Usyk pledges immediate return to Ukraine after Joshua rematch
World heavyweight boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk says that he hasn't turned his back on his home country of Ukraine as he focuses on his title rematch with rival Anthony Joshua next month.
The two prizefighting rivals are set to do battle for a second time in Saudi Arabia on August 20, less than a year after undefeated former cruiserweight champion Usyk moved up in weight to seize the Briton's array of world titles with an emphatic performance in London last September.
Usyk's preparations for the rematch have come after he initially took up arms in his homeland following the launch of Russia's military campaign, alongside a host of other Ukrainian fighting talent such as Vasyl Lomachenko, the Klitschko brothers, and undefeated MMA champ Yaroslav Amosov.
But as the days tick ever closer to Usyk's high-stakes rematch with Joshua, he says he needed persuading to put down his weapon and pick up a pair of boxing gloves.
“Every day I was there I was praying and asking: ‘Please, God, don’t let anybody try to kill me,” Usyk said of his time spent on patrol in Ukraine.
“Please don’t let anybody shoot me. And please don’t make me shoot any other person.”
It was announced in March that Usyk was leaving Ukraine, and this week he has been in the English capital, a city where he won Olympic gold in 2012 and outclassed Joshua last year.
To defeat Joshua is one of the more difficult tasks in heavyweight boxing. But to do it twice?
Speculation has suggested that Joshua will enter the ring in Jeddah next month in a far more aggressive mood than in London last year. In their first meeting, Joshua cut a plodding, meandering figure in the ring - a point-fighting strategy which floundered against the supremely technical Usyk.
But faced with questions as to this perceived new strategy, Usyk remained undaunted.
“Let him think about that,” he said calmly. “Let him desire that.”
“I have watched the first fight many times with my whole team. We look at the mistakes I made and we will work on them to make sure we don’t make them again.
“I don’t think about [Joshua] and I really don’t care whether he has a new tactic or a new trainer. I’m just thinking about me. We are working very hard, we are setting new goals and with the Lord’s help we will be better.”
The Crimean-born Usyk claimed that by fighting Joshua rather than in remaining in Ukraine, he would be performing a better service even though he “really didn’t want to leave our country.”
But Usyk vowed that he would return, saying: “I want to live there and right after the fight I’m going back to Ukraine.”