Usyk beats Fury in Riyadh showdown to become undisputed heavyweight champion

With his victory over Britain's Tyson_Fury in their Riyadh "Ring of Fire" match, Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk joined boxing greats Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as undisputed heavyweight champion. (AN photo by Abdulrahman bin Shalhoub)
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Updated 19 May 2024
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Usyk beats Fury in Riyadh showdown to become undisputed heavyweight champion

  • Joins likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as undisputed heavyweight champion
  • Britain's Fury says he believes he won fight but lost in scoring, looks forward to a rematch

RIYADH: Oleksandr Usyk beat Tyson Fury by split decision to win the world’s first undisputed heavyweight championship in 25 years on Sunday, an unprecedented feat in boxing’s four-belt era.

Britain’s Fury was the early aggressor but Usyk gradually took charge and the “Gypsy King” was saved by the bell in the ninth round before slumping to his first career defeat.

Ukraine’s Usyk joins the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as undisputed heavyweight champion, the first since boxing recognized four major belts in the 2000s.

Britain’s Lennox Lewis was the last man to unify the heavyweight belts — three at the time — after beating Evander Holyfield in 1999.

With the win, the still-undefeated former undisputed cruiserweight champion can legitimately claim to be the best of this era, although a rematch expected in October could provide another twist.

“It is a big opportunity for me, for my family, for my country,” said Usyk, 37, who briefly served as a soldier after the Russian invasion.
“It’s a great time, a great day,” he said, adding that he was “ready for a rematch.”
Fury called it a “fantastic fight with Oleksandr.”
“I believe I won that fight, I believe he won a few of the rounds, but I won the majority of them,” he said.
“You know his country is at war, so people are siding with the country at war but make no mistake, I won that fight in my opinion and I will be back.”

Two judges scored it for Usyk by scores of 115-112 and 114-113 while the third gave it to Fury 114-113. The victory extended Usyk’s professional record to 22-0. After his first loss, Fury stands at 34-1-1.
Usyk, who adds Fury’s WBC belt to his IBF, WBA and WBO titles, looks set to go down as one of the greats after dominating at amateur, cruiserweight and now the top division.
A fired-up Fury came running out of his corner to start the fight and the 6ft 9ins man (2.06m) man was quickly into his rhythm, keeping the shorter Usyk back with his jab and playing to the crowd.
Usyk got inside with some quick combinations while Fury landed some heavy body shots. By round four, the Mancunian was taunting his ever-advancing opponent and showboating, guard down.
Usyk called two low shots in round five and got caught with a left hook as Fury continued to look comfortable, landing a telling uppercut in the following round and bobbing and weaving to stay out of range.

But the Ukrainian tagged Fury with two clean lefts in the seventh and landed a punishing hook that dazed the “Gypsy King” in the eighth.
By the next round, a relentless Usyk barrage had Fury in serious trouble and the wobbling, bleeding Mancunian took a standing count before being saved by the bell.

Fury recovered his poise and with the match in the balance heading into the final round, both fighters were finding the target.

Usyk's promoter Alex Krassyuk believed that the Ukrainian was denied a knock-out victory when the referee stepped in as Fury looked about to hit the deck in round nine.
“I believe the referee saved Tyson from a knock-out and stole the ninth-round knock-out, which should have happened,” Krassyuk said.

Wladimir Klitschko was among the legends watching along with Saudi-based football stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, who like boxing are grateful beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia's lavish push into sports.
Riyadh’s newly built, 22,000-capacity Kingdom Arena was packed when Usyk strode out for his ringwalk at 1:30 am (2230 GMT) wearing a green cossack coat and fur hat.

Fury followed, dancing to Barry White and Bonny Tyler’s “Holding out for a Hero” in a green sleeveless jacket and back-to-front baseball cap.
It set the stage for a clash of two fighters with impeccable pedigrees and very different approaches to the sport.
Fury has had a rollercoaster career, with lows including a two-year, backdated drug ban and struggles with alcohol, cocaine and depression.

Fury had shed 15lb from his last outing when, sluggish and out of shape, he was knocked down by ex-MMA fighter Francis Ngannou en route to a split decision in October.
Usyk, by contrast, has been the model of consistency with a career that was always on the rise.
The 37-year-old from Simferopol in Crimea put together an outstanding amateur record, winning European and world titles and Olympic gold in 2012.
After turning pro, he unified the cruiserweight belts in 15 fights before moving up to heavyweight, where he took three belts from Anthony Joshua in 2021 and won their rematch the following year.


South Africa works hard to beat United States in Super Eight at T20 World Cup

Updated 20 June 2024
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South Africa works hard to beat United States in Super Eight at T20 World Cup

  • Fast bowler Kagiso Rabada claimed 3-18 and spinner Keshav Maharaj got the prized wicket of US captain Aaron Jones for a duck — no runs — to finish with 1-24

NORTH SOUND, Antigua: South Africa had to work hard to earn an 18-run win over the fast-improving United States in the opening game of the Super Eight at the Twenty20 World Cup on Wednesday.
Andries Gous made an unbeaten 80 off 47 balls for the US — against country of his birth — to move atop the batting chart at the World Cup before South Africa restricted the Americans at 176-6.
Fast bowler Kagiso Rabada claimed 3-18 and spinner Keshav Maharaj got the prized wicket of US captain Aaron Jones for a duck — no runs — to finish with 1-24.
Quinton de Kock had earlier made a rampant 74 off 40 balls and Heinrich Klaasen provided the perfect finish with 36 not out in the South African total of 194-4 after Jones won the toss and elected to field.
“Pretty happy with the performance as a whole,” South Africa captain Aiden Markram said. “A couple of overs here and there we need to tidy up … but the wicket definitely changes and gets a bit slower, and they were a lot less sloppy.”
Despite four straight wins during the group stage, South Africa had been struggling in the power play throughout the tournament with its top score of 38 in the first six overs against Nepal.
But de Kock opened in friendlier conditions for batters in the West Indies than in the US as he smacked fast bowler Jaspeep Singh for three straight sixes in a 28-run over during the power play that provided South Africa momentum for a big total.
De Kock and Markram (46 off 32 balls) dominated both spinners and the pacers as they raised a solid 110-run stand after Saurabh Netravalkar (2-21) had provided the early breakthrough by getting the wicket of Reeza Hendricks in his second over.
Left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh (2-24) got plenty of grip off the slow wicket and squeezed the runs when he had de Kock caught in the deep and then David Miller offered a tame return catch to the spinner off the first ball he faced.
De Kock’s first half-century in the tournament featured five sixes and seven boundaries as he utilized the short boundaries on one side of the wicket with his perfect pull shots before he missed out on Singh’s full toss.
“We’ve had some tricky wickets so it was nice to spend sometime in the middle today,” de Kock said. “The USA put us under pressure toward the end. It was a great game.”
Netravalkar, who bowled a sensational Super Over in the United States’ historic win over heavyweights Pakistan in the group stage, struck immediately in his return spell when Markram was brilliantly caught by diving Ali Khan at deep backward point off a full pitched ball.
But Klaasen used all his T20 experience in the last five overs and struck three sixes while Tristan Stubbs also hit two fours in his 16-ball unbeaten 20 which lifted South Africa total.
Steven Taylor provided the US a confident start with four boundaries and a six in his quickfire knock of 24 off 14 balls before he ballooned a catch at mid-on as Rabada struck twice off his first two overs in the power play.
South Africa pulled back nicely through Maharaj, who had Jones caught behind for a five-ball zero, and when Corey Anderson’s stumps were knocked back by Anrich Nortje in the 10th over, the US still needed 124 for victory.
But Gous and Singh (38) revived US hopes as they came down hard on wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi (1-50) and added 91 runs for the sixth-wicket stand. Gous completed his half-century with two successive big sixes against Nortje as the batting pair brought down the target to 28 off the final two overs.
However, Rabada bowled a brilliant penultimate over for just two runs and also had Singh caught at mid-wicket that fizzled out the US hopes of another upset.
“Hard to take a defeat after coming so close,” Jones said. “We did lack discipline in the bowling at times, (but) once we play good cricket we can beat any team in the world. We need to be a lot more disciplined.”
Co-host West Indies and England are the other teams in Super Eights Group 2 and will meet in St. Lucia later Wednesday.


Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

  • It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014

COLOGNE, Germany: “Shaq” did it again.
At the age of 32 and having left top-flight European soccer behind to play in MLS, Xherdan Shaqiri is back on the international stage and back scoring again.
His stunning first-half strike secured a 1-1 draw for Switzerland against Scotland at Euro 2024 on Wednesday.
It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014.
That’s three World Cups in a row and now three European Championships for the Chicago Fire forward.
“He proved tonight that he lives and breathes for moments like these,” Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said.
Shaqiri rolled back the years with a first-time curling effort from about 20 meters out at Cologne Stadium.
Scotland had led from the 13th minute when Scott McTominay’s shot took a wicked deflection off Fabian Schar to beat Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
But Shaqiri pounced on Anthony Ralston’s loose pass in the 26th to even the match with a left-footed shot into the top corner and past Scotland keeper Angus Gunn.
“If that chance falls to any other player in the Swiss team, it’s not a goal,” Scotland manager Steve Clarke said. “You knew when it was rolling toward Shaqiri it was destined for the back of the net. He’s a top, top player, so you don’t give top, top players that kind of chance.”
Shaqiri’s career has seen him play for some of Europe’s most iconic teams, including Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Liverpool. He joined Chicago Fire two years ago, but in that time has continued to produce for his country on the biggest stage.
“Shaq always gives everything in training,” Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji said. “I don’t know how many other players are able to score that goal.”
The draw leaves Switzerland on four points, second in Group A behind Germany and likely to advance to the round of 16.
Germany became the first nation to advance to the round of 16 after 2-0 win over Hungary.
Scotland’s hopes of making the knockout round depend on its final game against Hungary on Sunday and results elsewhere. No team has failed to advance from the group stage with four points.
Both teams had chances to win the game.
The Swiss should have taken the lead just before the hour mark when Dan Ndoye turned Kieran Tierney on the edge of the box. With just goalkeeper Angus Gunn to beat, Ndoye fired wide of goal.
Grant Hanley then headed against the post from a Scotland free kick and Switzerland’s Zeki Amdouni headed wide at the far post late on.
Scotland has never advanced beyond the group stage of a World Cup or Euros on 11 previous attempts.
But repeated disappointment doesn’t seem to dampen optimism among its fans, who filled Cologne’s square before the game.
Swiss fans were out in numbers, too, creating a raucous atmosphere in the stadium.
It was certainly a more enjoyable evening for Scotland’s fans than the opening game of the Euros — a 5-1 loss to Germany.
“It was what we expected. It was a good reaction to a disappointing night. We’re still alive in the tournament,” Clarke said.
Goals from Jamal Musiala and İlkay Gündoğan made it two wins from two for host Germany after victory against Hungary and ensured there would be no repeat of its group stage exit from the 2022 World Cup.
Albania substitute Klaus Gjasula scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to hold World Cup semifinalist Croatia to a 2-2 draw in Group B. Gjasula’s own goal, just four minutes after entering the game in the second half, had looked like handing Croatia the win until his late strike.


Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

Updated 20 June 2024
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Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

  • “The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season
  • He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life

BUENOS AIRES: It’s sad but true, Copa America could mark Lionel Messi’s final chapter with Argentina’s national soccer team.

The World Cup winner will turn 37 during the tournament in the US, which kicks off Thursday. He’s clearly past his peak at Inter Miami after two decades of playing at the highest level in Europe.

Messi has not set a date for his retirement and has kept the door open to playing in a sixth World Cup in 2026 to defend his title from Qatar. But he already recognizes his shortcomings.

“I don’t think about that yet. The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season. “I always ate well, trained. But as I grew I became aware that the physical effort we make is getting harder. As you grow old, things become more difficult.”

Last year, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner struggled with muscular injuries while playing in MLS and for Argentina. That didn’t change much in 2024.

Messi has shown he enjoys going out at night with his wife, Antonella, and his friends in Miami. He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life.

Still, he has 12 goals and 13 assists for Inter Miami this season.

“I have a good time at the club. I am lucky to have teammates and friends (Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, all former Barcelona players) by my side,” Messi told ESPN. ”I have a good time in the national team, where I have teammates and friends, too. And I enjoy the little details that I know that when I don’t play anymore, I’m going to miss.”

Angel di Maria, a 36-year-old winger who has played alongside Messi for years with the national team, is sure to bid farewell to international soccer after the Copa America. That has also brought more questions about whether the team’s biggest star will remain on the squad.

“As long as I feel like I’m fine and I can continue contributing, I’m going to do it. Today, the only thing I think about is getting to the Copa America well and being able to compete in it,” Messi told the Star Plus platform in December. “Fighting for it again, as we always did, trying to be champions.”

Argentina’s all-time top scorer and the national team’s leader with 26 World Cup appearances is also seeking records in the continental competition.

Messi, who won the South American championship in 2021, wants to become the Copa America’s leading scorer. He has 13 goals in six editions, four behind Norberto Méndez of Argentina and Zizinho of Brazil with 17.

He also wants to be the player with most appearances in the Copa America, a record he currently shares with former Chile goalkeeper Sergio Livingston, both with 34 games.

Messi’s teammates don’t want to see him go.

“We’ll see how long, but while he’s here we’re going to enjoy it to the fullest,” Argentina defender Cristian Romero said. “We grew up watching him. We are part of those tournaments.”


Tributes to Willie Mays pour in as mural is unveiled in Alabama

Updated 20 June 2024
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Tributes to Willie Mays pour in as mural is unveiled in Alabama

  • The artwork was created by artist Chuck Styles, who said he wanted to capture Mays’ humanity
  • Other tributes to Mays, born in Westfield, Alabama, near Birmingham, poured in all over the country on Wednesday, including from President Joe Biden

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama: Willie Mays gave a message to his longtime friend Dusty Baker just a day before he died.

Mays, who died Tuesday afternoon at 93 years old, knew that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip to Birmingham, Alabama, for a week of festivities honoring the contributions that he and other Negro Leaguers have made to baseball. But he wanted Baker to share a message to the city he long called home.

“Birmingham, I wish I could be with you all today,” said Mays’ good friend and adviser Jeff Bleich, reading the statement at a ceremony Wednesday honoring Mays’ life and career. “This is where I’m from. I had my first pro hit here at Rickwood as a Black Baron. And now this year, some 76 years later, that hit finally got counted in the record books. I guess some things take time. But I always think better late than never.”

Mays also sent an antique clock with his picture on it to the city of Birmingham. Baker was not feeling well, Bleich said, so he was not at the ceremony.

“Time changes things,” Mays continued in his note. “Time heals wounds. And that’s a good thing. I had some of the best times of my life in Birmingham. So I want you to have this clock to remember those times with me, and to remember all the other players who were lucky enough to play here together.”

The ceremony took place in downtown Birmingham just miles from Rickwood Field, where Mays’ unforgettable career began. Bleich joined Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer in giving speeches in Mays’ honor, standing in front of a grand mural display of the former Giants center fielder.

It’s an enchanting depiction of the electrifying “Say Hey Kid,” showing Mays beaming with his hands resting on his knees, his bevy of athletic accomplishments painted around him.

The artwork was created by artist Chuck Styles, who said he wanted to capture Mays’ humanity.

“I knew I wanted to showcase him in a way that everybody knew him for,” Styles said, “and that was his smile.”

Other tributes to Mays, born in Westfield, Alabama, near Birmingham, poured in all over the country on Wednesday, including from President Joe Biden.

“Like so many others in my neighborhood and around the country, when I played Little League, I wanted to play center field because of Willie Mays,” Biden said in a statement. “It was a rite of passage to practice his basket catches, daring steals, and command at the plate — only to be told by coaches to cut it out because no one can do what Willie Mays could do.”

Mays, who began his professional career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues in 1948, had been baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer and was considered the sport’s greatest living player.

He died two days before a game between the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals to honor the Negro Leagues at Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

“It’s actually even heavier today,” said Giants manager Bob Melvin, wearing a Mays T-shirt. “When you read all the articles and you read what everybody has to say about him, it kind of comes full circle in what he’s meant to our country. Even if you don’t know baseball, you know who Willie Mays is.”

Melvin said the Giants would wear patches with Mays’ No. 24 on their chest for Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs.

When the team travels to Birmingham for the commemorative game at Rickwood Field on Thursday, the Giants will open Oracle Park for fans to watch the game on the scoreboard, the team announced.

Images of Mays will appear on the scoreboard before and after the event, and a sculpture of his jersey number will be placed in center field to honor him.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said Thursday’s game becomes even more poignant after Mays’ death.

“Being there with everything that is going on will be definitely meaningful. You have an icon of the sport in the city where it all started, so I think bringing light to all of it will be a pretty cool moment down there,” Marmol said.

The 37-year-old manager said he never met Mays, but it was interesting to hear stories from former Giants like Brandon Crawford about him.

“I will do more of that today. It will be fun to hear people’s stories,” Marmol said. “I am curious to ask around to those who have.”

Cardinals assistant coach Willie McGee said he had several conversations with Mays when he played for the Giants from 1991-94.

“Willie was the best, man, the greatest I have ever seen,” McGee said. “He had all six tools. His aggressiveness, his baserunning. That is what separated him, for me, his aggressiveness and his instincts from other five-tool guys.”

When asked if Mays ever gave him any advice, McGee chuckled.

“All the time — but I don’t remember none of it,” he said.


PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

Updated 20 June 2024
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PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

  • ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption
  • Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month

LOS ANGELES: The PGA Tour has created a special exemption recognizing Tiger Woods’s “exceptional lifetime achievement” that will allow the 15-time major champion entry into the tour’s top events.

ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption during a joint meeting with the PGA Tour Enterprises board of directors on Tuesday.

Woods, whose playing schedule has been severely limited since he suffered serious leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, plays too little now to otherwise qualify for the eight signature events.

But from 2025 he will be welcome in those tournaments, which feature smaller fields, larger purses and bumped up points toward the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“An additional sponsor exemption will be created to recognize Tiger Woods in his own category as a player who has reached an exceptional lifetime achievement threshold of 80+ career wins,” the memo said, according to ESPN.

With 82 PGA Tour wins, Woods shares the all-time record with Sam Snead.

Despite his physical limitations, the 48-year-old has said he still feels he has more titles in him, although he has played in just nine official PGA Tour events in the past three seasons.

The only non-major he has competed in was the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, which he hosts for the benefit of his charitable foundation.

Woods withdrew in the second round at Riviera this year because of illness. He finished 60th at the Masters and missed the cut at the PGA Championship and the US Open last week at Pinehurst.

Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month.

He indicated at Pinehurst he expected it to be his last start of the season.

“I’ve only got one more tournament this season,” he said. “I don’t think even if I win the British Open I’ll be in the playoffs.”