Heavyweight hardware will be on the line Saturday at Tottenham
Hotspur Stadium in London as Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) will be defending
his belts against former cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs). An
attempt to match Joshua and fellow heavyweight titlist Tyson Fury fell through
over the summer after an arbitrator ruled that Fury was mandated to give
Deontay Wilder a third fight. The winner of Joshua-Usyk is still slated to face
the winner of Fury-Wilder 3, but first things first, getting the victory in the
semifinal of this de facto heavyweight tournament.
Although most boxing fans would have preferred for Joshua to face Fury for all the marbles in the division, Usyk presents a tasty alternative. A 6'3" southpaw with mobility, refined boxing skills and a sturdy chin, Usyk possesses numerous dimensions that are unique in the heavyweight division. Although his first two heavyweight fights haven't wowed boxing fans, an opponent like Joshua shares few similarities with Dereck Chisora, Usyk's last foe. The avenues that led to Chisora having periods of success against Usyk – inside fighting, relentless pressure – aren’t how Joshua fights, nor should they be. They are two distinct styles for fighters with significantly different physical dimensions and inherent boxing gifts.
|Joshua (left) and Usyk (right) at the fight week presser
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
Joshua still has an intimidating 88% knockout rate, but since his loss to Andy Ruiz in 2019, he's been far more cautious in the ring. He boxed to a wide decision victory against Ruiz in the rematch and although he knocked out Kubrat Pulev in his last fight, he sure did take his time in getting there. A further wrinkle is that Joshua hasn't fought a southpaw in five years and a tricky lefthander could continue the trend of Joshua fighting cautiously.
will be the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Joshua needs to keep it basic.
By utilizing just his jab and right hand, Joshua can defeat most top heavyweights. These two punches keep opponents on the outside, where many heavyweights are far from their
best. Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz couldn't do anything with Joshua when he
kept the fight at range. And although Joshua has faced a couple of opponents
who can damage him from distance (Klitschko, Povetkin), those have been few and
far between in his career.
this fight becomes a battle of one-twos, Joshua will win. Usyk's jab and straight left hand from distance, although solid, aren't his
money shots. Usyk is at his best in mid-range, where he can throw his hooks and
create angles, often unpredictable ones, to land his power shots. It would
benefit Joshua to throw his jab consistently throughout the fight. It may not
land with regularity, but it will keep Usyk busy enough on defense to prevent
rushes on the inside.
needs to remain disciplined with this approach, similar to how he was against
Ruiz in the rematch (although he won't need to move as much as he did there).
Yes, Joshua has a great left hook and his right uppercut might be his best
knockout weapon, but those punches create opportunities for Usyk, whereas if Joshua sticks with the jab and straight right, he should be able to limit Usyk's
2. Usyk often takes a few rounds to start his offense; don't do
to many top boxers, such as Lomachenko, Crawford, Mayweather and Hopkins, Usyk
will often be stingy will his offense in the initial rounds of a fight, waiting
to see what his opponent has to offer. Often, he'll give up some early rounds,
like he did against Michael Hunter, Tony Bellew and Chisora. But in my
estimation, that strategy would be a severe miscalculation against Joshua.
the home fighter, Joshua will have the crowd on his side. If Joshua can claw
out a few early rounds with just a few jabs and a nice right hand or two, that
would play directly into what I think his fight strategy is going to be. I don't think that Joshua will be looking for a
battle royale. He's mature enough, I believe, to understand that at
this phase of his career a win is a win.
has to get Joshua out of his Plan A and force him to fight at a faster pace
than he would like. Joshua can make mistakes. He can misjudge range and
throw the wrong shots at the wrong time. But that will only happen if Usyk
applies real pressure. And if we want to talk about round-by-round scoring, if
Usyk gives Joshua a courtesy two rounds before he gets started, he will need
to win seven of the next ten to win a decision. That's a tall order and leaves
very little margin to play with, especially as the opponent. Usyk has to
contest every round.
3. Usyk needs to hurt Joshua.
Joshua doesn't have strong recuperative powers. After being knocked down
against Klitschko, it took him three rounds to get back to trying to win the
fight. In the first Ruiz fight, he wasn't much of a factor after he was dropped
in the second round. There's a saying in boxing that a wounded fighter is the
most dangerous fighter, but that's not the case with Joshua. When he's hurt,
he's not doing much on offense.
Usyk to capitalize on this weakness of Joshua's he'll have to do two things:
commit to his power shots, and don't leave it too late. There's a scenario
where Usyk might want to pot-shot his way to win some rounds. And maybe that
will work at parts of the fight. But Joshua still has that thudding straight
right that does damage. His power shots are easy to see for the
judges. Usyk can go in-and-out on Joshua to limit damage; however, he's still
going to have to get enough done offensively for judges to give him rounds. And
it's not going to be a touch jab or a pushed left hand to erase a Joshua right
best way of winning the fight is for Joshua to be in those situations where he
doesn't throw anything back, where he's too concerned about surviving instead
of launching his own offense. But Usyk needs to get him to that point, and that
means some of his craftier power shots need to come into play – his high-arching
right hook that lands on the top of the head or the ear, and a slinging left
hand between the gloves (that's the punch that knocked out Tony Bellew). Usyk
must be untraditional with his attack. He'll have the element of
surprise with these shots, but he has to commit to them.
let's say that Usyk will have three rounds to play with if he's able to hurt
Joshua. That's only relevant if he's able to inflict damage early enough in the
fight for those rounds to matter. In other words, hurt Joshua in the seventh,
where there are five rounds left in the fight, instead of the 12th, where all
AJ needs to do is survive until the final bell. Usyk not only must take
initiative in the fight in terms of pace and volume, but he has to cause
damage, and early enough for it to matter.
4. Joshua must ignore the crowd.
admitted that he was reckless in the first Ruiz fight, rushing in for the
stoppage after he had knocked Ruiz down. That display of machismo from Joshua enabled Ruiz
to turn the tables in that round, and essentially won him the fight. Joshua's
fans love him and they want to see knockouts. But Joshua can't play to the
crowd. Usyk is too tricky and accomplished at making opponents pay for their
goal should be to limit Usyk's opportunities, to take the sting out of the
fight. This will give Joshua his best chance of winning. Joshua becomes
vulnerable once a fight turns into a shootout, and that's something he wants to
avoid on Saturday. I think the duller the better for Joshua, and if the crowd
boos, let them; many of them are Tottenham fans – they are used to not getting
what they want.
love to tell you that Joshua-Usyk will be a can't-miss action fight, but I don't see
that happening. I think that we'll see a cagey, technical 12-round fight with
few memorable punches landed. Ultimately, it's a matchup issue. Both
fighters are smart enough to respect their opponent and they also have the
specific skills to negate what the other one wants to do.
will be an interesting fight for those who like chess matches: one or two big shots
a round could be enough to take it. And how they set these shots up will require maximum skill and craft. But for the bloodthirsty ghouls, I'm afraid that Joshua-Usyk could disappoint.
that's boxing. I'm glad that Joshua-Usyk is happening. Usyk's a terrific opponent.
However, I just don't think that the fight's going to catch fire. And that's OK. Ultimately, I think that Joshua's jab and right hand land enough for him to win a decision in a
competitive fight, something like 8 rounds to 4 or 9 rounds to 3.
Anthony Joshua defeats Oleksandr Usyk by decision.