We said it all fight week, and even since the fight was made: If Oleksandr Usyk beat Tyson Fury to be recognized as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, he would transcend being a lock for the Hall of Fame – after all, he already was – and enter the realm of the leading all-time greats.

That statement came with its usual unspoken caveats – if Usyk snuck out a dubious decision or beat up on a visibly washed Fury, there would be a reevaluation after the dust settled. You know the kind: Fury was robbed. … Fury would have destroyed Usyk in 2020. … Usyk cleared out an awful group of heavyweights.

Not only did Usyk pull off a dramatic split decision win, though, he crucially did so against a very good version of Tyson Fury. Not since he walloped Deontay Wilder in 2020 has Fury looked as sharp as he did from Rounds 4 to 6 of the Usyk fight. That period of success last weekend might have been even more impressive, because the Ukrainian is significantly more skilled than Wilder, albeit less powerful. Fury was popping a stiff jab in Usyk’s face, timing him with right uppercuts and dominating the former undisputed cruiserweight champ in a manner that no one before had managed.

Yet Usyk, whose track record of mid-fight turnarounds is now as legendary as it is exemplary, pulled off his best Houdini act to date. He busted Fury’s nose in the eighth, nearly stopped the “Gypsy King” with a barrage in the ninth and appeared to win the 10th and 11th, too. He timed his savage surge to perfection; had he waited even one more round to jump on Fury, Usyk might have found himself hopelessly behind on the cards.

It’s common after a boxer overcomes a significantly larger opponent, as Usyk did with Fury, for boxing fans and media to say that size doesn’t matter, skill does. They’re half right. Size only fails to matter for the greatest of boxers. For fighters not on that level, size absolutely matters. There’s a reason why Manny Pacquiao was able to soar up eight weight divisions, yet no one in their right mind would recommend the same path to any current flyweight. Usyk beat Fury to cap off a string of victories against much bigger men not because size inherently doesn’t matter but because Usyk is special enough to make it not matter. 

So Usyk deserves every modicum of acclaim for this victory, which might just be the cinematic culmination of his professional career. The question, as always in boxing, is what comes next. But with this win, Usyk has punctuated such a brilliant and conclusive run that, outside winning a rematch, it’s hard to imagine what more the 37-year-old could achieve. 

Usyk is the rare boxer who has done just about everything aficionados of this bizarre sport crave from its participants. He sought tough fights not just consistently but relentlessly. (“Tyson, don’t be afraid. I will not leave you alone,” applies to Usyk seeking out the Fury fight as much as the fight itself.) Even his softer fights – think Chazz Witherspoon – were stated stepping stones on the path to the most difficult bouts possible. Usyk readily accepted his role as the B-side in fights with Fury and Anthony Joshua. Challenging himself has remained his No. 1 priority throughout it all.

Usyk has left no opportunities to nitpick his resume. He has never lost as a professional, often winning huge fights from the away corner. None of his decision wins have been controversial. Despite winning split decisions against AJ in their rematch and Fury on Saturday, plus a majority decision over Mairis Briedis in 2018, all three outcomes were widely viewed as correct. Those who felt that Daniel Dubois’ punch to Usyk’s midsection last August was legal might harbor some resentment, but Usyk going on to stop Dubois (and winning practically every round beforehand) should erase much of that feeling. Asking anything else of Usyk has become all but impossible.

Usyk may be in a class by himself in this respect among leading active fighters. Saul “Canelo” Álvarez is a bigger name, has had a longer career and is deservedly renowned for embracing challenges. But he has recently settled into a pattern of taking comfortable fights instead of battling David Benavidez – and is three and a half years younger than the Ukrainian. Usyk may not have Canelo’s star power, but nor does he exhibit the flaws for which Canelo’s fame compensates, either. He has never avoided an opponent until they showed signs of declining or ducked a potential rival because they were too big. 

Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue may well be better all-round fighters than Usyk, and keeping them above the Ukrainian on a pound-for-pound list is valid. For all his accolades, Usyk is rarely as dominant in his biggest fights. He has struggled or been forced to work hard, in a way that Crawford and Inoue rarely, if ever, have.

That said, even though Inoue and Crawford have pulled off weight-jumping heroics of their own, Usyk giving up seven inches in reach, six inches in height and 40-odd pounds to Fury and then beating him is a David-over-Goliath feat that remains unmatched. Crawford will soon fight in his fourth weight class, Inoue has just competed in his fourth (he skipped over 112 pounds) and they would both have to somehow jump a few more beyond for a matchup as physically improbable as Usyk-Fury. It’s different for smaller fighters, of course – put the weight jumped against the total weight as a percentage and the feats become comparable – but Usyk’s accomplishment nonetheless remains unique.

Besides a Fury rematch, there aren’t really any fights involving Usyk that pique the boxing world’s curiosity. After what he just did, does anyone really think that Filip Hrgovic or Jared “Big Baby” Anderson would beat him, barring a sudden, significant decline? Joshua might be on a tear, but he has had two shots at Usyk and lost both uncontroversially (Glenn Feldman’s 115-113 card for Joshua in the rematch was widely scorned). Usyk has managed to craft a story with a perfect ending, so much so that there should be no more questions about the lead character.

Again, you can’t say this about any other top fighters of the moment. Crawford’s and Inoue’s limits remain untouched, and any challengers who could help the pound-for-pounders further stretch their potential would be welcome to the audience. (To continue the story metaphor, one senses neither career has hit its climax yet and, even considering Inoue’s off-the-deck win over Nery, neither protagonist has met his match yet).

Alvarez locked up a Hall of Fame resume before he turned 30, but Canelo vs. David Benavidez remains a hugely intriguing bout. And Dmitrii Bivol vs. Artur Beterbiev could yet again change the pound-for-pound standings, but that fight hasn’t happened yet – and until it does, both boxers’ ceilings are also unclear.

Usyk has taken his legacy to a new level. If any of the aforementioned fighters retired right now, boxing fans might wonder, unfairly or not, what more any of them could have done. If Usyk stepped away at this moment, complaints would be few and far between. He is an all-time great heavyweight, despite the small body of work. The Fury win might just be the most impressive victory of any active boxer given the enormous size disparity and the losing boxer’s strong performance. Usyk, it could be argued, has found a way to completely max out his potential.

No, Usyk isn’t as famous as Canelo, as polarizing as Fury or as explosive and dominant as Crawford or Inoue. But he has checked every last box on the list of wishes we have for fighters to go about their careers.

As fond of squandering its momentum as the sport is, boxing likely won’t make the most of the opportunity – but it’s time to put Oleksandr Usyk on the highest pedestal. Who knows how much longer he’ll be around? He’s 37 and has never prioritized anything but the pursuit of greatness. Now he has attained that goal, and the least we can do is celebrate him for it.