The Ukrainian put on a master class in front of 65,000 fans, outclassing Joshua over 12 rounds, and hurting the defending champion on numerous occasions.
The scorecards were 117-112, 116-112, 115-113 – all for Usyk and there was a mere shrug of the shoulders from Joshua as the second defeat of his professional career was confirmed.
Having seen a fight with fellow Briton Tyson Fury collapse last summer, Joshua opted to face his WBO mandatory challenger and former undisputed cruiserweight champion Usyk instead.
It appeared the easier fight for Joshua, but boxing’s triumphant return to stadium nights was soured for the home crowd by a truly exceptional performance from the challenger.
Joshua was relaxed and cheerful as he approached the ring but concentration was etched on his face from the first bell.
Usyk’s abilities quickly became apparent, the 34-year-old full of feints and pace from the off, moving Joshua around the ring at will as the defending champion settled into a surprisingly passive role.
A few warning shots from Joshua fell short in the early rounds, Usyk either catching them with a glove or spinning away.
It would become the pattern of the fight as Usyk made Joshua miss and executed a perfect game plan of his own.
A left cross from Usyk rattled Joshua in the third round and prompted a noisy response from the crowd.
Joshua rode the danger, failing to respond, but making it to the bell safely.
Usyk was now brimming with confidence and the London crowd tried in vain to rouse their man into life.
A low shot from Joshua brought a complaint from Usyk and Joshua fired off another, perhaps sensing a weakness in his opponent. Round five was Joshua’s best to that point, but Usyk remained in control and the Briton continued to miss his attempts to land any meaningful shots.
Finally, in the sixth round, Joshua landed his right hand, sparking a response from Usyk who widened his stance and appeared ready to trade. Joshua backed off, wary of a firefight.
And Joshua’s fears were realised in the seventh as Usyk responded brilliantly to stun him with a left hook on the chin and send him stumbling backwards. Joshua stayed on his feet, surviving the round but now in a dire situation.
Usyk was comfortably ahead on the scorecards and Joshua struggled to close the gap. The huge weight advantage was nowhere in evidence, with Usyk keeping the fight at range and urges from Joshua’s corner to move forward appearing to fall on deaf ears.
Joshua had Usyk briefly on the ropes in the ninth but returned to his corner with a bloody nose having caught a hard shot to the face in the closing seconds of the round.
There was blood on the faces of both men in the 11th round. Joshua had a cut and swelling on his eye; Usyk had a gash on his left eye. But while Usyk’s mouth was open, he was by far the busier fighter in the penultimate round, outclassing Joshua with ease once again.
The crowd desperately tried to inspire the defending champion, who needed a knockout in the final round.
But it was the challenger who almost found the decisive punch, pushing a dazed Joshua on to the ropes.
The bell saved Joshua from suffering another knockout defeat and there was a nervous wait for Usyk’s team for the scorecards.
There were to be no more shocks, however, as all three judges gave it to the challenger and ended Joshua’s short second reign as world champion after just one fight.
(Text, excluding headline BBC)