‘I was praying: don’t let anybody kill me’ – Oleksandr Usyk on life in Ukrainian army

The world heavyweight champion on fighting in Ukraine and how fellow soldiers encouraged him to take on Anthony Joshua in a rematch

Oleksandr Usyk, the IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight champion, is one of the greatest fighters on the planet but he is not embarrassed to express the fear he felt this year as a soldier in the Ukrainian army. Soon after Vladimir Putin unleashed Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine on 24 February, Usyk and his friend Vasiliy Lomachenko, another of the best boxers in the world, joined the military. But as he patrolled the streets, carrying a machine gun rather than boxing gloves, dread gripped Usyk.

“Every day I was there,” he says, “I was praying and asking: ‘Please, God, don’t let anybody try to kill me. Please don’t let anybody shoot me. And please don’t make me shoot any other person.”

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Anthony Joshua ‘let down by his corner’ in Oleksandr Usyk defeat

  • Briton lost his heavyweight titles to Ukrainian last year
  • Rematch scheduled for 20 August in Saudi Arabia

Anthony Joshua has said he was let down by his corner when he lost his world heavyweight titles to Oleksandr Usyk last September. “There was a lot going on in the corner and that didn’t help,” Joshua said ahead of the rematch in Saudi Arabia on 20 August. “A corner is like a pitstop. So too many voices at once is definitely not good for anybody, not just me.”

Joshua believed he was winning the fight even though he was out-thought, outfought and, ultimately, outclassed by the smaller Usyk. Rather than being urged to increase the intensity of his work in the last rounds Joshua said the instructions from his corner were “more like: ‘Double jab, right, left hook.’ It wasn’t like: ‘Take the fight to this fucker. Listen, you’re losing the fight.’ No. A trainer needs to tap into that psychological aspect. Sometimes you need to tell your fighter that: ‘Yeah, we’re losing a world championship fight.’”

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