to the head. Could be the turning point. 10-9, Joshua. 86-85, Usyk.
Round 8: Joshua with some beautiful body work. Connected on a few sharp right hands to the midsection before he unloaded to the head. Joshua needed this round badly. 10-9, Joshua. 77-75, Usyk.
Round 7: Joshua applies pressure, but doesn’t throw many punches behind it. Rather than cut off the ring he followed Usyk as the champ landed combos. Joshua needs to throw far more punches. Too many pawing shots. 10-9, Usyk. 68-65, Usyk.
Round 6: Joshua had a nice sequence where he unloaded a few body shots and then a combo upstairs with Usyk pinned on ropes, but the champ responded with even better shots as he stayed out of range. 10-9, Usyk. 58-56, Usyk.
Round 5: Usyk finding his rhythm now and ratcheting up his output. Usyk landed a few sharp left hands and continues to avoid AJ’s body shots. Joshua needs to assert himself more and cut off the ring. He can’t win going backward. 10-9, Usyk. 48-47, Usyk.
Round 4: Usyk far more active, starting to dart in and out to find the angles. He’s been able to evade Joshua’s big right uppercut so far, the punch AJ is searching for. Fight heating up. 10-9, Usyk. 38-38.
Round 3: Joshua remains patient but far more physical than the first fight. Loved the way he threw that extra body shot in the clinch. Usyk not out of first gear yet, hasn’t thrown many power shots so far. 10-9, Joshua. 29-28, Joshua.
Round 2: Joshua with a strong round that he punctuated with a sharp right hand in the closing seconds. Lots of focus on the body, and Joshua connected with a bundle of shots there. AJ appears improved thus far. 10-9, Joshua. 19-19.
Round 1: Oleksandr Usyk wins a feeling-out round. Just like in their first meeting, Usyk used plenty of movement and jabs to beat Joshua to the punch. AJ did land a few body shots and appeared more intent on using his size. 10-9, Usyk.
Hrgovic edges Zhang in heavyweight eliminator
Filip Hrgovic scored a close unanimous-decision victory over Zhilei Zhang in a tougher-than-expected battle to earn an IBF heavyweight title shot. The scores: 115-112, 115-112 and 114-113.
Hrgovic, a 10-1 favorite, was floored by a cuffing right hand in the closing moments of Round 1 and struggled during the first half. However, the 30-year-old found new life later on as Zhang, who weighed 277 pounds, appeared to tire.
“It was a very close fight,” said Hrgovic, who captured bronze for Croatia at the 2016 Olympics. “I was losing the fight but in the later rounds I pushed myself and gave everything and gave him some huge shots.
“The knockdown, I wasn’t hurt at all,” he added. ” … To be honest, he surprised me. He’s better than I thought. He gave me a tough fight.”
Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) long has been regarded as one of the best heavyweight prospects in boxing, but the disappointing performance raises questions about his level.
Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs), on other hand, figures to land another meaningful fight. The 39-year-old from China believed he did enough to win the fight on the scorecards.
Smith stops Bauderlique in Round 4
Former super middleweight titleholder Callum Smith scored a one-punch KO of Mathieu Bauderlique to guarantee himself a WBC light heavyweight title shot.
The 32-year-old from Liverpool, England, floored Bauderlique (21-2, 12 KOs) with a counter left hook in Round 4 before another left hook sent Bauderlique crashing to the mat in a heap for the knockout.
“I’m in this game to become a two-weight world champion,” said Smith (29-1, 21 KOs). “Tonight brought me one step closer.”
Artur Beterbiev, who holds the WBC title at 175 pounds (along with the WBC and WBA belts), is slated to first defend his belts against Anthony Yarde in early 2023.
The contest was Smith’s second at 175 pounds. He moved up in weight after Canelo Alvarez defeated him via lopsided decision in December 2020.
Bauderlique, a 33-year-old Frenchman, claimed bronze at the 2016 Olympics. He was fighting at the world-class level for the first time.
Jack outpoints Rivera in close, entertaining fight
Badou Jack, a former super middleweight champion, eked out a split-decision victory over unheralded fighter Richard “Popeye the Sailor Man” Rivera in a 10-round cruiserweight fight.
One judge scored the matchup for Rivera 96-94, but was overruled by a pair of 96-94 scorecards in favor of Jack.
“I think I did enough. Very awkward, ugly style,” said Jack, who was fighting at 200 pounds for the third consecutive time. ” … I need to step my game up, I can’t fight like this. … We’re going to do better next time.”
The 38-year-old, who fights out of Las Vegas, struggled over the first half before taking control during the final five rounds. Jack’s best moments came in the fourth minute — that’s right — of Round 8, a frame that mistakenly was allowed to last 3 minutes, 58 seconds, almost a minute longer than regulations state.
Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs) buzzed Rivera during the fourth minute and was able to do enough to escape with the win and avoid a major upset defeat.
Rivera (21-1, 16 KOs) suffered the first loss of his career in his first fight against world-class competition, but after the performance, he could be in line for another opportunity.
Almaayouf wins first pro fight by TKO
Jose Alatorre came out moving forward behind wild flurries that forced Ziyad Almaayouf to move backwards. Almaayouf adjusted, landing 20 of 37 power punches (54%) en route to scoring the first-round technical knockout in his pro debut.
Almaayouf, 22, scored two knockdowns before the referee stopped the contest with five seconds remaining in the opening round.
Ali stops Garcia in 65 seconds
Ramla Ali, in the first professional women’s boxing match in the history of Saudi Arabia, kicked off the main card with a first-round TKO of Crystal Garcia Nova.
Ali, a model and racial equality activist from Somalia, floored Garcia (10-3, 10 KOs) with a sharp right hand that sent the mouthpiece soaring outside the ropes. Garcia, a 22-year-old from Dominican Republic, didn’t seem to attempt to beat the count.
“I feel like I need to go back and do some more pads, I didn’t really get out of first gear,” said Ali, a 2020 Olympian who resides in London. “I’m really looking forward to having a little break now. … My last two fights I’ve been training and competing with a fractured wrist and fractured toe.”
Ali (7-0, 2 KOs), who is trained by Manny Robles, needed just 65 seconds to score the stoppage.
Bader Samreen def. Fuad Tarverdi by fourth-round TKO