The Weekender

Anthony Joshua shows some of the straps up for grabs.

On Saturday night (25th) the big men are back in London town.

England’s Anthony Joshua defends his WBA/IBF and WBO ‘world’ heavyweight titles against Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk. The fight takes place at a sold out Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, north London on a Matchroom Promotion. The event is being shown live in the UK on Sky Box Office and DAZN worldwide.

Both fighters are 2012 Olympic champions, in the super-heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions respectively, and both bring almost flawless professional records to the ring.

Joshua has a sole defeat to Andy Ruiz which he subsequently avenged in an immediate rematch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in December 2019. Usyk previously unified the world cruiserweight titles before moving up to the heavier division.

The Ukrainian is ‘in deep’ having only his third fight as a heavyweight, but brings the superior amateur experience to the ring. Joshua at 31 only took up boxing a decade or so ago and his accomplishments over that time have been outstanding.

Usyk at 34 has an extensive amateur career fighting and winning around the world. Allied to his experience he brings a southpaw stance to the ring and an impressive 18-0 (13 KO’s) record. The Londoner has the higher knockout ratio in his 24-1 (22 KO’s) career and a wealth of big fight experience. This will be his eleventh ‘world’ title fight, all of them being before big indoor or stadium crowds.

Both boxers have fought for titles overseas and are used to the big occasion, however post-COVID lockdown the atmosphere tomorrow will be ramped up.

In Greenwich, London earlier today the champion weighed in at 240 lbs (17st, 1lb) and his WBO mandatory challenger at 221 lbs (15st, 8lb) – a career high. Both looked trim, confident and ready to do battle. The size differential was evident, but the three inches shorter Ukrainian did not look ‘too’ small or indeed blown up.

Although this is not the all-British heavyweight unification showdown everyone wanted – Joshua v Fury – it’s a match-up of the highest quality and there are many intriguing aspects pre-fight;

  1. Will Usyk be big and strong enough to compete with a fully fledged heavyweight champion ? For every Evander Holyfield, boxing history is littered with failures by lighter men moving up to the higher weight class. As the analogy goes ‘a good big un will beat a good small un’
  2. Has Joshua got the skillset to outbox a seasoned and clever southpaw ? Usyk’s style is not unique; being outstanding in one area, but he does everything good.
  3. Will Usyk freeze in a 62,000 hostile pro-Joshua environment against a hard hitting heavyweight ? Has he moved up too quickly and not fully tested the waters before taking on the hometown champion ?
  4. Has Joshua fully recovered from the 2019 knockout by Andy Ruiz in New York ? He’s regained his title and steadied the ship since that shock defeat, but Usyk has a good KO record and will certainly test the Londoner’s chin.
  5. Which of the two fighters has the better stamina ? Both have been known to ‘gas’ in fights – Joshua more alarmingly in the Ruiz KO, but more recently Usyk looked glad to hear the final bell against Dereck Chisora, one of his two heavyweight outings.

Ultimately success in boxing is about preparation, heart, guts and ring smarts. Both fighters have got to this level showing these qualities in abundance but The Undisputed believes this contest will be determined by the latter. It is conceivable that Joshua will blow the smaller man away in the early rounds winning by KO, but the quality of the Ukrainian and his knowing he can’t stand and trade with Joshua in the first 15 minutes will mean him adopting a cautious approach. The longer the fight goes on the more he will prevail and we see the title changing hands between rounds 9 and 11.

Then look for the scramble for the rematch and the domestic heavyweight fight we all want being further delayed, and possibly never happening. We would however like to be proved wrong.

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