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Oleksandr Usyk: Looking for heavyweight legacy on the Fury road

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Oleksandr Usyk may be the reigning WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight world champion but to many, the Ukrainian is the underdog going into Saturday's long-awaited unifying title fight with Tyson Fury in Riyadh.

Size matters, it seems, with southpaw Usyk conceding 15 centimeters (6 inches) in height to the 2.06-meter (6-foot-9) Fury, 18cm in reach, and close to 22 kilos (49lbs) in weight.

And yet, he is not perturbed.

"To win this, I don’t need to be heavy, I need to be fast, and quick," he told Ring magazine in February just before the Fury fight was postponed after the Briton picked up a cut in training.

"You never see a fat wolf in the forest."

It is easy to see Usyk as the lean wolf — cunning, quick and ruthlessly effective.

His perfect record of 21 wins and no defeats as a pro, 14 of those inside the distance, speaks for itself.

And apart from those three heavyweight belts he can also look back on a career that brought him an Olympic gold in London in 2012 and the undisputed cruiserweight championship of the world.

Beyond the undoubted pedigree in the ring, he also has the fire within that a boxer desperately needs when he has reached the comfort of the mountain top.

The war in Ukraine, which followed Russia's invasion in February 2022, has ensured that.

It gave Usyk an extra dimension when he faced Anthony Joshua in Jeddah in August that year, almost a year after he had taken the Briton's titles in London.

"In the ninth round I realized that if I fall now, the spirit of the fighters who defend our country will also fall," he told AFP.

"I didn't box for myself, I boxed for all those who defend the country."

Eighteen months on from that fight and the Russians continue to wage war on Ukraine, adding fuel to the Usyk fire.

In some ways, it marks a shift in perception of the 37-year-old, who also beat Daniel Dubois in Poland last August.

Born in the Crimean town of Simferopol, he was accused by many Ukrainians of sitting on the fence over Russia's annexation of the peninsular in 2014 and castigated for saying that Russians and Ukrainians were the same people.

Since Russia's 2022 invasion, however, the tune has changed, with promoter