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Zelensky adds fuel to the fire for Usyk ahead of Joshua rematch

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 8/13/2022 Daniel Matthews For The Mail On Sunday

In those lonely hours behind locked doors, Oleksandr Usyk has prepared for Anthony Joshua to a soundtrack of frontlines.

Since leaving home in March, the Ukrainian has remained in contact with friends who, like him, signed up to repel the Russian invasion. The heavyweight champion speaks to high-ranking officers and even the commander-in-chief has been in touch. 

Assistants to President Zelensky reached out to Usyk’s promoter, Alex Krassyuk, urging him to ‘show that Ukraine is the country of serious, strong, motivated, developed and spiritual people’.

No wonder, perhaps, that Usyk, 35 is ‘feeling like a monster’. He will return to Ukraine after Saturday’s rematch in Saudi Arabia. Until then, he will answer the call of duty from afar. In the ring, where Joshua is coming for the WBA, WBO and IBF belts he lost last September. And on TV, where Usyk will be funding the war effort with every round.

Oleksandr Usyk is looking to beat Anthony Joshua for the second time on Saturday night © Provided by Daily Mail Oleksandr Usyk is looking to beat Anthony Joshua for the second time on Saturday night Ukraine President Zelensky has offered the boxer words of encouragement ahead of the bout © Provided by Daily Mail Ukraine President Zelensky has offered the boxer words of encouragement ahead of the bout

The champion secured the broadcast rights back home, meaning the fight will be shown, free-of-charge, on state-owned TV and Usyk’s YouTube channel.

During the show, the Usyk Foundation, set up following Russia’s invasion in February, will raise funds for food and military vehicles. Money from TV sponsors will go to the charity, too.

In the war’s early days, Usyk would head out on patrol with other men who had joined the country’s Territorial Defence Force.

He will return to find scorched earth on his doorstep. One of Usyk’s houses was occupied by Russian soldiers until the area was recaptured by local troops. ‘He will definitely come back to Ukraine,’ Krassyuk says. Not as a soldier, though. Instead? ‘His mission is inspiration – to give people motivation, give the incentive to soldiers to fight hard for their homeland.’

Usyk’s team had a hard enough job prising him away from home for this rematch.

Usyk's promoter confirmed the fighter will return to Ukraine after fighting in Saudi Arabia © Provided by Daily Mail Usyk's promoter confirmed the fighter will return to Ukraine after fighting in Saudi Arabia

‘His intention was to stay in Ukraine and help his countrymen, it took us a while. He was travelling a lot in Ukraine, visiting hospitals, speaking to the military,’ says his promoter. ‘Every conversation he had ended up with words of support and blessing to take the fight.’

Why? ‘Everyone wants the Ukrainian anthem to be heard throughout the world, they all want the Ukraine flag to be risen… he was hesitating but after hearing all that, he took the final decision.’ All that Usyk saw and heard has dented the champion’s charm and charisma. ‘Each of us changed and probably will never be the same,’ says Krassyuk.

For all that they have lost – ‘some of his friends have died,’ Krassyuk says – Usyk and Co have reasons to be thankful. Oleg Prudky is among the Ukrainian boxers lost defending their homeland.

‘It will affect him,’ Krassyuk says. ‘It will motivate him. He knows how important victory is for the whole country. He has the mission to show the world what is Ukraine and who are true Ukrainians, that they are people with big hearts.’

In theory, victory over Joshua would put him on a collision course with Tyson Fury. Krassyuk says: ‘Talks about Fury do not affect his activity in the homeland.’

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