It was a fight of tremendous intensity in each of the 12 rounds; it was draining, not brutal and at about 4am, Joshua was in tears as he tried to explain his journey. It meant that much to him, he lost that much and he came so close.
Usyk won the fight because he won the last three rounds, and that is what champions do. Joshua had a brilliant, staggering ninth round, when he pushed Usyk back, hit the Ukrainian maestro with lefts and rights to body, head, shoulder and groin. It was the round Joshua needed, but he needed 12 of them and not just the one.
Usyk was rattled and at that point in the fight, at the completion of nine rounds, Joshua was in front on two of the three scorecards. But then, Usyk took control of a weary and emotional Joshua in round 10, fought smart and won rounds 10, 11 and 12 to keep his belts.
The fight, obviously, went the full 12 rounds, just like his defeat to Usyk last September in London. However, it was a very different night and fight. Joshua got closer, he tried to cut down the ring and he kept trying until the final bell. During the last nine minutes, he was so tired and heavy-fisted he was fighting and moving on instinct. It was so brave.
Usyk crossed himself and said a prayer at the start of the 12th – he was in front, but he needed that round to keep his heavyweight titles. One judge gave him the fight by two rounds, another by four and the third judge scored it seven to five in rounds for Joshua. If Usyk had lost the last round, the fight would have been a draw.
“I just knew I could have done more,” said a totally exhausted Joshua late into the night after the post-fight conference. Eddie Hearn, his promoter, tried to comfort him, but Joshua was broken at that moment. “You just lost a split decision to the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world,” Hearn told him. It was not enough, nowhere near enough for Joshua, in the middle of a breezeless Jeddah night.
Joshua will be back. Possibly at some point there will be a third fight with Usyk. The fight was Joshua’s 12th consecutive world title fight and he has been under pressure and scrutiny since the summer of 2012 when he won the Olympic title. He wants to fight in December.
It was eventually close to 1am when the lights dimmed and the expectation increased. It was on, the pair started to walk. The crowd roared, Usyk had his fans in the colours of peace; the now familiar T-shirts of the Ukraine flag were everywhere. Joshua was not smiling and kissing babies on his ring walk – it was cold, he meant to win.
All the talk was finished. Michael Buffer took over, they lost their tops, the ring emptied and the heartbreak for Joshua started. It’s a cruel and harsh business, this boxing caper.