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In mid-May, Fury and Hearn each announced a deal for a midsummer fight between Joshua and Fury, with the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF belts on the line. Days later, a judge ruled that Fury should instead fight Wilder, who had filed an injunction to enforce the rematch clause in his previous fight with Fury. Although Fury and Wilder planned to meet again, the WBO ordered Joshua to face Usyk or risk being stripped of that title.

“Maybe we should have sidelined him and put the belt in the trash,” Hearn said at the press conference, indicating that a fighter of Joshua’s profile can quit a title without losing visibility. “But that’s not AJ’s topic.”

The benefit, for fight fans, is a series of competitive high-stakes heavyweight fights among marquee fighters whose profile doesn’t depend on title belts. Joshua is not famous because he held the WBO belt; the WBO belt attracts attention because Joshua was holding it.

“Would you still watch it without title belts?” Joshua asked a reporter, rhetorically, during the post-fight press conference.

Bettors favored Joshua, who is 6-foot-6 and weighed 240 pounds, to retain his titles over the older and smaller Usyk. But Usyk used superior footwork and hand speed to buzz Joshua early. Joshua leapt up mid-rounds, eventually landing his jab, along with a few hard punches to the body.

By the ninth round, the damage was visible on each fighter’s face. Joshua sported a swollen right eye and Usyk had red markings under each eye and ultimately a cut in his right eyebrow. But Usyk upped his output in the last quarter of the fight and he won the last four rounds on every judge card.

Joshua called the fight “a great experience.”

It’s a charitable way of saying that Usyk took Joshua to school. According to CompuBox, Usyk landed 148 of 529 moves, compared to 123 of 641 for Joshua. Usyk also landed 44% of his powerful punches (96 of 220) while Joshua only landed 33% (71 of 214).

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