Joshua admits frustration that all-British mega-fight fell through ahead of clash with Ukraine’s undefeated former cruiserweight champion
When Anthony Joshua, a man not prone to hyperbole, talks of how “annoyed” he was at the demise of his £200 million fight with Tyson Fury, then you know something is up.
In his attempt to be crowned the grand duke of the heavyweight division, Joshua was marched up to the top of the hill – and back down again – before a court ruling in the United States finally pulled the plug on the biggest fight of all time.
Instead, at the end of his summer of discontent, stands Oleksandr Usyk. “Even though it’s not Fury,” insists Joshua. “It’s still a great fight.”
When Saturday comes at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, no easy feat lies in wait against the Ukrainian, a masterful undefeated former cruiserweight champion, Olympic heavyweight champion from London 2012 – where Joshua also first emerged as the super-heavyweight gold medalist – and a fighter with deep resources in the ring.
“Even though it’s annoying, I’m glad I can still take on an opponent who makes me want to get up in the morning because I want to improve and get better,” Joshua adds.
Certainly, Usyk remains a significant obstacle in the way of the all-British mega-fight. “What an honour it would be to fight Tyson, beat him and get another great fighter on my record,” explained a lean-looking Joshua, happy to look forward without overlooking the challenge to his supremacy.
“I’d love that opportunity. We were close to doing it, Matchroom did a great job, managing a heavyweight undisputed championship of the world fight during a pandemic.
“We were a couple of weeks away and then it came to an end unfortunately. It would have been one of the biggest boxing fights in history. But I’m now ready to prove what I have been practising against Usyk.”
Indeed, a sellout crowd of 60,000 will throng the home of Spurs in north London to witness the next step in Joshua’s fascinating rise, representing a welcome return to a major fight night for the sport blighted during Covid-19, as the 31-year-old defends the IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO belts.
Usyk has moved up to heavyweight after dominating the cruiserweight division, following in the footsteps of Evander Holyfield and David Haye, who claimed titles at both weights.
The Ukrainian has the greatest pedigree possible: the 34-year-old was the amateur world champion, held a record of 335-15 before joining the prizefighter ranks, and is undefeated as a professional in 18 contests. Possessing the skills of a great ring general, he is, though, the naturally smaller man, and will weigh in around a stone lighter than Joshua.
Joshua, who appears to be relishing this opportunity to put another formidable name in the win column, said: “There’s a lot of talk about size, a good big guy beats a good little guy. But if that’s the case why I am getting up in the morning to train? Why I am sitting in ice baths? Why I am passionate about it? Because I’m fighting a good guy.”
Asked about his more streamlined appearance, Joshua said: “I’m as solid as a rock. I’m strong, I’m good at the weight. Honestly, I don’t really focus on my weight. I just put in the work, and the shape that I am is just a by-product of where I’m at due to the training I’ve undergone.
“I’ve been doing a lot of sparring to be honest, which has been very physical: pushing, shoving, defending. I’ve been doing heavy bag work so maybe I’m just shredding a lot of the weight.”
Assessing his opponent, Joshua added: “I’ve looked at Usyk’s fights with Tony Bellew and Dereck Chisora. He’s done well at heavyweight. The two intros at heavyweight for him were good opponents to pick. Credit to him.
“But this is heavyweight boxing and I’m the heavyweight champion of the world. I don’t play games. I’m here to win.”
If Joshua emerges triumphant on Saturday night, all focus will shift to Fury’s WBC trilogy fight with Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas on October 9. “Look, the fight with Fury would have been massive. It would have been brilliant for boxing. It’s the fight everyone wants. To see an undisputed heavyweight king.
“Deep down, belt, no belt, belt’s better, now or later it would have been a brilliant fight to have at the time but it didn’t happen. It’s the fight everyone wants deep down. We’ll get it on at some stage, but where we are now, Joshua versus Usyk, it’s probably bigger or just as big as that fight.”
Anthony Joshua v Oleksandr Usyk is live on Sky Box Office on Saturday