Oleksandr Usyk: ‘There had been laughter in that gym. When I got there, only darkness and death’

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As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches, the world heavyweight champion talks about the devastation of war and searching for signs of hope

“The walls were shaking and the dogs were hiding,” Oleksandr Usyk says quietly, a few hours after another wave of Russian bombs hits Kyiv on a mid-winter morning. The world heavyweight champion is hard at work in his training camp outside the capital as he prepares for his planned unification bout with Tyson Fury in the coming months. But the greedy machinations of boxing matter little when set against the war in Ukraine.

Usyk, who looks lean and fit as he tugs thoughtfully at his close-cropped beard, wears a pristine white T-shirt. A beautiful black and white photograph of Muhammad Ali is printed on the front. The old promise of “float like l butterfly” ripples below the photo and Usyk grins while Ali dances across my Zoom screen. A friend gave him the shirt for his 36th birthday on 17 January, but a Ukraine flag, signed with messages for the champion by soldiers on the frontline, hangs behind him in a reminder that he is on the edge of a war zone.

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Written by Exclusive by Donald McRae
This news first appeared on https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2023/feb/06/oleksandr-usyk-interview-ukraine-world-heavyweight-boxing-champion under the title “Oleksandr Usyk: ‘There had been laughter in that gym. When I got there, only darkness and death’”. Bolchha Nepal is not responsible or affiliated towards the opinion expressed in this news article.