The knock-on effect of Oleksandr Usyk’s win over Tyson Fury – and what it means for Anthony Joshua

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When the dust settled in Riyadh, and there was plenty of it, thoughts quickly turned to Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk 2 – or Usyk vs Fury 2, as it will be billed, after the Ukrainian established himself as the A-side of this rivalry and undisputed heavyweight champion.

Focus turned to the rematch not only because it is contracted, with Usyk and Fury expected to collide again in Riyadh this October, but because the sequel to Saturday’s classic will be the biggest fight left this year.

Furthermore, the rematch is part of a larger, established plan by the Saudis: the winner will face Anthony Joshua in the first quarter of 2025. Except...

As much as Saudi money has given direction and urgency to the heavyweight division, enabling the first undisputed fight in 25 years among other enticing match-ups, the Gulf state’s relevant figures cannot override boxing’s madness entirely. It is by nature a chaotic sport, and chaos may yet ensue.

The first hint came on Saturday at the Kingdom Arena, where Fury looked close to having Usyk beaten, only to succumb to a rousing comeback. Had the Briton won, he might have had to replicate the result in October to ensure a clash with “AJ”, but now?

Now Fury must avenge this split-decision defeat, the first loss of his career, in which he was arguably saved by the referee in round nine. Then, he will have evened the score with Usyk, regained the WBC belt, and taken the southpaw’s unified titles – which Fury held many years ago, prior to his hiatus. Usyk would raise his eyebrows reading this.

But even then, what next? There has been no mention of Usyk and Fury’s instantly iconic rivalry becoming a trilogy, but boxing’s long and convoluted history tells us that a third showdown is a real possibility.

It would only be fair to Usyk but it would also thwart the Saudi machinations of Fury vs Joshua in early 2025. Then again, there is the chance that Usyk – now 37 – walks away after a second bout with Fury, 35.

Usyk nearly finished Fury in round nine of their heavyweight classic (PA)
Usyk nearly finished Fury in round nine of their heavyweight classic (PA)

That might open the door for Fury vs Joshua, regardless of whether Usyk wins or loses in October. All of this, of course, depends on October being a feasible timeline. It is also worth noting that one of the titles might have been stripped from Usyk by then. There is another potential complication.

Joshua, per a plan by Saudi adviser Turki Al-Sheikh, must see off Filip Hrgovic or Daniel Dubois at Wembley in September, depending on who wins on 1 June. Dubois is still relatively young and raw but he carries fight-changing power; Hrgovic is seasoned and a more technical operator but his knockout capabilities should not be underestimated.

And if Joshua, 34, is to navigate whichever test he faces in September, and Fury is to overcome Usyk, there is no guarantee the long-awaited, all-British super-fight will ensue. Fury is ever so slightly long in the tooth now, and he has shown physical vulnerabilities numerous times – including on Saturday. There is every chance he beats Usyk in October but is not fit to fight in Q1 of 2025. Or maybe Joshua passes his next test but suffers a physical setback.

On a more positive note, Saturday should not have dulled the appetite for Fury vs Joshua. It would not carry the hype it could have when the pair were unbeaten, but the fact that each has lost almost evens the odds – to an extent. The match-up feels as close to 50-50 as it ever has, even if the Britons are not seen as the forces they once were.

Joshua (left) watching Fury vs Usyk from ringside with Cristiano Ronaldo (Getty)
Joshua (left) watching Fury vs Usyk from ringside with Cristiano Ronaldo (Getty)

That is thanks to Usyk, who outclassed Joshua twice and has now done the same to the “Gypsy King”. On that note, Usyk vs Joshua 3 is a possible outcome in this saga, and right now it is harder to make a case for AJ in that fight than against Fury – or for Fury in his rematch with Usyk. Usyk vs Joshua is the least-desired contest of all those involving this trio, and the Saudis will hope it does not transpire. Boxing fans will hope not, too.

Yet AJ and his new coach Ben Davison are reportedly motivated for that fight. For Davison, who previously coached Fury, it would be a chance to further show AJ’s improvements under his guidance. For AJ, it would be a chance to defy his doubters. Bear in mind: Joshua’s second showing against Usyk was much improved, and the Ukrainian is approaching the tail end of his career.

Still, there is motivation for Fury vs Joshua, and there is a road to that fight. The Saudis have paved that road ambitiously, but also a little naively. Need proof? Just look at Saturday’s chaotic main event.