Saudi team returns home with 24 medals at Islamic Solidarity Games

JEDDAH: Oleksandr Usyk was in an emotional mood after retaining his WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world heavyweight boxing belts on a night that saw him beat Britain’s Anthony Joshua in a split decision in Jeddah.

Nearly 10,000 people turned out for “Rage on the Red Sea” held at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena, also attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal congratulated the Ukrainian champion and praised his British opponent for his performance.

The prince also thanked the two fighters for putting on an unforgettable fight for the Jeddah crowd and the millions of spectators around the world.

Usyk explained why he is widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, delivering another boxing masterclass using his speed, skill, movement and punching accuracy – leading to eventual victory.

While one ringside judge surprisingly scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Joshua, the other two sided with Usyk 115-113 and 116-112, taking the defending champion’s undefeated record to 20- 0, with 13 knockouts.

Usyk said this fight was different from the first clash with Joshua because he felt he was fighting for “the whole of Ukraine”.

“The victory was extremely important for me, my teams and my country,” he said at the press conference. “It was definitely a different fight despite my ability to control my emotions. I was a little worried because in the eighth round I think I saw in Joshua’s eyes that he felt victorious and in the ninth round he m surprised. I kept thinking to myself, ‘You can’t stop, you can’t stop.’ Big things were at stake tonight and, in the end, the belts returned to Ukraine.

Commenting on Joshua’s swear-laden speech inside the ring, Usyk said: “He just showed his frustrations, which is a common human emotion. I feel nothing but respect for him and I don’t care. expect to stay humble no matter what circumstances I find myself in.”

Alex Krassyuk of K2 Promotions told Arab News: “This was Usyk’s biggest and toughest fight. It will take time for his emotions to calm down and realize that he defended his title so well. He is now aiming to fight Tyson Fury, if he hasn’t retired yet, and claim the (remaining) heavyweight title – the WBC.

Joshua delivered a much improved performance since his first fight with Usyk, getting off to a strong start and having particular success in the ninth round, where he pressured with heavy hooks that caused the champion problems. However, he couldn’t maintain that energy and was unable to win the heavyweight title for the third time.

During the press conference, Joshua expressed his frustration at losing but acknowledged that Usyk deserved all the credit for the win.

“It takes a lot to gain weight, challenge yourself in a new division and become champion. I adapted tonight to give him a more competitive fight and made some changes. The two nights we met in the ring, he did well, so kudos to him. He’s a great fighter,” said the Briton.

Asked about his post-fight speech, he replied, “I just spoke from my heart. It’s been so hard, I knew I was crazy but it takes real strength and tonight there’s a little crack in the armor.

Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, said: “This time he fought incredibly well and he’s definitely a good performer. What everyone saw after the fight was just one man’s reaction. who wanted to win so badly, with so much pressure on his shoulders. I think he just exploded because he lost and he was devastated.

“However, he will remain in the top five of the world heavyweight championship, and such fights will only improve his experience. The plans for the future have already been formulated and he wants to fight in December. He is hungrier than ever to bounce back and be part of a huge fight again.

Elsewhere, the undercard also provided plenty of action throughout the night.

Earlier, Somali-born Briton Ramla Ali knocked out Crystal Garcia Nova of the Dominican Republic in the first round of the first women’s professional boxing match to be held in Saudi Arabia.

“I feel really good to have won in this way, to show that women are entertaining as boxers and deserve to be on these big stages,” Ali said. “It feels good to make history. Coming to this fight, I didn’t know what response I was going to get, whether I would be welcome or not. But getting that kind of welcome just shows that we belong here. and that the country welcomes us with great hearts.

Sharing a message with her female fans in the Kingdom and around the world, she said, “If you have a dream, don’t let anyone stop you from achieving it. Don’t be afraid to achieve it.

More history was written when Saudi-Egyptian fighter Ziyad “Zizo” Al-Maayouf matched Ali’s first-round knockout in his professional debut against Mexico’s Hector Alatorre.

“I’m in a dream that I haven’t woken up from yet,” the local fighter told Arab News. “The support from the people, from my fans and from Saudi Arabia has been tremendous. I want to continue to fuel this passion (Vision) 2030 and make the Royal Family happy as well as the Minister of Sports.

“I worked for months and months in that training camp. But on fight night you leave everything to God, whether it’s winning the fight or losing it. I respect my opponent for a good fight. In the future, I will continue to fight and make my country proud. I want to fight all over the world but I want to build slowly. It was my professional debut and I don’t want to leave the hype reach me, which could one day make me fight when I am not yet ready.

Al-Maayouf is now looking to fight in December.

Other fights saw Badou Jack beat Richard Rivera in a split decision thriller, while Callum Smith provided one of the most impressive performances of the night with a fourth-round knockout over Mathieu Bauderlique.

The fight between Filip Hrgovic and Zhilei Zhang provided the perfect 12-round warm-up for the world championship thriller, with the Croatian earning a unanimous decision victory over the Chinese boxer in an epic IBF heavyweight eliminator.

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