Oleksandr Usyk proved once again that he's arguably one of the best fighters in the world with a gutsy victory over Anthony Joshua on Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to retain his three heavyweight titles.
Now, he's only one belt short of being called the undisputed heavyweight champion -- a title nobody has ever owned in the four-belt era. That final strap, of course, is held by Tyson Fury, whose on-again, off-again retirement claims appear to be a rite of passage for top fighters.
Fury has long called for a summit meeting at heavyweight for all four belts, and was poised to meet Joshua for the undisputed title last August before an arbitration ruling enforced a third fight with Deontay Wilder.
But one month before Fury scored a second consecutive KO of his rival, Joshua was upended by his mandatory challenger, Usyk, sending plans for the undisputed title fight up in smoke.
While Joshua prepared for the rematch against Usyk, Fury defeated Dillian Whyte in April and immediately announced his retirement. But earlier this month, in a surprise to absolutely no one, Fury claimed he would end his retirement with a third fight against Derek Chisora.
Of course, that's a fight of minimal interest, and Fury quickly dismissed the potential matchup to once again "retire."
Usyk left little doubt of his intentions after beating Joshua, standing in the middle of the ring and calling his shot.
"I'm sure that Tyson Fury is not retired yet," Usyk (20-0 13 KOs) said in the ring after the fight. "I'm sure. I'm convinced he wants to fight me. I want to fight him. And if I'm not fighting Tyson Fury, I'm not fighting at all."
Sure enough, Fury responded minutes later in an Instagram video.
"I will annihilate both of them on the same night," he said, referring to Usyk and Joshua. "Get your f---ing checkbook out because 'The Gypsy King' is here to stay forever!"
And that's all music to the ears of boxing fans, who have long relished the opportunity to see Usyk tested against a far bigger man who is on his same level of boxing ability. Sure, Joshua is a big man at 6-feet-6, 245 pounds, but Fury is 6-foot-9, 270-plus pounds and possesses the sort of jab and footwork that separates him from his countryman, Joshua and most other fighters in the sport.
"I want to fight him. And if I'm not fighting Tyson Fury, I'm not fighting at all." Oleksandr Usyk
Joshua (24-3, 22 KOs) performed better in the rematch after he was nearly stopped by Usyk, 35, in the first meeting in September. But Joshua isn't a fluid, natural boxer like Usyk. Fury is, of course, and a clash that pits the two of them for all four heavyweight belts is a monster sporting event. It's the sort of event boxing delivers far too seldomly.
Fury's promoter, Bob Arum, told ESPN's Mark Kriegel on Saturday that Usyk-Fury "won't be a hard fight to make," and that the purse split should be 50-50. Perhaps only the second part is true, because the bigger the boxing match, the tougher the negotiations.
But this fight makes far too much sense -- and dollars -- to fall by the wayside. It's a matchup the Saudis have long eyed for December, and just last year, they were willing to dole out approximately $155 million for an undisputed title fight between Fury and Joshua.
The much-anticipated Fury-Joshua fight may never materialize now, but the consolation prize in this case is something better anyway.
Usyk's use of angles, movement and an educated jab have made him a puzzle no opponent has been able to solve. He even showed in two fights against Joshua that despite weighing just 220 pounds, he has enough pop on his shots to inflict plenty of damage.
The way the Ukrainian was able to survive Round 9 -- when Joshua hurt him to the body and sent him reeling to the ropes -- proved Usyk possesses the sort of toughness needed to beat Fury. He rallied with an even more dominant Round 10, and also displayed the punch resistance necessary to withstand the most dangerous shots.
Of course, there was never any question about Usyk's character. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Usyk quickly took up arms in a territory defense battalion and served as a beacon of hope for those watching his fight at home after he arranged for the fight to be televised for free.
Inside the ring, Usyk has proven to be just as courageous. He conquered the 200-pound division before he was installed as an underdog against Joshua in just his third heavyweight fight. So far, he hasn't met his match.
Putting it all together against Fury figures to be Usyk's ultimate challenge. And though he wasn't considered a puncher earlier in his career, that reputation has changed after Fury twice scored destructive KOs of Wilder.
The 34-year-old Englishman is able to switch stances seamlessly and his jab is one of the best in boxing. Unlike Joshua, Fury is far more adept at imposing his superior size on foes. Fury bullied Wilder in his last two fights, leaning on him in the clinch and pushing him to the ropes, forcing his opponent to contend with all 270 pounds of him.
That appears to be the recipe for success against Usyk... if there is one. And there's no one better equipped than Fury. Fury is ESPN's No. 1 heavyweight and No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer. Usyk is one slot behind him in both rankings.
Now, the business of boxing must ensure it doesn't get in its own way. This is a fight we need to see.