Oleksandr Usyk ready to inspire Ukraine in Fury fight

Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk faces Briton Tyson Fury in one of the most anticipated fights in modern boxing history. But what does boxing matter to a country at war?

oleksandr usyk ready to inspire ukraine in fury fight

Oleksandr Usyk is fighting for much more than just himself when he takes on Tyson Fury in Saudi Arabia

On May 18 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oleksandr Usyk is to fight Tyson Fury to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 1999 in one of the most eagerly awaited boxing matches in modern history. Fury enters as the current WBC heavyweight champion of the world, while Usyk remains undefeated in his professional career and has yet to be beaten since switching from cruiserweight where he was the undisputed champion. The pair were supposed to fight in February but Fury got a sparring injury above his eye that forced him to postpone.

This boxingmatch is eagerly anticipated for sporting reasons – it's the technical brilliance of Usyk against the power and size of Fury – but there is much more at play here than just whoever lands the most punches.

More than an athlete

"Right now, the Ukrainian community, we demand from all the sportsmen, from all the athletes to be more than just athletes, not only box to box, not only to jump high and not only to play football, but we ask them to be a real citizen of Ukraine and to tell the world what is going on in our country. Usyk does this perfectly," Oleh Scherbakov, chief editor of Tribuna, a leading sports website in Ukraine, told DW.

Usyk recently posted on his Instagram a message about fighting for light, referring to the fact almost all Ukrainianelectricity systems have been destroyed. He has launched a foundation to help back home, giving money to volunteers in the regions under the greatest threat.

"He's a real champion of the people," Scherbakov explained. "He met Ukrainian soldiers, one kilometer from the front line. He gave them presents, and not only such celebrity presents, but real presents, drones, food. His actions right now are really, really good."

Watched on the front line

Just three years ago, after Usyk's victory over Anthony Joshua, the champion was not universally congratulated at home and even faced hostility from some particularly patriotic Ukrainians because of ambivalent statements Usyk made in the past on Russia and the annexed Crimea, his home region.

However, since then, Usyk's actions and words appear to have left little room for doubt that the 37-year-old cares deeply for Ukraine, its people and its current plight.

"I want to say that my victory is the victory of the entire Ukraine people and defeat is personal," Usyk told broadcaster TNT Sports ahead of the fight against Fury.

As a result, it is no surprise that Usyk's fight against Fury is expected to be one of the most watched sports events both in Ukraine and around the world this year.

"Everyone will see it, for sure," Scherbakov said. "And even our soldiers, because now we have internet near the frontlines. Our soldiers often send us photos or videos how they see boxing near the frontline."

Winning is what Usyk has spent all of his career doing, and one more would mean the undisputed title and a perfect career. More than that though, it will carry an even greater symbolism for Ukraine.

In interview with DW, Ukrainian Minister of Youth and Sports Matviy Bidnyi said: "Important now for us is one more point: that Ukrainians are people who (have the) will to win. It's one more sign of Ukrainian resilience. Even in this environment, even in this difficult situation, our sportsmen, our athletes continue to be winners and show all of the world what is happening today in Ukraine."

For the man who won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, this victory is the last piece of the boxing puzzle.

Who is the favorite?

In such a fight, a clear favorite is hard to call. Fury's large size – the Briton stands at 6'9'' (206 centimeters) and weighs 126 kilograms (278 pounts) – is his main advantage over Usyk, who is 6'3'' and 100 kilograms. But many, Scherbakov included, believe that size alone is not enough.

"I think Usyk has to win. He's a better boxer than Tyson Fury," Scherbakov said.

"He's very quick on his feet, he has a brilliant sense of distance. Maybe he cannot knock out Tyson Fury with one punch, but he's also a boxer who literally abuses his opponents with constant pressure, punches from different angles, various combinations and he almost never pauses in his fights. I remember one message from my father. He said that Oleksandr Usyk is a truck with the capabilities of a Ferrari."

Ukraine is used to being the best in the ring. The Klitschko brothers, Andreas Kotelnik, Serhiy Dzindziruk, Vasyl Lomachenko – there are a lot of names on the list. Now it's Usyk turn.

"Usyk is without a doubt one of the most technical boxers in the history of heavyweights," Scherbakov said. "If he wins, he can be called the best heavyweight boxer in history."

A Usyk victory would also send a message to the world that is more powerful than the Ukrainian boxer's punches.

Edited by: Chuck Penfold

Author: Jonathan Harding

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