Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua: Heartbreaking story behind mascot, boxing news


Oleksandr Usyk hits like a mule — but it is a loveable Disney donkey providing him with fairytale inspiration for his Anthony Joshua rematch.

Almost six months ago, after leaving ravaged Ukraine to inspire his nation with a world-title defence, he was forced to part ways with 12-year-old daughter Yelizaveta.

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Knowing her father was travelling to Saudi Arabia to do battle with the 6ft 6in English heavyweight must have frightened the brave little girl, so she gave her daddy a guardian angel, The Sun reports.

In this heartwarming story, Eeyore — the depressed Winnie-the-Pooh character — is in fact, Liolia, the female family friend and now a crucial part of Team Usyk.

A month on from his emotional interview in London where Usyk detailed fleeing his home, rampaging Russians looting his house and his children asking why they were being targeted, the WBA, IBF and WBO champion is miles happier introducing his new ally to the world.

“It’s my daughter’s. She gave it to me to be my talisman. We bought it when we were all together in Disneyland Paris,” he grinned.

“When we left Ukraine together but our roads separated in Europe, my daughter gave this toy to me and said, ‘This needs to be right next to you’.

“It sleeps with me, is always close to and she told me to take it to my media event.

“I am not sure about it being in my corner, she is a lady so she might get scared, but she will definitely be in my dressing room.”

Asked why his mood has lifted so noticeably, when another month away from his family spent sparring monsters might have deflated him further, Usyk, 35, beamed: “Because my wife is here now.

“At our last interview, you asked me why I don’t have big diamond jewellery but now I have this watch, it’s a present from my wife, this ring is a present from my wife.

“She’s my pride. She’s my diamonds — big diamonds.”

There has also been — at last — positive news from the front line Usyk ran towards when Vladimir Putin’s savages laid siege.

Usyk added: “Yes, of course I have been getting updates from home every day and I did manage to get some positive news. Some of my friends, military guys, came back from their assignments safe and sound.

“Their assignments were really complicated and dangerous but they managed to accomplish them.

“We are hearing fewer explosions and seeing enemy activity reducing, which might be considered positive news for us.”

Wife Yekaterina arrived in Jeddah last Wednesday and waited patiently for her soulmate to arrive.

The rest of the clan — including sons Kyrylo and Mykhailo — are safely in Europe and the 6ft 3in, 16st softie is longing to hold them as soon as his own high-risk mission is complete.

He said: “When I say anything, my actions and words coincide. I am not a politician, I am a sportsman.

“I just want to see my kids, who I have not seen properly for over five months, I want to see my mum. They are all now in Europe.

“I want to see them and hug them and have dinner with them. And then I will go to Kyiv.”

Usyk hated the idea of leaving Ukraine behind to train for something as comparatively trivial as a boxing match for belts and money.

But rousing encouragement from his wife, the wounded soldiers he met on tours of military hospitals and President Zelensky convinced him to use his platform to spread their message of hope and peace.

And Zelensky’s now iconic reply to the USA’s offer to evacuate him when the shelling started at the end of February — “The fight is here, I need ammunition, not a ride” — has helped drive him through training.

“I know the situation because I used to be in touch with people who work around him,” Usyk said.

“I know he said, ‘Just give me the weapons, because if someone comes to kill me, I want to defend myself’.

“When a difficult situation occurs, many people, I’m not saying everyone, try to escape from it, to run away.

“But you cannot escape such a situation — if you go this way, it will follow you.

“It’s true that when he became the president, he hated to face this challenge. But when Russia invaded Ukraine, he didn’t run away.

“Other forces were saying, ‘We can help you escape, we can extract you from Ukraine’, but he stayed for his country.

“What do you think people like me, other Ukrainians, thought when we saw him acting like this? Everyone realised that he had huge balls, that we had to go and fight for our leader.”

The gap-toothed freedom fighter with the Cossack warrior haircut and moustache, can lurch from Winston Churchill to Tommy Cooper in a second.

But his response to why he has gifted Saturday’s TV rights to Ukraine for free — to unite them and help them fundraise through the show and send sponsorship money directly to the cause — stops the room still.

He added: “I told you guys before that I am not motivated by money. Money is probably the easiest of all the resources to earn.

“My goal is to live my life to be useful to the world that I live in, this is what Jesus would have wanted.

“You can’t just keep putting money in your own pockets and doing everything for yourself. When you die there are no pockets inside your coffin.

“When you stand in front of your final judge, only your real deeds will be valued — not how much you earned but what you really did.”

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission.