Usyk v Joshua II – Same again ?

The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’
Photo: courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.

Article originally posted on 18/6/22

This week’s confirmation of the rematch for the heavyweight titles held by Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk, due to be re-contested in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 20 August, has been met with the expected writing off to former champ Anthony Joshua’s chances. Almost to the extent that it’s not worth the Londoner entering an arduous training camp to attempt to win back his WBA, IBF and WBO titles. Usyk’s just too good they say, his style’s all wrong for Joshua, the Brit is chinny and will get sparked clean out.

Although this is an appreciation of the Ukrainian’s undoubted class, it is almost disrespectful to the Brit.

Joshua, is an Olympic super-heavyweight champion (ironically at the same London Games Usyk won the heavyweight title), is a two-time heavyweight champion, still young for the division at 32 and possesses the physical attributes at 6ft 6in, an 82 inch reach and 92% knockout rate, to trouble his significantly smaller foe.

Oleksandr Usyk is good, extremely good, but not unbeatable. No fighter, aside from a few exceptions (Marciano, Mayweather Jr, Calzaghe) who remained unbeaten as pros but arguably beaten along the way on some judges and experts cards, and Usyk is likely to be no exception come the end of his career.

The 35 year old Ukrainian currently boasts a 19-0 (13 KO) record, which includes only three fights in the heavyweight division, albeit bookended by his impressive title win against Joshua last September.

The big Londoner, will granted, have to change a lot from his poor performance in the first fight in which although competitive in losing a twelve round unanimous decision, he was thoroughly outboxed by the surprisingly aggressive southpaw. Usyk has the long and elite amateur experience, Joshua; they say like his fellow countryman Frank Bruno is a manufactured boxer, too musclebound to compete at the real elite heavyweight level.

Whilst Usyk will go into the rematch as a heavy favourite, rightly so, there are a few other things to factor in when predicting the outcome:

1) The Ukrainian has had the trauma of the invasion of his homeland to contend with, serving some of his boxing layoff in the Ukrainian home defence regiment. Whilst this may be extra motivation to put his country further into international consciousness and attention, and illustrate his nation’s strength, the layoff and psychological impact may have an influence,

2) a change in strategy combined with Joshua’s size may be an irresistible force – the Brit has been accused of being gunshy since his shock defeat to Andy Ruiz in June 2019. This was evident in the rematch as he boxed his way to victory, knowing he had the skillset to do that against the out of condition Mexican-American. It’s widely known in the first Usyk fight he tried to ‘outbox the boxer’ which was ultimately never going to happen. His strategy for the rematch will be critical, one that will be compiled by new trainer Robert Garcia who will support Angel Fernandez. If Joshua can combine that explosive power with a more aggressive approach the outcome could be different,

3) the Brit’s motivation, although will not be dictated by external world events and patriotism, it is the motivation of a fighter who is being written off and will be desperate to win back his titles and the status that comes with it. That is a dangerous cocktail when combined with his size and athleticism.

As we edge closer to fight night the pendulum will heavily swing towards the Ukrainian with most fans and pundits predicting an easy repeat victory. But, heavyweight history has shown many times that ‘a good big un’ will always beat a good little ‘un’. We know Usyk is exceptional, but Joshua has been good and may still be. Heavyweight history is littered with one punch or heavy KO’s changing the lineage of titles – think of a certain James ‘Buster’ Douglas v Mike Tyson.

Before you totally write off the Londoner’s chances just consider the above.

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