sport news Oleksandr Usyk wants to put a smile on the face of his war-torn home when he ... trends now

sport news Oleksandr Usyk wants to put a smile on the face of his war-torn home when he ... trends now
sport news Oleksandr Usyk wants to put a smile on the face of his war-torn home when he ... trends now

sport news Oleksandr Usyk wants to put a smile on the face of his war-torn home when he ... trends now

It is a fight for Anthony Joshua. For Oleksandr Usyk it is war. Quite literally. 

From the Zaporozhian Cossack costumes to the patriotic Ukrainian folk songs, the backdrop to tomorrow's heavyweight title defence is impossible to ignore.

Sport and sports people are certainly not shielded from the horrors back home. This week, the mother of Ukrainian high jumper Kateryna Tabashnyk was killed in a Russian airstrike on Kharkiv. Amid the rubble were pitiful souvenirs, including her daughter’s old competition bibs, kept as mementoes by a proud parent.

Heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk has been faced with war back home in Ukraine

Heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk has been faced with war back home in Ukraine

Usyk will face Antony Joshua in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night in a heavyweight rematch

Usyk will face Antony Joshua in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night in a heavyweight rematch

‘My mommy, I love you very much,’ wrote Tabashnyk on social media. ‘The Russian world took my mother’s life. They “liberated” me from my home and my whole life. How I hate you.’

So when Usyk fights in Jeddah tomorrow it will be for more than belts, the purse, or mere personal glory. He is here at the instruction of Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, who believed he could do more for morale as a warrior in the ring than as a soldier protecting Kyiv.

Usyk enlisted, and says he will return to the capital, but was kept clear of the front line. To lose such a prominent Ukrainian would be a desperate setback for the country and simply not worth the risk.

Better to see him successfully defend his claim to be the baddest man on the planet. Usyk has negotiated for the fight to be shown free-to-air in his own country. Even amid a battle for Ukraine’s very existence, this sporting contest is considered a matter of great national importance.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky wants Usyk to help the morale of Ukranian people

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky wants Usyk to help the morale of Ukranian people

As Usyk demonstrated in Jeddah this week, he likes singing. At the end of Wednesday’s press conference he turned to those gathered at the Shangri-La Hotel and led them in the nationalist song, Oi u luzi chervona kalyna.

Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow was written in 1875 as Ukraine fought for independence. During the Soviet occupation from 1919 to 1991 its performance was banned and punishable with jail, beatings or exile. For obvious reasons, it has re-emerged as the rallying cry for a nation again seeking to repel Russian invaders.

Usyk naturally fears for his family, friends and countrymen. ‘Sometimes, I just force myself to bring a smile,’ he said earlier this year. ‘Sometimes, I force myself to sing. I don’t know how to explain it.’

But that does explain it. How he behaves, why he fights, now, in this time of great crisis. He wants to force Ukraine to sing, even as the missiles fall. He wants to make Ukraine smile, even as it picks a path through rubble.

It seems trite to equate the two perils. That in a ring, for entertainment, and the peril of war. Yet Zelensky recognised the importance of tomorrow's occasion. Usyk does, too. His actions this week have always had one eye on the message to home.

Usyk will soon return to Ukraine, and claimed he sometimes has to force himself to smile

Usyk will soon return to Ukraine, and claimed he sometimes has to force himself to smile

Anthony Joshua was out-classed by Usyk when the two did battle back in September 2021

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