Plus, how Joshua can win tonight’s fight through aggression, not boxing technique
Anthony Joshua takes on Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk tonight in a rematch of their fight from September last year. Joshua lost that by unanimous decision and the pair will enter the ring together in Jeddah this weekend, with Joshua’s reputation on the line. Lose and it will be three defeats in his past five fights. Win, and it could be the catalyst that his career needs. Scroll down for boxing correspondent Gareth A Davies’s view on how the fight will be won.
But first, here’s boxing’s great and good on who will triumph.
Derek Chisora, former heavyweight world title challenger
Joshua: AJ can do this, and win back the titles. He needs to use educated pressure, check Usyk’s punches from his range, don’t try to go into Usyk’s range. AJ’s got longer arms, so keep Usyk on his back foot, use his jabs, body and head – and that’s it. If he does it, it’s AJ’s fight.
Frank Warren, promoter
Usyk: I saw Usyk against Chazz Witherspoon and then Derek Chisora and he looked alright. Against Joshua he looked different class. Joshua didn’t use any of his physical attributes. I didn’t understand why. I felt that he would out-jab him or keep him on the end of the jab and let the right hand go but he didn’t. He was getting out-jabbed by a smaller guy on the outside. I thought the only way Usyk was going to do any damage was to get underneath inside and work inside. But he didn’t have to do that. He was beating him on the outside. Usyk probably has Joshua’s number.
Tyson Fury, WBC heavyweight champion
Usyk: AJ has to go to the body – it’s his key to victory. Usyk is a blown-up middleweight. In heavyweight boxing, it only takes one punch. It wasn’t a complete landslide last time, Usyk had a lot of marks on his face, he was cut up. He’s not hard to hit, Usyk, he’s right there in front of you. So Joshua can obviously land a big punch, but I just think that Usyk’s too cute for him. Too smart, too quick, and a southpaw.
Deontay Wilder, former WBC heavyweight champion
Usyk: My heart says Usyk easily. He’s got the momentum now and how he was able to do it the last time around. But this is boxing at the end of the day and you just never know how it’s going to end up.
Gennady Golovkin, world middleweight champion
Usyk: Joshua should be a wild animal. There is no need for him to think about the beauty of boxing, he should be the beast. If he changes drastically then he can win, but maybe we saw everything that Joshua had in the first fight. So Usyk in my mind.
Evander Holyfield, four-time heavyweight world champion
Joshua: Joshua has got to cut off the ring, grab him, stop Usyk moving around. He ain’t got to be dirty, dirty is wrong, but you got to grab, pull Usyk around, let him know he ain’t going to run around the ring. Joshua’s a big guy with the height and weight advantages and he needs to make them count. If he does that, he can win the title back.
David Haye, former world cruiserweight champion
Joshua: I’m going to go with Anthony Joshua again. I went with him in a big way in the first fight but he didn’t fight in the manner which I thought he was going to. He applied probably the worst tactics you could do against a southpaw. He gave him range, was respectful inside, in close. There were no warnings from the ref about deducting points because he never imposed himself. He’s got a good team who’s going to drill it into him that this is not a boxing match. This has got to be a dogfight from the first bell. He should be this close to getting a point deducted or disqualified, that’s how physical he needs to be, because he’s a specimen like no other in the heavyweight division. If he can impose himself, Joshua can win.
Delicious Orie, Commonwealth Games super heavyweight gold medallist
Joshua: For me, the thing that I would be advising him – and I heard this being repeated quite a bit on social media – is to dominate a little bit more, use his feet and use his weight to apply pressure on Usyk. Hopefully AJ will do that and it pays off, because we need those belts back in the UK.
Joe Joyce, heavyweight world title contender
Usyk: Usyk’s already beaten Joshua and has the confidence from beating him the first time. So, it’s down to Joshua now to step his game up and try and get back those titles. I still think Usyk’s got what it takes to bash him up again. Joshua has a puncher’s chance, a heavy punch, but if he can’t land those big shots then it’s Usyk again.
Amir Khan, former light welterweight world champion
Joshua: We all want AJ to win the fight obviously, as a Brit, and I do think he wins this fight. But it will be a difficult task. He then goes on and maybe does an undisputed clash with Tyson Fury, which will be a massive fight in the UK.
Joshua must rely on aggression, not boxing technique
By Gareth A Davies, in Jeddah
Conventional fighting wisdom dictates this: for Anthony Joshua to find redemption on the Red Sea, the Briton will have to impose himself early on Oleksandr Usyk. He is taller and heavier than the Ukrainian but, given their respective styles, it is unlikely that Joshua will prevail on points.
This is a huge fight, layered in nuance and taking place under a hail of criticism as a £100 million money grab, but victory for Joshua, now the underdog, will set up the biggest fight imaginable in boxing’s blue riband division: an all-British blockbuster against Tyson Fury for the undisputed crown.
There is little doubt that this is a career-defining contest for Joshua – a “woulda, shoulda, coulda” moment in his journey. Joshua, a physical behemoth, has the opportunity to dispel doubts about his mentality, hunger and ability at the elite level.
It also represents the chance to cast aside accusations that Joshua has become gun-shy since being defeated by Andy Ruiz in June 2019, when he was floored four times en route to a stoppage defeat in New York. Joshua avenged that loss in the Middle East six months later, boxing Ruiz behind the jab, winning on points but still leaving doubts about his desire to engage in exchanges of fistic firepower.
All these views must now be dispelled by the fighter, especially after his rude awakening at the hands of Usyk 11 months ago in London. It was a second career blemish, casting doubt on Joshua’s ability to change the pattern of the fight. For that reason, and for the lack of instructive advice from the corner against Usyk, Joshua left long-time trainer Rob McCracken and has been working with Robert Garcia, the Mexican-American.
Garcia has reminded Joshua of the qualities which won him three of the four world title belts. On Saturday night, Joshua must be expected to make his hands tell on his foe and do what comes naturally as an enforcer in the ring.
Garcia told me this week that Team Joshua have full faith that their man can win by stoppage. It is improbable, though, and therefore his strategy must be to impose himself on his nemesis and find momentum in the dance through educated pressure in the early rounds, closing the space between them and hurting Usyk.
Greats of the sport – including Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson – have stressed that Joshua must be clear in his own mind about what type of fighter he is: an aggressive, heavy puncher, and not a boxing stylist. He must use his jab to the body and head and unleash combinations inside. Yet should Joshua become reckless, he will be exposed, giving Usyk more opportunities to counter from the southpaw stance.
Embracing his underdog status
Joshua’s mindset is, without doubt, the key. We will see whether the big man truly believes in himself when the first bell tolls. Can he embrace the battle, make it a war and consign to history the memories of his defeat to Usyk at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a year ago?
Joshua’s team have embraced the underdog tag and challenger mentality — in spite of earning a staggering £50m for his efforts. Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, told Telegraph Sport: “I want Anthony to feel like he’s the away fighter, the B side, the one who is being treated differently to the A side, the one who has nothing but has the chance to win everything.
“He has to fight with intensity, and everything I’m hearing from him in terms of putting pressure on himself is ‘I absolutely must win this fight’, and that will dictate the style he needs to fight with. You fight differently when you’ve got that mentality. We need intensity, we need ferociousness, we need a guy that wants to break ribs and smash jaws, and I think that’s exactly where his head’s at.”
Win or lose, Hearn sees no reason that Joshua will contemplate retirement. “AJ’s got plenty of places to go if he loses or draws. We ain’t looking at win, lose or draw though; it’s win win win. He boxed the worst fight he could have ever boxed in the first fight with Usyk, so he should actually draw strength from that.”
In other words, Joshua must not be caught second guessing. Be himself. Embrace the hurt business. It is a different fight this time around.
Oleksandr Usyk weighed in half a pound heavier than the first contest at 221.5lbs. Joshua tipped the scales 4.5 pounds heavier than their first encounter at 244.5lbs. After another respectful face off — at which Joshua asked Usyk “How’s your body?” — it is game on
I’m not ruling Joshua out. My prediction is either that Joshua finds success implementing his gameplan of educated pressure in the early rounds and gains a stoppage in the first seven rounds, or that Usyk withstands the early pressure, counters, and wins the fight on points or by late stoppage between round 7 and 11, with the former champion running out of ideas as he tires.
This will be a battle of will, and skill. If the Briton can prevail it would set up the biggest all-British fight of all time, a bout with Fury that would create an undisputed champion for the first time since Lennox Lewis in 1999. And there is not a fan in this country that would not want to see ‘AJ’ versus the ‘Gypsy King’ in a blockbuster for all the belts.