Oleksandr Usyk says the reason for his happy demeanour since arriving in Jeddah last week is that he has been reunited with his wife.
Usyk and his family were given special permission to leave war-torn Ukraine to begin training for the defence of his WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles against Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia this Saturday.
But he had to leave behind his wife, Yekaterina, and their three children — whose home, in Kyiv Oblast, was invaded by Russian troops — and it was a surprise when she was waiting in Jeddah.
“I don’t buy myself flashy things but she is my diamond,” Usyk said.
Home and those he is missing have been very much on Usyk’s mind during his preparation. He has had daily updates from friends fighting on the front line, while his constant companion during the past few months has been his daughter Elizabeth’s favourite cuddly soft toy.
“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’,” he added.
“It sleeps with me, is always close too and she told me to take it to my media event. I am not sure about it being in my corner, but she will definitely be in my dressing room.”
Usyk has arranged for the fight to be shown free in his homeland. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has assured Usyk he will be watching.
“The president does not just support me, but the whole country,” Usyk said. “When Russia invaded, he didn’t run away. What do you think people like me thought when we saw him acting like this? Everyone realised he had huge balls, that we had to go and fight for our leader.”
Usyk was in the UK when Russia first invaded. He flew home and signed up for the army reserves. He will go home again after the fight, once he has seen his family.
“I just want to see my kids, who I have not seen properly for almost half a year, I want to see my mum, they are all now in Europe,” he said.
“I want to hug them, have dinner with them. And then I will go to Kyiv.”