The 35-year-old Ukrainian proved unbeatable during the 12-round bout, maintaining his steely nerve to dominate Joshua with a series of powerful blows. Joshua broke Usyk’s momentum in the ninth round and threw a flurry of punches at his opponent before retreating in defeat.
He was scored 115-113 by one judge, but Usyk ultimately emerged as the stronger contender and earned scores of 115-113 and 116-112 by two judges to retain his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles. .
Ali, 32, improved his career record to 7-0 with a first-round knockout win.
Emotions run high
The heavyweight title rematch was announced as “Rage on the Red Sea,” a title that certainly captured the mood of the night.
“If you know my story, you’ll understand the passion,” Joshua said, adding of Usyk: “I’m asking him to beat me tonight, maybe I could have done better, but it shows the level of hard work he’s put in. So give him a round of applause as our heavyweight world champion. ”
Earlier this year, the 35-year-old returned to his homeland and joined the Regional Defense Battalion in Kiev to assist in the war effort.
“It’s already history,” he said. “Generations are going to watch this fight, especially the round when someone tried to hit me hard. But I (endured) turned it the other way.”
“I’m sure Tyson Fury isn’t retired yet. I’m sure he wants to fight me. I want to fight him,” Usyk said. “If I don’t fight Tyson Fury, I don’t fight at all.”
‘I was angry with myself’
Joshua broke down in tears during his post-match press conference and said he was “disappointed” by his performance on Saturday.
“It’s hard for me to say I’m proud of myself,” he said. “I’m sad, really, deep in my heart.”
He also explained how emotional he felt after the match: “When you try from your heart, everybody doesn’t understand. It was from the heart. I knew I was mad at myself. Not at anybody, just because I was mad, I was like, ‘I have to get out of here.’
“When you’re angry you can do stupid things, so I was mad. But I realized it’s sports, let me do the right thing.”
Ahead of the rematch, fellow British boxers Carl Froch and Kell Brook said a second loss to Usyk would mean the end of Joshua’s boxing career.
Despite rumours, the 32-year-old has shown no signs of hanging up his gloves just yet.
“I am a fighter for life. Hunger will never die,” he said.
CNN’s Ben Morse reported for this story.