Usyk prevailed at the King Abdullah Sports Center Arena in a thrilling match 113-115, 115-113, 116-112 to complete his second straight win over Joshua and capture the WBA, IBF and WBO titles to keep.
The all-out attack that many were calling for never materialized but Joshua’s performance was far better than that passive night at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium almost a year ago when he relinquished the belts in such a disappointing manner.
Even as the British national anthem played, Joshua stalked around the ring with a look of steely determination on his face, but the build-up gave way to a cautious opening in which Usyk landed a hard jab.
It was the highlight of the first round, but for the second Joshua upped the ante, releasing his powerful right hand and launching a left hook, though still vulnerable to the jab.
By the end of the third it was already a more competitive fight than their first meeting, with Usyk caught, albeit not cleanly, struggling to fire his own shots in the manner that was so damaging in North London.
Predictions that Joshua would come out with all guns were not fulfilled as he maintained order and worked behind a strict guard while taking over the ring.
At the end of the fourth, he discharged the first moment of raw aggression that drew a cheer from the crowd.
The dominance Usyk enjoyed in the first bout was a distant memory as he kept getting in range and unable to land significant punches past his leading right hand.
Joshua stayed in front of him the whole time, staying calm and holding his hands up until the chess game that was developing was interrupted by a series of quick exchanges.
But he was already beginning to slow, and a ripple had disrupted his form as Usyk continued to pepper his face with thrusts that now found their target with greater ease.
After landing an injuring left side of the body, Joshua hesitated with his follow-up and the chance to ramp up his attack was gone, but the body had been a valuable target.
At the end of the ninth set, he returned to his corner with a smile on his face after putting sustained pressure on Usyk and fired off a volley of shots that sent the Ukrainian flying back.
It was a dominant round and just as Usyk landed free in the 10th he was stopped by a hurting straight right in a blast of action.
There was nothing wrong as the fight went into the penultimate round as the fight ebbed and flowed, Usyk landing more often but Joshua’s work showed greater power.
Usyk’s stroke volume was noticeably greater, a byproduct of his excellent stamina, but both fighters needed a big final round.
It was the roughest round of the night, more of a wrestling match than a boxing match, but Usyk’s work rate was still much faster when the decision went to the scorecards, where Joshua delivered his last punch of the night.
Joshua returned to the ring after initially throwing the belts and took the mic to address the crowd and praise Usyk.
“I’ll tell you my story,” the Brit said in his post-fight comments.
“I wanted to go to jail. I got released on bail and started working my ass off because if I had been convicted I wouldn’t have been able to fight.
“I could have done better but it showed the hard work he must have put in to beat me. Please give him a round of applause as our world heavyweight champion.
“I’m not a 12-round fighter. I’m a new breed of heavyweight, Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston – they say ‘he doesn’t throw combinations like Rocky Marciano’ because I’ve got 18 checkers, I’m heavy.
“It’s hard work. This guy is phenomenally talented. We’re going to cheer for him.”
Usyk, speaking through a translator, dedicated his victory to Ukraine.
“I want to thank everyone who has prayed for me and thank God for the help He has given me today,” said the champion.
“I dedicate this victory to my country, my family, my team and all the military defending the country. Many Thanks.”