“He is at war for Ukraine…”: who is boxer Oleksandr Usyk, undisputed heavyweight king

August 11, 2012. The London Olympics end and a 25-year-old Ukrainian boxer climbs to the highest step of the podium in the heavyweight* category (-91 kg). He is already a world and European amateur champion but who knows him? His name is Oleksandr Usyk. As soon as he got out of the box, he called his father back home. “Dad, I won, I’m an Olympic champion. » In response, the father whispers to him “well done my son, I love you. I can die peacefully.”

These are the last words the two men exchange. “My father never said ‘I love you’ to me,” Usyk confides. Since that moment, every day I tell my children. » Fighting against illness, dad died four days later without his son having time to return to show him the golden medal. “When I arrived, he was already lying in the wooden box. I put down my bag and handed him the medal. I held him like that with his dead arm and walked out of the room.”

This anecdote sums up who is the new, undisputed and undefeated heavyweight world champion, winner on Saturday in Riyadh of Tyson Fury to unify each belt in the category: WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF. An unprecedented feat in the 21st century. It is the result of a life like no other.

Oleksandr Usyk is also a summary of the turbulent history of his region of origin. The mountain of muscles grew in the USSR two years before the fall of the wall. He was born in Crimea, a region later annexed by Russia. When Putin’s troops invaded the peninsula in 2014, the Ukrainian people criticized the boxer for remaining neutral, therefore for supporting the Kremlin without saying so. Things have changed a lot. Ten years later, the “cat”, its nickname, is the symbol of the resistance of a country at war and martyred by a superior force.

Usyk (black cap in the center) on the front with Ukrainian soldiers. Instagram

In February 2022, less than 24 hours after the invasion began, the millionaire – his personal wealth is estimated at 52 million euros – abandoned everything: family, career, and fortune. In the land of the Klitschko brothers, other world champions, he joined the ranks anonymously. On this occasion, he sees death very, too closely. But wouldn’t the boxer be more useful to the Ukrainian cause by reigning over world boxing rather than walking the trenches? The country is demanding his return to the rings, to make Ukraine shine. And Oleksandre Usyk fulfilled his mission beyond expectations.

“A very hard worker, proud to be Ukrainian”

In Riyadh on Saturday, he entered the ring in a traditional costume to unite an entire nation behind him. “I have known him since London 12 years ago,” says John Dovi, the former coach of the France team. He is a boxer fighting for his country and he is proud of it. His life is unusual but you won’t find anything against him: no depression, alcohol or drugs. I remember a very funny, whimsical, slightly crazy boy with a lot of humor. In the locker room, he wore knee-high socks and danced to his music. I saw him as much as a hip-hop artist as a boxer. In his hair, he wore a toupee to already show his pride in being Ukrainian. Beyond that, he was and remains a very, very hard worker. »

Oleksandr Usyk appeared in the ring on Saturday evening in a traditional Ukrainian costume. (FFAEZ NURELDINE / AFP) AFP or licensors

In London in 2012, several Ukrainian boxers won a medal, including Denys Berinchyk (silver, welterweight), Vasyl Lomachenko (gold, lightweight) and Usyk. This week, these three won a world belt, almost at the same time. Boxing to restore morale to a nation in danger. “The Ukrainians are hitting hard! In the end, all our adversaries will be defeated,” says President Volodymyr Zelensky.

One thing now remains to be determined: what is the place of this Superman with the mustache worthy of the “Village People” and the teeth of happiness in the pantheon of his sport? He had already achieved the incredible feat of bringing together all the light heavyweight belts. He does it again in the court of kings. He also climbs onto an Olympus where the few who, like him, have unified the belts to become the true heavyweight world champions, are waiting for him: Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Mohamed Ali, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson , Lennox Lewis. Legends, nothing but legends: “He is of their caliber, undoubtedly thinks John Dovi. He especially surprised everyone when he moved up a category. We said to ourselves “he’s not a hitter, he’s not going to hold up”. It is neither the biggest, the heaviest, nor the most powerful. But he is here at the top against all odds after beating Joshua and now Fury. But it is mobile and technically it is perfect. What he achieved is purely exceptional. »

* That year, Anthony Joshua was Olympic super heavyweight champion.

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