Oleksandr Usyk nearly knocks out Tyson Fury, ultimately wins split decision in instant classic

Oleksandr Usyk became the first undisputed heavyweight champion in 25 years after nearly knocking out Tyson Fury and ultimately securing a split decision victory in a 12-round war for the ages.

As the smaller fighter in the ring, Usyk had to deal with Fury’s size and power all night long but he actually came closest to a finish following a blistering performance in the eighth round. With Fury on his backfoot, Usyk exploded forward with a massive combination capped off with a huge right hand that cracked Fury and put him on wobbly legs.

As Fury stumbled backwards, Usyk surged ahead with another blistering combination including a staggering left hook and it appeared for a moment that referee Mark Nelson might stop the fight. Instead, Nelson called off Usyk and gave Fury the standing 10 count as he survived the round with the bell sounding just a second later.

Miraculously, Fury recovered enough between rounds to come back out and give Usyk everything he could handle for the final 12 minutes but that pivotal moment seemingly made the difference in the end. The judges scored the fight 115-112 and 114-113 for Usyk with the third judge going 114-113 for Fury.

That was still enough for Usyk to get the win as he remains undefeated and now becomes the undisputed heavyweight champion.

“Thank you so much for my team,” Usyk said with emotion washing over his face. “It’s a great time, it’s a great day.”

For his part, Fury told Usyk “well done” as the fighters embraced in the ring but “The Gypsy King” clearly believed he did enough to deserve the victory.

“I believe I won that fight,” Fury said. “I believe he won a few of the rounds but I believe I won the majority of them. We both put on a good fight, the best we could do. His country’s at war so people are siding with the country at war. Make no mistake, I won that fight, in my opinion. I’ll be back. I’ve got a rematch clause. We’ll run it back October.”

There’s little doubt that many of the rounds could have gone either way with a few key moments really making the difference in the decision, most notably Usyk’s near finish in the eighth round.

When the fight got started, Usyk’s activity and forward pressure gave Fury problems as he kept backing up and struggling to find a home for his punches. It wasn’t until the third round when Fury finally started getting his offense moving as he countered Usyk and started setting up a well-timed uppercut that continued to pay dividends for him throughout the fight.

The sixth round ended up as Fury’s best after he cracked Usyk with several stinging shots including a couple of hard punches to the body and another nasty uppercut to the head. For the first time, Usyk was backing up and playing defense with Fury really starting to take over.

The confidence continued growing in Fury until the eighth round when Usyk came storming back with the flurry that nearly ended the fight. Once Usyk had Fury hurt, he went for the kill as he continued pursuing the bigger heavyweight across the ring with a barrage of shots.

Nelson’s decision to give Fury a standing 10 count rather than allowing Usyk to continue teeing off on him may have prevented a potential knockout. Either way, Fury’s zombie like ability to absorb punishment and persevere was once again on display.

Even a strong start for Usyk in the ninth round didn’t stop Fury from putting the pressure on him again, especially after he starting winging out a good straight right that caught the Ukrainian off guard on several occasions. The combinations were coming in rapid-fire fashion from both fighters with Usyk blasting away at Fury to keep him honest in every exchange.

The back-and-forth war continued until the final bell in a close fight left up to interpretation with many believing Usyk definitely deserved the nod and others feeling like Fury edged it out despite the near finish in the eighth round.

Considering the stakes and the immediate rematch clause for both fighters, it seems likely that Usyk and Fury will run it back later this year. For now, Usyk can celebrate his awe-inspiring win as he becomes undisputed heavyweight champion and Fury now has to figure out to avenge the first and only loss of his entire career.