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Oleksandr Usyk’s brilliance in the ring represents hope as Ukraine continues to fight for freedom

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It has been a long, arduous road for Oleksandr Usyk since becoming world heavyweight champion and set to experience a historic night in Jeddah on Saturday.

Quicksilver talent who has propelled the sport to new heights over the past decade by rising through the divisions with a combination of mesmerizing angles and majestic footwork that left Anthony Joshua dazed at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last September.

But as Usyk writes another compelling chapter in the heavyweight division’s rich history, this fascinating talent has borne the burden of his status around the world as Ukraine fights for freedom in the war against Russia.

“I am motivated by the people of Ukraine who are fighting hard to defend our independence, defend our freedom and defend our culture that other people want to destroy and destroy,” Usyk said.

Despite its message, translated by its promoter Alexander Krassyuk and a few phrases in broken English, it’s no less powerful: “They don’t want us to exist anymore.”

The magnitude of the task ahead is underscored as Usyk has already confirmed that he will return to the front lines and territorial defense of Ukraine.

Boxing has always relied on hype and bad blood to garner attention in the final hours before that first bell, but Usyk is different. An Olympic champion, former undisputed cruiserweight world champion and a street fighter after famous nights in Riga, Moscow, Manchester and London, among others. He is simply one of the greatest of a generation in both amateur and professional boxing.

Usyk continued to appear dialed in this week, largely ignoring the monotonous chatter during Wednesday’s press conference, instead bowing in his seat and concentrating on a math puzzle. But the toll of building Jeddah has finally resulted in a more animated version of Usyk, who may be aware of his role this week as millions tune in.

His canceled flight to Kyiv in February as bombs fell over Ukraine meant Team Usyk flew to Poland before heading to the border, while the 35-year-old publicly called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war.

But on Wednesday, after even more pleasantries and gratitude to promoter Eddie Hearn’s Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Usyk cheered up in traditional Cossack attire. Eager to rally his team and supporters as Joshua hopped off the press conference stage, Usyk jumped up and roared the Ukrainian national song “Oi u luzi chervona kalyna (Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow)”.

It wasn’t the well-known promise of a fighter to knock out a rival, but it would have brought a deeper realization to Joshua and his team. An ominous sign that Usyk, with his bag of tricks in this “nightmarish” southpaw attitude, not only produces fighting excellence, but also feels the need to do something for his more than 40 million compatriots.

“I’m in contact with a lot of guys from the front,” he reveals. “I receive voice and video messages from them with words of support and they tell me they are praying for me and my victory. That motivates me a lot.

“I’m not a politician, I’m an athlete. I just want to see my children, whom I haven’t seen properly for almost half a year, I want to see my mom. They are all in Europe now. I want to see her and hug her. Then I go back to Kyiv.

“It’s people’s real actions that motivate me. If the President of Ukraine left in the first days of the war, it would have left the Ukrainian people without hope.

“But he didn’t and that motivated us to stay strong and fight. He said, ‘Just give me the guns because if someone comes to kill me, I want to be able to defend myself.’ Everyone then realized he was huge eggs that we had to fight for our leader.”

The fight will be available for free in Ukraine this weekend at Usyk’s urging, spurning an opportunity to rake in millions more in broadcast rights.

It feels like Saturday will mark the defining moment in Usyk’s career, even as Tyson Fury predictably comes out of retirement to have an undisputed fight in the months to come.

“He was in contact with high-ranking military officers and visited the hospitals with injured soldiers. In every conversation he heard words of blessing and support for the rematch,” Krassyuk said.

“People wanted him to fight. People still want him to win. People want the Ukrainian flag to be raised, people want the Ukrainian anthem to be heard all over the planet. Not many men in the world can deliver that to millions of people.”

There’s a limit to what Usyk can achieve just by excelling in the ring and defending his WBA, WBO, and IBF titles; the destruction in Ukraine will, of course, continue. But Usyk represents a mentality for many in Ukraine, while the biggest fight of the year is held in shades of blue and yellow around the Jeddah Superdome.

Usyk’s influence is profound: His in-ring brilliance aside, Saturday’s rematch represents hope.

https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/boxing/oleksandr-usyks-brilliance-in-the-ring-represents-hope-as-ukraine-continues-fight-for-freedom-41922549.html Oleksandr Usyk’s brilliance in the ring represents hope as Ukraine continues to fight for freedom

Fry Electronics Team

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