Oleksandr Usyk plans to return to the squared circle next month with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.
According to the world heavyweight champion, it was injured Ukrainian soldiers who gave him their blessing to take on Anthony Joshua amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“I went to the hospital where soldiers were wounded and getting rehabilitation from the war,” Usyk told a group of reporters, according to Reuters. “They were asking me to go, to fight, to fight for the country, fight for your pride and if you’re going to go there, you’re even going to help more for our country.”
Usyk is widely regarded as one of the best Ukrainian boxers of all time, having defeated Joshua in 2021 to capture the unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles.
However, when Russia launched its war in Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Usyk returned to Ukraine and joined the country’s territorial defense battalion. He was later allowed to leave the country to prepare for his rematch against Anthony Joshua, which is expected to take place on August 20 in Saudi Arabia.
While Usyk would prefer to stay and fight alongside his countrymen, he understands that a victory against Joshua would go a long way to raise Ukrainian morale.
“I really didn’t want to leave our country, I didn’t want to leave our city,” Usyk said. “I know a lot of my close people, friends, close friends, are right now in the front line and fighting. What I’m doing right now, I’m just supporting them, and with this fight, I wanted to bring them some kind of joy in between what they do.”