Usyk emerged victorious on all three judges’ scorecards (117-112, 116-112, 115-113) to become a two-weight world champion, picking up Joshua’s WBA, WBO and IBF belts in a majestic display.
A feverish atmosphere greeted both men in the ring with 63,000 fans crammed in at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The tantalising prospect of an undisputed fight with Tyson Fury was cruelly snatched away from the boxing world this summer after a squabble in the courtroom.
And the richest fight in boxing history has been kicked further down the road, with Joshua now in a precarious position once more and tasked with avenging this agonising defeat once he inevitably activates his rematch clause.
In contrast to the mayhem brewing in Las Vegas ahead of Fury vs Wilder 3, there has been a serenity amongst these fighters, born out of respect for each other and this pugilistic art.
But Usyk has a maniacal side to him, as displayed by the futuristic mask worn during his ring walk. And the first bell flicked a switch behind those steely eyes to add violence to his majestic ring skills.
It was that southpaw left that immediately captured Joshua’s attention merely seconds into round one, drilling the champion.
Joshua was not afforded any respite early on, with another piston-like left from Usyk rocking the champion momentarily in the third. Disguised behind the jab and landing crisply on Joshua’s chin, Usyk was quickly defying the 19-pound deficit he conceded at the weigh-in.
Another left then bounced off Joshua’s head, spraying sweat over the ropes, but Joshua was starting to gradually narrow the distance. A thudding right was greeted by a crackling of cheers that reverberated around the stadium as the fight reached its half-way point.
The seventh began with Joshua using his golden gloves like a matador in a bid to throw Usyk off his game. But Usyk continued to bamboozle the champion, staggering him back towards the corner. And a grin was painted over Joshua’s face as the bell sounded to end the round, followed by a little jig in front of Usyk, in what was surely a sign of respect towards the infuriating challenge in front of him.
Joshua’s brawn started to become a factor in the mid-rounds, driving home his right and leaning on Usyk to sap his energy in the hope that his feet would stick to the canvas slightly longer.
The bright lights at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium saw memories of Joshua’s great nights flood back, and it was his signature right uppercut, which famously rocked Wladimir Klitschko four years ago, that belatedly made an appearance in the 9th.
Despite technique presiding over blood and guts, both men’s savvy skills were beginning to leave their mark. With Usyk’s blemish under his right eye ballooning and the laser-like accuracy of his southpaw left had accumulated to leave Joshua’s right cheek swollen.
A thrilling finale to the fight saw Usyk capitalise on his speed advantage. And he even emptied the tank in pursuit of a stoppage, sensing a decision might not be secure. Joshua, pinned to the ropes and bouncing from side to side, survived but the decision read out by Michael Buffer was duly deserved by Usyk.
Joshua still emerges from this cruel setback with credit, gallantly meeting his WBO mandatory while inspiring yet another gigantic night for British sport as only he can. But the mercurial Usyk has now conquered a second division, the division, with the mouthwatering prospect of a rematch in store next year.