By Elliot Worsell

“LIKE SNIPER,” said Oleksandr Usyk when asked what he thought whenever looking at Tyson Fury. Pointing then at the spot between his own eyes, he offered to the world, and to Fury, both his method and mentality and suggested all he would need was one shot, one sighting. To get it, he would be stealth-like. Being the smaller man, he would surely have to be. He would, like any good sniper, be focused, patient, and finally swift. When the time was right, he would act and that would be that; job done.

Beforehand, there would be preparation. Prior to the first bell, he would watch, scope out his target, and refuse to be distracted. He would observe the target act the fool, an attempt to unsettle him, and he would stare straight ahead. He would look not into the magician’s eyes but between them, at the target. He would then wonder if the target had listened to anything he had said.

Which is to say, rather than find himself ambushed tonight (May 18) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, or picked off from the upper floor of a tall building, Tyson Fury had been warned. The only mystery, in fact, was when. It could be in the first round, it could be in the 12th, or it could be in any of the rounds in between. Certainly, though, it should have come as no surprise, for this sniper was not hidden, furtive, or faceless. He was instead right there in front of Fury. He was smaller than Fury. He was there to be controlled and monitored, every part of him visible and supposedly less powerful than the parts belonging to Fury.

Indeed, it was this knowledge that had Fury unsuspecting, almost as if he had been blindsided. Sure to the point of arrogance, he ran to the ring to the strains of “I Need a Hero” and then proceeded to get into Usyk’s face upon stepping through the ropes. Confident, maybe, or perhaps more a display of nervous energy, either way Usyk was unmoved. He stood firm. He licked his lips. He quite happily played the straight man to Fury’s clown.

Next, of course, came the inevitable disrobing and evacuation, at which point both heavyweights were fully exposed. There could, at this stage, be no surprises, no concealed weapons. Gone, in fact, was every disguise and every hanger-on who disguised their own fear in order to lie to the boxer they wanted to win. Now alone, alone but together, Fury and Usyk had only each other.

In this position, Fury looked down, whereas Usyk looked up, hoping to find that spot between the eyes. As for the eyes of Usyk, you could see in them, if looking hard enough, so much. You could see images from battles past. You could see, in their darkness, a glimpse of what was to come.

Yet still, despite this, Usyk knew the size of the task in front of him, of that there is no doubt. If at all unsure, he would have seen it for himself the moment the first bell sounded and he stalked Fury, all 6’9 of him, firing only left crosses at his midsection. For now, this seemed the only punch safe for Usyk, a man of 6’3, to throw, and the only part of Fury to hit. The only part of Fury’s body he could reach. The only part of his body not on the move.

Fury, meanwhile, continued to exhibit lots of nervous energy in the first round. The only difference now, perhaps, was that it manifested in his punch selection and footwork and, also, that Usyk could actually do something about it rather than just stand and bite his tongue. In round two, for instance, having found his feet in the first, Usyk started fast, catching Fury out with a left hand in the opening seconds. Like so many, this was a punch Fury laughed off, but, even so, Usyk had for the first time closed the distance and reached the target up top; that alone represented a breakthrough for the southpaw.

In response, Fury started to use his size more in round two. Planting his feet, he would throw body shots at Usyk, often wild, and whenever they landed, these body shots, you could immediately see the impact on the Ukrainian. They would move him, just by virtue of their force and the sheer weight behind them, and Usyk, one could tell, would rather, in an ideal world, not be taking them.

To create this world, he quickened his feet in the third, roaming in and out and never allowing Fury to set. He would dictate from the centre of the ring and then cut off the ring whenever he felt Fury wanted to go for a walk. Fury, on the other hand, sensing Usyk was getting a little too comfortable, initiated his first clinch in the third, the aim of which, by leaning on him, was to both tire and remind him.

Fury between rounds

Fury between rounds (Fayez NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Needing more, and aware of it, Fury began the fourth with an urgency hitherto lacking. He shocked Usyk, it appeared, by working at such a tempo and, again, would get a reaction from his opponent every time he slugged him to the body. Soon, the sight of this encouraged Fury. One could see him get loose and relax. One could see him start to enjoy himself.

Naturally, this looseness would enable Fury to move better, frustrate Usyk, and then, in the sixth, land the best shot of the fight so far. The shot, a right uppercut, wobbled Usyk and many suspected, having made a dent, Fury would now follow up on it and try to inflict further damage. Instead, though, Fury stayed patient. He watched as Usyk tried to escape and whacked him with a right to the body, his long arms, at least to Usyk, somehow getting longer.

The sixth was big for Fury, but the seventh, a round in which he landed an unconventional lead right uppercut, was every bit as good. By now, even when Usyk flurried his hands and tried to make something happen, as he did in the closing moments, it looked ineffectual, as if either the punches were not hard enough or Fury was a fighter too composed to fluster. By now Fury had grabbed a semblance of control; as much as he could ever hope to have in a fight of this magnitude and as much as he was ever going to get.

Come round eight, you see, Usyk, fearing things were slipping away, was already making slight but key adjustments. A right-left combination thrown early, for example, got Fury’s attention and there were numerous other left hands, too, one of which produced some swelling beneath Fury’s right eye; an injury to now balance out the small cut above Usyk’s right eye he had earlier picked up.

Now, in this game of momentum, the parcel was back in Usyk’s hands. It had not been in these hands since the first two or three rounds, but suddenly he had it once more and this time, unlike before, he wouldn’t be so quick to surrender it.

Better yet, Usyk was going to build on it and make something of it, which is precisely what he did in round nine, nailing Fury with a long left hand, by far the biggest and best shot of the fight. Too hurt to hold, and yet seemingly too big to go down, Fury reacted to this punch by swaying back and forth like one of those arm-flailing tube men, this one advertising not a product or store but their own imminent demise. Impossible, it seemed, for him to now stay up, the feeling of Fury and the audience being caught in a sort of stasis caused the referee, Mark Nelson, to hover around Fury as though he wanted him to go down if just to make up his mind for him. Without that, you see, Nelson had a call to make. Either he let Fury get smashed to smithereens in the final 30 seconds of the round or he stopped the fight.

Usyk lands his big left

Usyk lands his big left (Richard Pelham/Getty Images)

In the end, believing there was enough evidence to indicate only the ropes had kept Fury up, Nelson swooped in and administered a count. However, to watch the manner in which Fury then returned to his corner only increased the argument, an already strong one, that he should have been stopped rather than counted.

Still, such are Fury’s powers of recovery, there was never really any doubt that he would spring back to life. This was even more likely than usual, too, given the fact Usyk was so much smaller than him and therefore couldn’t simply jump on him in the next round or set about him the way he would with opponents who didn’t require him to literally jump to land punches.

He tried, of course, but it wasn’t to be. To his credit, Fury actually manoeuvred his way through the following two rounds, the 10th and 11th, rather well, protecting himself as opposed to trading and creating enough of a stalemate for time to pass and his legs to return.

It was noticeable, mind you, that whenever Usyk landed something Fury now no longer saw the funny side. Instead of a smile on his face, and instead of him poking out his tongue in reply, you would, in the final quarter of the fight, see only a grimace and a look of concern on the face of the Englishman. This concern persisted in the final round and also in the aftermath of the fight when, once again, he was surrounded by all the people who had built him up, told him what to do and how to do it, and assured him Oleksandr Usyk, 22-0 (14), was a man far too small for him. By the time Frank Warren, his promoter, had then informed him that the decision was about to go against him, nothing, for Fury, was all that funny anymore.

“People are siding with him because his country’s at war,” said Fury, 34-1-1 (24), following the announcement of the scorecards (115-112 Usyk, 114-113 Usyk, and 114-113 Fury), a comment neither funny nor kind. “But I believe I won that fight.”

Some will agree, but most won’t. I, for what it’s worth, had Usyk a winner by eight rounds to four, with one of those eight rounds, the ninth, scored 10-8 on account of the knockdown. I also got the impression watching the fight that any controversy, if such a thing is required to sell a rematch, should be steered more towards what happened in round nine, when Fury could so easily have been stopped, than what happened over the course of the 12 rounds total. It was in that round, after all, we all found ourselves shocked; shocked not only by the speed with which everything changed but also the extent of the damage Usyk was able to inflict having given us no prior warning, no countdown, and only a single clue as to his mission.

It’s like Don DeLillo wrote in Libra, his book about Lee Harvey Oswald: “Even after you think you’ve seen all the ways violence can surprise a man, along comes something you never imagined.”