With no action in British rings over the weekend we’re into a ‘monster’ week in the build up to the big world heavyweight rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday 20th.
The contest will be for The Ring magazine championship after last week’s retirement announcement from former lineal champ Tyson Fury. This adds significant lustre to the fight that was already for Usyk’s world IBF, WBA and WBO titles.
Fury’s retirement should also render the WBC title vacant, although despite their president Mauricio Sulaiman congratulating ‘The Gypsy King’ on his career and announcement, it’s uncertain as to the exact status of this at the moment. What is certain is Saturday’s contest is a blockbuster and effectively between the two best active heavyweights in the world.
The Ukrainian, Usyk, (19-0, 13 KO’s) is the #1 ranked heavyweight and Joshua (24-2, 22 KO’s) #2, as recognised by The Ring, and their ratings policy states that when their champion retires the title will be awarded to the winner of contest between their #1 and #2 contenders.
On this basis The Ring and lineal championship is legitimately up for grabs. It’s also worth noting that Usyk is now recognised by them as their #2 pound-for-pound – ranked second best fighter in the sport behind Japanese sensation 118lb Naoya Inoue, an honour given regardless of weight class. This illustrates what the Londoner, Joshua, is up against.
‘AJ’ has to fight the psychological demons again and attempt to regain the heavyweight title for a third time, something only Muhammad Ali has achieved in the past. The similarity ends there because the nature of his defeats to Andy Ruiz in June 2019, and Usyk last September, show that as good as Joshua is he stands in Ali’s shadow as far as being a dominant heavyweight as a professional.
However, let’s accept the Brit’s accomplishments for what they are. A two-time heavyweight title holder who’s appeared in, and won, some of the biggest fights in a British ring in recent years. His pulling power and fanbase is staggering and has made him a rich man. To regain the title on Saturday will be a monumental task and a significant achievement should he pull it off. He should be commended for going straight into the rematch.
Usyk, now 35, was so dominant in the first contest that few give Joshua anything other than a puncher’s chance. The 32 year old challenger deserves more consideration than this. He has a sound technique, as the London 2012 Olympic champion at super-heavyweight, has superb conditioning and concussive power to match. He also enjoys height and weight advantages, although rumour is that Usyk has put on 19lbs of muscle since the first contest, bringing this discrepancy closer.
Usyk, is a boxing beast, able to box out of his southpaw stance to a game plan and engage with significant power when sensing a weakness in his opponent. He has immense amateur experience as the London 2012 Olympic champion at heavyweight and is attempting to be the first to be recognised by The Ring magazine as their cruiserweight and heavyweight champion.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have paid a significant eight figure sum to stage the fight and the event billed as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ by promoters Matchroom is sure to deliver. Joshua knows his main chance of victory is to blow away Usyk and this will surely make the fight exciting in the early rounds. Usyk is unlikely to meet the Brit head on in the first six minutes, but having wobbled him last September, knows he has the power to hurt his opponent. Joshua’s chin is considered suspect and he will have to address that.
Over the coming week there will be much talk of the legitimacy of holding the contest in Saudi on the basis of their human rights record. Looking specifically at the sporting contest, our focus will be on the aligning of the weights, the motivation of Usyk (in essence a freedom fighter representing a proud nation under siege) his boxing IQ, and the fallibility of the challenger. This will all be added into the mix as we move towards the first bell. Watch this space for further updates as we move through the week.
Ultimately, the victor will rightly take their place at the forefront of the sport, and then, all eyes will switch to ‘The Gypsy King’ and the legitimacy of his so called ‘retirement’.
The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ will be available in the UK on Sky Sports Box Office as a pay-per-view event at £26.95 from 6pm Saturday. It’s also available world wide on the DAZN streaming channel (excluding UK, Ireland and Ukraine).
Main news over the weekend was the continuing traction on the Chris Eubank Jr v Conor Benn catchweight contest which has now officially sold out the 20,000 London O2 Arena. This is remarkable for a fight that has no title on the line and is not until October 8th. Matchroom Boxing CEO Eddie Hearn has cited this as being the biggest fight he’s promoted, due to it’s generational draw. Early evidence suggests he might be right.
Finally, the weekend also saw the successful return of former undisputed lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (17-1, 13 KO’s) who successfully stepped up to junior-welterweight (10st/140lbs) with a seventh round stoppage of Pedro Campa in Las Vegas, USA. He immediately called out Scotland’s Josh Taylor, Regis Prograis and Jose Zepeda in his new division. Exciting match ups all.
Enjoy the build up from Jeddah.