Usyk goes into Saturday’s fight as a relative unknown in Britain – but he is one of the heavyweight division’s most compelling characters
Oleksandr Usyk has revealed how growing up alongside “drug dealers and prostitutes” in Ukraine has helped prepare him for the biggest fight of his life against Anthony Joshua.
Usyk, a gold medalist from the London 2012 Olympics and former amateur world champion, is undefeated in his 18 professional contests, having previously lost just 15 of his 350 amateur bouts, but goes into Saturday’s fight with Joshua at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as a relative unknown in Britain.
That could soon change. Usyk is one of the heavyweight division’s most compelling characters – an avid reader of Chinese military general Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, a committed Christian and follower of a decidedly unorthodox training regime which is augmented by hopak – a traditional Ukrainian folk dance – gymnastics, juggling and ballet. He also indulges in weight lifting, Crossfit, and canoeing, which he says increases his balance and explosiveness as a fighter.
For Usyk, who fell in love with boxing after watching fights on television with his father growing up, the sport was an escape from the perils of everyday life growing up in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.
“How do you think I got into boxing?” he asked. “By having so many street fights growing up in a ghetto with drug dealers and prostitutes. But this is boxing. I grew up having to fight and defend myself as a kid. Life was tough growing up, and boxing was a way out of that.”
Usyk has been steeling himself for a meeting with Joshua – the 31-year-old holder of the IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO belts – for almost a decade.
“You could see back in 2012 that Joshua was going to be a superstar,” he said. “He won the super-heavyweight gold at his home Olympics in London, and it was clear that he was going to be someone special.
“Joshua is joking if he says he does not remember me from back then. I do remember him and have been watching his fights for a long time. But London is my happy place – it’s where I won Olympic gold, and where I have already enjoyed victory [over Dereck Chisora in October last year].”
Likely to weigh in at just over 16st for his fight with Joshua, the 34-year-old Usyk insists it is the Briton who should be feeling anxious ahead of Saturday’s fight – and with good reason.
Stylistically, Usyk poses a threat – he has a southpaw stance, and Joshua has not fought a right hand-leading opponent since Charles Martin in 2016 – but more dangerous could be his attitude. This is a fighter with little to lose and everything to gain, meaning Joshua – who has been upset before – is under pressure.
“I think it’s more difficult for Joshua because he has three titles and he is fighting and defending at home,” Usyk said. “I am not going to be nervous – why would I be? It would not change anything. I will not get stronger, only weaker. I will be calm and confident and probably read a book, likely the Bible, before I fight, or watch a film.
“I’m working through the series Peaky Blinders at the moment. It’s a cool and emotional drama and it’s like real life, that’s how it feels for me.
“It is the way a family should function, protecting and standing up for each other. Apart from that, I will speak to my loved ones or my son, Mikhail, who is six, before stepping into the ring.
“It is the biggest fight of my career right now, my opposition is the biggest out there, an Olympian champion like me who holds three titles; Joshua is a cool opponent. I have not visualised knocking him out. I don’t have any rough ideas or dreams of how the fight will go, but I am looking forward to the victory.
“I want to win, everything is focused on that, and I have put in all the work and effort and I will demonstrate what it means to me in the ring on Saturday night.”
Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk is live on Sky Box Office on Saturday night.