A good chess player, it has been said, is someone who can recall patterns, understands tactics and strategies and can envision openings and endgames.

One might ask what that has to do with one of the great heavyweight fights of modern times, but if you look behind the bloody display of skill, inspect the I.Q behind the desire and look at the shifts in momentum of a tumultuous struggle in Saudi Arabia, you could be excused for thinking the new undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Oleksandr Usyk, might have been able to imitate his success in the ring while sat at a chessboard.

For while Usyk was able to match bravery and brawn with the enormous Gypsy King, Tyson Fury, he was also able to think and scheme. And it appeared for the opening quarter of the fight that Usyk’s initial ideas about how he might win were enough.

He picked, poked and prodded with persistent shots but, importantly, he landed a big early left hand that showed Fury that Usyk was a “middleweight” no more. 

There was a visible look of shock as Fury’s distorted face returned to its original shape as a consequence.

But to Fury’s credit, he made his own adjustments. In that respect, he started to take some of Usyk’s pieces off the board.

The 6ft 9ins Englishman swaggered behind a double jab and then launched in long right hands behind – whether they were up or downstairs, uppercuts or around the side of Usyk’s gloves. 

Fury looked relaxed. He was fighting at his pace, at his range, on his clock. 

Usyk’s brow furrowed and, like a chess player contemplating a move six minutes down the chain, he focused, concentrated and plotted.

The Ukrainian’s face reddened as he considered his adjustments, sacrificing some pawns in order to free up his artillery. There was a cost, sure, but he made sure it was minimal.  

“I was having fun in there,” said Fury afterwards, but Usyk was too busy for fun.

A Fury left hook seemed to travel into Usyk’s boots in the fourth and Fury started to roll out his showboating antics, hands behind the back, leaning forwards, smiling… And you know what? There was an indication that Usyk might bite.

Earlier in the contest, with Usyk seeking Fury in the corners, Fury put his hands either side of the turnbuckle, facing Usyk, and dared the Ukrainian to hit him. Many opponents have not needed a second invite, but when Usyk didn’t accept, Fury was shocked. Perhaps even rattled. 

A few rounds later, however, and with Fury seemingly in charge of the engagement, Usyk scurried in to take advantage, and it didn’t work.

Through the fifth and sixth, with Fury boxing like he does when on form, one could have been excused for looking at Usyk and pondering why this so-called genius appeared one-dimensional, one-paced, almost plodding in and soaking in rights to the body and occasional uppercuts, while now being pushed back.

There was not a distress flair in sight, but Usyk was certainly swimming upstream.

Fury however, as he clambered through the gears, was like a supercar at 60mph. He looked superb and had plenty more in the tank. He fought with the belief that he had located his distance, could groove in his familiar rhythm and use his long levers to time an opponent starting to fall short and look a little one paced and who was, frankly and understandably, struggling to contain the giant “Gypsy King” before him.

Usyk was supposed to be a champion who had more than one string to his bow, who could adapt and neutralise, but while the answers to the questions before him were not instantaneous, Usyk was computing and navigating, reorganising the structure and pace of his attack and readying himself to go through his own set of gears.

And by the time the seventh rolled around, and then certainly by the eighth, Usyk had made adjustments and started to look at how he might realign his attributes to surround the WBC champion.

And for a man who was giving away significant height and reach, Usyk did what regular mortals would fear to do and opted to spend more time in harm’s way.

He stayed on Fury and gave him no thinking time. He was playing speed chess and Fury was having to hurry his moves. It didn’t suit Fury, either.

Pesky shots to Fury’s chest, to his head and body, didn’t give Fury any respite, and Usyk was clipping him with left hands with regularity. 

Fury still attempted his displays of bravado but they could, by this point, have been deemed as fake. Fury had been taking – and giving – some heavy shots. Usyk was banking rounds and in the eighth he splatted Fury’s nose with a terrific left, causing it to spew blood.  

The ninth was staggering. Even the most hardened neutrals would have found it hard to remain in their seats. Usyk suddenly unlocked Fury’s neurological system with a short jab and a howitzer left hand that whipped Tyson’s head to the side. 

And the Morecambe Bay man spent the following 30 seconds reeling, tottering around the ring, like a spinning top crashing off the ropes, legs failing to register any command and instead replaced by a beating, pulsating heart that tried to deny all knowledge of its terrible circumstances. 

If it had been chess, Fury didn’t know where the board was.

He could hardly raise his gloves to defend himself. Usyk closed in, Ukrainian glory in his narrowed eyes, but only vacancy in Fury’s, and Usyk banged in more thudding head shots, right hooks, left hands, Fury was falling. The ropes prevented him from landing in the third row, and he finally all-but collapsed in the corner but somehow never completely wilted. The bell went.

It was theater of the highest order; more drama than sport. 

Usyk was possibly one punch from landing the decisive blow of this generation, and landing the most almighty exclamation mark on the very term undisputed! 

Fury had been down before, of course, he’d been almost out. But never had his situation seemed quite so grave as it appeared in the closing moments of the ninth round.

Fury’s recuperation after that session was every bit as remarkable as his Phoenix-from-the-ashes ascent from the catastrophic 12th round Wilder knockdown in 2018, and possibly more miraculous given the pace of the fight and the amount of physical, emotional and psychological commitment he’d already invested.

Sure, Fury would still occasionally play to the crowd but tactics were replaced by a concussed machismo – with Fury able to display courage while probably being unable to know he was displaying it. Pride, bravery, and knowing little other than how to win kept him up. 

That Fury somehow rallied and might have laid even a partial claim to the 12th and final round tells you everything you need to know about the ambition he had left. 

You could imagine Fury running with the famed Marvin Hagler quote, “You can stick your silk pyjamas up your arse.”

He desperately wanted it. The man who had been regarded as the lineal champ had always wanted the undisputed label to match.

It had been extraordinarily tactical, but it was also gloriously violent. With no boxes left to tick, it went to the scorecards.

Fury might have ultimately been checkmated by two of the judges, but his WBC title had long since been surrounded by the swarming Ukrainian who meticulously, round after round had calculated how the endgame might be won.

In an era where there are weekly rows over who might be on top of those dastardly mythical pound-for-pound ratings, Usyk made his case to stand above them all. Alone. And that claim was, in no small part, supported by one of the others at the pinnacle of the same tree.

Terence Crawford took to social media to write: “Man yall better put some respect in @usykaa man. He definitely a candidate for #1 P4P fighter in the world. I’m no hater. He beat the man that beat the man in a bigger division, giving what he’s already done. Salute brother!”

Usyk can celebrate and an embattled nation can take pride and delight in his historic victory, but it won’t be long before the chessboard is back out, with Usyk plotting his next move and studying how he can claim the “Gypsy King’s” scalp once more.