Oleksandr Usyk's next bout on hold as heavyweight champion manages 'unique, personal, emotional situation' in Ukraine

by · ESPN.com

Oleksandr Usyk was preparing for a rematch vs. Anthony Joshua, but with his country at war with Russia, the heavyweight boxing champion from Ukraine is focused on far more important matters.

So, for now, the much anticipated bout is delayed.

"We don't want the obligation of a rematch to go away," Matchroom Boxing's Eddie Hearn, who promoted Usyk's past four fights and will promote the rematch with Joshua, told ESPN. "So, we'll wait as long as Oleksandr Usyk needs during this difficult time for him."

The 35-year-old returned last week to Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and subsequently joined a territorial defense battalion. Usyk dominated Joshua via unanimous decision in September to win the unified heavyweight championship, and he now owes the Englishman a return bout.

Joshua, an Olympic gold medalist, exercised his rematch clause, which guarantees the 32-year-old another fight vs. Usyk with financial terms agreed to. Usyk-Joshua 2 was being planned for May or June, but with Ukraine defending itself against a Russian invasion, it's unclear when the fight will happen.

"I really don't know when I'm going to be stepping back in the ring," Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) told CNN on Wednesday in comments translated to English. "My country and my honor are more important to me than a championship belt."

Usyk, who has three children, is clearly concerned about what lies ahead, but is also clearly committed.

"I don't want to shoot," he said. "I don't want to kill anybody, but if they will be killing me, I will have no choice."

Hearn also told ESPN it's possible he'll book an interim fight for Joshua if there's an extended delay.

"It's a very unique, personal, emotional situation and I don't think we can really fathom what's going on there and what's going through the minds of people involved there," said Hearn, who re-signed Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) to a multiyear deal in September. "So for us, of course, utmost respect for Oleksandr Usyk.

Usyk's longtime friend, fellow Olympic gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko, also joined a defense battalion, throwing a potential June 5 matchup in Australia with lightweight champion George Kambosos into question as well. Hall of Fame boxer Vitali Klitschko, who is the mayor of Kiev, took up arms as well, as did his brother, fellow former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.

Usyk said "the bombing around is crazy" but "there is no fear ... just bafflement. How could this be in the 21st century?"

"When there is an air-raid alarm, we hide," he added. "[Boxing] has helped me to be calm and mentally prepared. And it helps me to help others who are panicking and nervous."