Why Oleksandr Usyk Is Capable Of Troubling Anthony Joshua

Why Oleksandr Usyk Is Capable Of Troubling Anthony Joshua 

By Will Lott
Oleksandr Usyk followed up his successful but unspectacular heavyweight debut against Chazz Witherspoon with a unanimous points decision victory over seasoned heavyweight Derek Chisora last weekend.  

Chisora was a man of his word when he promised a gruelling night’s work for Usyk in which he lived up to his nickname of ‘War’.

Throughout the fight Chisora took it to Usyk, closing the gap, tying him up and attacking him to the body. To his credit, Usyk took Chisora’s big shots well, not seeming too fazed, keeping the distance when he could and dancing around his older opponent.

However, this still wasn’t the clinic we’ve seen before and that we expect of the Ukrainian magician. So far it’s been par for the course during his heavyweight campaign and nothing more.  

It is easy to understand why fans are already saying Usyk will be too small to cause issues for Anthony Joshua. Weighing in at under 16 stone it is clear to see the advantages Joshua would have in weight and height but this is not the be all and end all for this fight.

Usyk’s ring IQ is levels above Joshua, his footwork is intricate and his hands are a blur in comparison to AJ.  

The key to Usyk would be closing the gap. Joshua as you would expect, would rely on his stiff jab keeping the Ukrainian at bay for the most part before eventually walking him down and later on looking to stop him.

But Joshua has shown in the past if you can get up close, which can be done, you can give him a hard night’s work. Against Ruiz, as a result of getting involved in a war, he let the smaller heavyweight up close giving him the chance to land the short sharp hook that caused the first knockdown. 

Joseph Parker tried to use rough and tough tactics to attack the body in the clinch and land hooks and uppercuts up close when he could. He may not have had the success he wanted but it wasn’t a walk in the park for AJ that night. If you can force Joshua onto the back foot, it is possible to give him all kinds of trouble.  

My main criticism of Joshua is that when a fighter has closed the gap, he employs a weak technique in which he straightens his arm almost as an older brother would to wind up their younger sibling keeping them at bay.

He did this multiple times against Parker and the issue with this is the weakness of it. It’s not stiff, there’s no strength or intent behind it and he’s left himself exposed to a counter hook. The fighter can either dip underneath or simply push the arm out the way and attack. Joshua equally doesn’t have the head movement of Usyk, making him more susceptible to big shots landing than Usyk.  

If Usyk can find a way to close that gap, he doesn’t need to force Joshua to engage like Ruiz did. He needs to get up close, land some clean, sharp, scoring shots and back off again, not letting Joshua take control of the ring. His footwork and hand speed will always play in Joshua’s mind.

The only issue with being up close for Usyk is the weight disadvantage. Being as light as he is, fighters will look to tee off on his body in the same way Chisora did. If they can clinch he can expect some kidney shots. Hence why he needs to be in and out in seconds, not minutes.  

If Usyk can take the fight into rounds 7, 8 and 9, the more in his favour the fight becomes. Joshua has shown he can tire, he might take rounds off and Usyk can look to take advantage.

The problem is Usyk is a known slow starter. He likes to figure out his opponent in three or four rounds. With Joshua’s size and power, this is a risk and Usyk may have to start fast and learn as the fight goes on if he’s to get through the dangerous early rounds.  

Of course, the odds are still stacked heavily in Joshua’s favour, but don’t be too dismissive of the danger Usyk poses. On his day there is still no one better in boxing.  

Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

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