It’s one of those weekends.
One, where boxing elevates itself from, to some, an occasional view minority sport, to a gargantuan monolith. Whenever the heavyweight championship of the world is up for grabs it pulls in all sports fans and the average Joe (or Jane) in the street. This weekend is no exception and today everyone is a fan or expert. And, we love it.
What that means is additional pressure on the sport to capture hearts and minds and also protect it’s product and integrity.
Tonight in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, undefeated world champion Oleksandr Usyk will take on Anthony Joshua for the WBA, IBF, WBO and Ring magazine championships and the right to be called the best ‘active’ heavyweight in the world. The shadow of Tyson ‘Gypsy King’ Fury still looms over both fighters, though apparently he’s now “officially” retired. Nuff said.
The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ is a fantastic contest on paper and, in these pages (see earlier posts) the quality of both fighters is exceptional; London 2012 Olympic champions, having a combined professional record of 43 wins (35 by KO) and 2 losses (both those sustained by Joshua).
At yesterday’s weigh in before the world’s sports media, patriotic Ukrainian, Usyk scaled 15st, 11lbs, and Joshua 17st, 6lbs. The British challenger is 4.5lbs heavier than in the previous contest between the two back in September 2021, Usyk a mere 0.25lbs heavier than before. The differential 23lbs in Joshua’s favour.
However, it’s unlikely to be a contest determined by respective weights, but by skills, tactics and eventually durability. The Undisputed has thought long and hard about the outcome, from the first moment Joshua invoked the rematch clause after losing the first fight, through February’s Russian invasion of Ukraine – thinking how that might impact on Usyk’s mindset and his training camp, to the fight night countdown and the rumours emanating in between.
After much deliberation we revert back to our first thoughts and gut instinct. Stylistically, Usyk is all wrong for Joshua – an elite, crafty southpaw, able to pivot in throwing punches from all angles and step away diagonally to avoid counters. He aligns this with exceptional infighting skills and respectable ‘heavyweight’ power.
We see Joshua starting fast behind a solid jab and looking to offload his big right crosses followed by left hooks to the body in an attempt to overwhelm his opponent. Forcing the pace as he does. An early onslaught is widely considered his only route to victory, and we expect him to revert back to the street mentality and threshing machine he was as an amateur and in his early professional career. This took him to the top of the mountain and with new trainer Robert Garcia he will adopt a more aggressive approach than in recent fights.
The thinking fighter that he’s attempted to develop into, by trying to repeatedly ‘outbox the boxer’, has not cut it in recent contests and, knowing he can’t do this with Usyk, he’s likely hardened himself for a ‘firefight’. The pre-fight nervousness that he hinted on yesterday is likely an indication of what he’s in for; expecting an extremely tough dogfight in which he’s the man who’s going to have to change approach and really go for it.
‘AJ’ has the size, power and hopefully mindset to prevail on the night by adopting these tactics and we expect knockdowns in the first three rounds. However, we predict that Usyk’s dexterity, toughness and motivation will enable him to navigate this early period, possibly lifting himself off the canvas, and taking a more selective approach in the middle rounds.
We expect Joshua to have further success landing big right hand shots and hooks to the body as Usyk steps in, but the superior southpaw skills of the Ukrainian and the early intensity of the contest to take it’s toll on Joshua, with the Ukrainian to settle the score by stoppage victory in the seventh round.
This won’t be the end of Anthony Joshua at the elite level, if anything add to his entertaining list of fights, further projecting his power at the box office. However, Usyk will prevail and this will overnight, bring one certain Tyson Fury out of his retirement.
The card also features former unified super-middleweight world champion Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KO’s) against Frenchman Mathieu Bauderlique (21-1, 12 KO’s) in a light-heavyweight contest, hot Croatian heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KO’s) versus Chinese Zhilei Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KO’s), promising Tokyo 2021 silver medallist Ben Whittaker in his second pro outing at light-heavyweight and perennial contender Badou Jack at cruiserweight.
The Saudi Arabian state and Matchroom co-promoted card should be entertaining, topped by an intriguing main event that will reset the heavyweight picture.
The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ will be available in the UK on Sky Sports Box Office from 6pm and the main event on TalkSport radio later in the evening. Ring entrances are expected from 10pm UK time.
It will also be available on DAZN worldwide and on YouTube in Ukraine.