May 24, 2024

Oleksandr Usyk once famously responded, in his broken English, to the question of how he typically feels before a major bout, “I am feel. I’m feeling very.

Sport does affect how you feel.

His battles offer diversion and rare moments of joy for Usyk’s fellow Ukrainian residents, whose lives are gripped by conflict, in the midst of the destruction, terror, and misery brought on by the Russian invasion.

Alexander Krassyuk, Usyk’s promoter, tells BBC Sport that when Usyk fought Anthony Joshua again in Saudi Arabia last year, “guys from the frontline” sent him texts and videos showing them watching the fight “right in the battlefield.”

Usyk found himself defending his nation, guarding barricades, and roaming the streets on the watch for Russian forces five months after he defeated Joshua for the first time to win the heavyweight title.

He defeated Joshua in the Saudi rematch in August 2021 after receiving permission from the Ukrainian government to leave the nation.

The 36-year-old will now compete against Brit Daniel Dubois on Saturday in Wroclaw, Poland. Two days after Ukraine celebrated its independence and one and a half years after Russia began its full-scale invasion, these two heavyweights square off.

“The fight against Dubois is going to be a special show about Ukraine,” Krassyuk continues. It will be devoted to Ukraine, and Ukrainians will take part in it not just as combatants but also as actors, singers, and speakers who discuss what it means to be Ukrainian.

Around 40,000 spectators will be present in the outdoor Tarczynski Arena, the majority of whom are Ukrainian refugees who fled to neighboring Poland after the invasion.

They will experience the special energy of fight night for the first time in a very long time, as well as the pride of witnessing their national hero compete live.

Poland is a nation that provides significant assistance to Ukraine, which is presently engaged in conflict, Usyk said.

For the Ukrainians who live in Ukraine, traveling to Poland will be considerably simpler than traveling to the UK, where visa applications must be made and not everyone is granted a visa.

“I want to lift my followers’ spirits and make them happy. Typically, I battle in the opponents’ back yards. My folks in Ukraine need that kind of upbeat feeling right now more than ever.

Usyk and his supporters have been taking part in the pre-fight celebrations in Wroclaw, a vibrant city that locals refer to as “Venice of the North” due to its stunning canals, rivers, and bridges.

At both the weigh-in and the open workout, he was surrounded by fans.

Oleksandr Chepilko, a Ukrainian boxing reporter, adds, “I know people have traveled from Ukraine and other European countries like Romania, and lots from all over Poland.”

“Many have arrived from Krakow, where there are many Ukrainians,”

The compassionate, sentimental, and presidential Usyk

Usyk, a former undisputed cruiserweight champion and gold medalist at the London 2012 Olympics, is now considered a national treasure.

Despite his boxing prowess, Usyk has won the hearts of Ukrainians with his philanthropic efforts through his foundation, which provides relief and money to individuals impacted by the war, as well as the manner he has conducted himself since Russia’s onslaught.

Usyk has made friends with and interacted with front-line soldiers, many of whom he still maintains in touch with.

He pushed for free access to the Joshua rematch on Ukrainian state television, which was the decision that hurt him the most financially.

Beginning at £9.40, tickets for his defense against Dubois will cost more than double for British fight fans to view on pay-per-view.

“There are alerts, danger, and bomb assaults every day in Ukraine. I’m unable to contemplate it, adds Chepilko.

We have so many alarms on our phones. However, thinking about boxing and seeing Usyk fight makes my heart feel better.

“Usyk would win a presidential election if he ran for office. Mothers, daughters, men, boys, children, and seniors all recognize him.

Usyk entertained the crowd during Wednesday’s open workout by juggling, dancing, and rapping, but beneath the joker riffs and tough guy exterior is a fighter who does display sensitivity.

He is a man who cries while talking about his late father’s influence and parades a plush animal that his daughter gave him as good luck during a press conference.

“To be a Ukrainian is to be brave and fearless. To face a threat head-on and get over fear in order to be free to fight for independence,” says Krassyuk.

He is aware of what to say and do, when to grin and when to be silent. He is not acting in this manner for any reason. He simply acts normally. He fits that description.

something of a return

Although Dubois, a Londoner, is a great underdog, Usyk maintains he won’t be intimidated by the occasion and won’t minimize his 25-year-old opponent.

“Over the years, I’ve learnt to control my emotions. The rest is irrelevant, so all I have to do is maintain my attention on what’s going on,” Usyk explains.

“I take Daniel Dubois and every other opponent very seriously. No matter who I’m against, I train and prepare for 117%.

Even the champion, though, must be fully aware of the anticipation surrounding his 21st professional match and what it represents for his country.

Injured servicemen will receive priority seating, seven Ukrainian boxers will compete on the undercard, and there are even rumors that president Volodymyr Zelenskyy might attend.

The president of Ukraine is a fan of boxing, and he proudly displays a stone glove that was given to him by Usyk in his office.

Usyk-Dubois may not be the most anticipated sporting event. But it has had a colossal effect on a country that desperately needs it.

Chepilko, who was born only 15 miles outside of Kyiv, is optimistic that Ukraine will one day organize another boxing event.

“The war is not the major issue; I sincerely want Usyk to compete in a boxing match in Ukraine. Money and planning this event are the key issues, he claims.

“I suppose Usyk could hold a charity event after the war, or perhaps his final fight [could be] in the Olympic stadium in Kyiv.”

Wroclaw, though, will act as the closest thing to home for the time being.

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