Alan Hubbard

Once again we are reminded that Oleksandr Usyk is as hard to beat as his name is to pronounce.

The classy Ukrainian's second successive comprehensive defeat of Britain's Anthony Joshua in Jeddah last weekend was further evidence that the freedom fighter from his war-ravaged homeland is the best boxer on the planet.

What a shame, though, that his moment of glory should have been marred by the petulant behaviour of his fellow Olympic champion.

After storming from the ring at the conclusion of the fight, Joshua returned to snatch two of Usyk's world title belts and tossed them disdainfully over the ropes.

It was not only an uncharacteristic demonstration of pique by the clearly outboxed and outfoxed Joshua but unworthy of his status. In any other sport he would have been sanctioned but boxing has always been a law unto itself.

As it happened, it transpires that "AJ" was not disputing the Ukrainian's superiority over 12 rounds but apparently flipped his lid over his own inability to counter Usyk’s impeccable ringcraft despite his own improved performance.

Equally disgraceful was the scoring of the American judge, Glenn Feldman, who made Joshua the winner by two rounds. He needs to go to Specsavers.

Both the British and Ukrainian judges got it right otherwise the Rage on the Red Sea would have been more the Outrage on the Red Sea.

Oleksandr Usyk, right, outclassed fellow Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua for a second time ©Getty Images
Oleksandr Usyk, right, outclassed fellow Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua for a second time ©Getty Images

No doubt it was frustrating for Joshua to realise that he has missed out on boxing's "biggest-ever payday" for a unification bout with fellow Briton Tyson Fury. Instead it will be the slick southpaw from Crimea who will be stepping into the ring against the Gypsy giant sometime in December should the capricious Fury elect to curtail his so-called retirement. You bet he will.

For as the World Boxing Council champion says himself a match between two unbeaten world heavyweight champions - Usyk retained the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Federation titles he took from Joshua 11 months ago in London - would be "humongous".

He reckons any such comeback is worth "an obscene amount of money"; £500 million ($590 million/€595 million) is his asking price, a sum he quotes no doubt with his talkative tongue placed firmly in his cheek.

Cheek being the operative word.

"It's the biggest fight in the world, so it needs to be the biggest payday," Fury proclaims. But £500 million? You know what, it would not surprise me if the Saudis, so desperate are they to camouflage their medieval practice, whether with a veneer of respectability, that they might even fork out something approaching that figure. Their pot of petroleum dollars to host major sports events - including it would seem the Olympic Games - appears bottomless.

Sportswashing flaps merrily on the line, drying in the desert sun these days.

However, I do question the claim that Fury versus Usyk would be biggest fight in boxing. The richest certainly but in terms of universal appeal Muhammad Ali's encounters with Joe Frazier and George Foreman were better and bigger.

I do think that, should it happen, Usyk, though much smaller and lighter, would be the one man with a fighting chance of overcoming Fury, who says tantalisingly he would have fought Joshua "for nothing".

Usyk fights with not only his fists, but a heart filled with an unquenchable determination to do his battered and beleaguered homeland proud. He believes that every punch he throws is one in the eye for Vladimir Putin, and does wonders for Ukrainian morale.

Tyson Fury is retired - for now ©Getty Images
Tyson Fury is retired - for now ©Getty Images

He has a good chin and has the capability to outthink and outbox even the tactically astute Fury.

Meanwhile I respectfully suggest that there is an even bigger fight out there - one in which boxing itself is embroiled. It is the fight to stay in the Olympics, now seriously under threat.

Apparently the international Olympic Committee still has issues with the newly reformed governing body, the International Boxing Association (IBA). Formerly known as AIBA, there is no doubt that it was riddled with corruption both financially and regarding rigged judging.

This led to it being suspended from organising the Olympic tournament at Tokyo 2020. It does seem that under new leadership it has cleaned up its act.

Unfortunately, while boxing has secured its berth for Paris in 2024, ominously it is not on the list of sports for the following Games in Los Angeles four years later and the IBA will again not be involved in Paris.

It seems to me unthinkable that the core sport of the Olympics, and next to track and field the most watched globally according to broadcasters NBC, should be in jeopardy.

No doubt its exclusion would delight the woke wing of the IOC, who would like to see it replaced with a more esoteric pursuit, such as lacrosse, cheerleading, ballroom dancing or teqball, whatever that is.

They should be reminded that boxing has produced some Olympic legends, names that are as recognisable as superstars from any other sports, among them Ali, of course, Foreman, Frazier, Lennox Lewis, Teófilo Stevenson, Félix Savón, Vasiliy Lomachenko, László Papp, Wladimir Klitschko, "Sugar" Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya and latterly Joshua and Usyk.

Probably it does not help that the current president of the IBA happens to be a Russian, Umar Kremlev, who was elected in 2020.

IBA President Umar Kremlev is leading the fight for boxing to keep its place at the Olympics ©IBA
IBA President Umar Kremlev is leading the fight for boxing to keep its place at the Olympics ©IBA

This, of course, was well before the invasion of Ukraine, which has led to Russians becoming sporting pariahs.

Now I am not arguing against that. Let me make it clear that I am no Russophilia. I believe what they are doing in Ukraine is illegal, immoral and horrific. And as for Putin, I hope he is eventually arrested, held before the court in The Hague, convicted as a war criminal and thrown in jail to rot alongside those other despicable despots from the similar atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia.

Having said that, it does seem to me that Kremlev has done a decent job since his election.

Under his leadership the IBA does seem to have a much-improved administration. As a recent example, save for one premature stoppage, the officiating in Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games was beyond reproach.

Now I have never met Kremlev and have no great desire to do so, but it does seem to me that he genuinely has the welfare of boxers at heart, organising new boxing academies worldwide and putting the organisation on a sounder financial footing and encouraging the participation of women and young boxers from less wealthy nations.

As far as one can as one can ascertain the 41-year-old wealthy businessman of good repute is not a political animal or particular pal of Putin.

This week he is in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo - as Zaire it was memorably the setting for the Rumble in the Jungle - for the celebration of International Boxing Day. The IBA is encouraging National Federations to organise similar events involving training masterclasses from famous fighters and social events. He has also shown special concern for the welfare of Ukrainian boxers.

Interestingly, the IBA has invited a top female boxer, French Olympic gold medallist Estelle Mossely, who has a Ukrainian mother and Congolese father, to be a special guest in Kinshasa.

However, Kremlev is being challenged for the presidency by Dutchman Boris van der Vorst and it will be interesting to see whether the IOC’s reservations about the future of boxing will disappear should he be removed. Personally I would not be unhappy to see him re-elected but I doubt that Oleksandr The Great would agree.