Joshua vs Usyk: Big Fight Preview
When all the weeks and months of negotiations and announcements that said very little, came to nothing courtesy of a court ruling, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury had to resort to plan B.
Fury will face Deontay Wilder early next month, well that is the plan anyway. Nobody would be surprised if the trilogy fight very few want, would slip away yet again. That particular rivalry badly needs a definitive conclusion. Many would argue we already have it.
Joshua returns to his more normal stadium setting this weekend in defence of his unified world heavyweight titles, in a fight that carries imminent danger. The opponent might not be the one the sport or Joshua really wanted, but Oleksandr Usyk is anything but a poor man’s substitute. Even calling Usyk a live underdog is an insult.
Usyk so far has flattered to deceive as a heavyweight, but nevertheless, he will still bring significant problems for Joshua. The former undisputed cruiserweight champion is almost certainly the best opponent Joshua will have faced. A Joshua win is by no means guaranteed. In reality, it is anything but.
If you fancy the upset, there are incredibly attractive odds of 7-1 for a Usyk win inside the distance and 4-1 on points. This could be a fight where there is money to be made. Either of those two scenarios can’t be ruled out. Both are more than worth an investment.
Usyk is now a fully-fledged heavyweight, the narrative that size will be decisive could be way off the mark. Even the Usyk who beat Derek Chisora would give Joshua problems. There is little doubt that Usyk will be a better version of himself on Saturday night. Chisora has that suffocating presence about him, Joshua has a style much more accommodating.
Joshua hits hard enough to knock anybody out if he lands clean, but he has shown his own vulnerabilities on many occasions. The unified world heavyweight champion can be hit, hurt and has been known to fade both physically and mentally.
Usyk might not carry the same kind of concussive power as his opponent, but it still has to be respected. Joshua has they say in the trade, seemingly goes over too easily. Usyk gets stronger as the fight goes on, the pressure he will bring will test the stamina woes of Joshua. Make no mistake, this could be a highly uncomfortable evening for Joshua. With his dream fight so near, Usyk could be the nightmare he doesn’t need.
Since Andy Ruiz Jr shocked Joshua in New York, there have been accusations that Joshua fought scared in the rematch and was caught between styles in the fight with Kubrat Pulev late last year. Despite the words since, did Ruiz take something away from Joshua that can never be put back?
Nothing can be certain when the heavyweights trade leather, even more so on Saturday night. Joshua more than anybody knows he has a real fight on his hands. If complacency cost him against Ruiz, and I’m not sure it did, it won’t be the case this weekend. Usyk clearly fancies the job in hand. Joshua knows full well what he will be facing.
Joshua is rightfully the betting favourite, but it is a fight that has a distinct smell of an upset about it. Joshua is the fighter who needs the good start. That is likely to be where he will do his best work. Usyk you sense will grow into the fight more and more.
I expect Joshua to fight with a degree of caution similar to what we saw in the Ruiz rematch and the fight with Joseph Parker. It might be a tactical chess match type of fight. Those expecting blood and thunder might be left disappointed. However, I do think Joshua needs to hurt his man early to put doubt into the highly confident challenger. What damage he can do early will likely determine the end result.
Usyk says all the pressure is on Joshua. Usyk is right and he undoubtedly will apply a little more. But he too has questions to answer. The cruiserweight resume is ridiculously impressive but largely irrelevant here. The pedigree is obvious but can he replicate it with the bigger boys. Will the extra weight he will be carrying, making him slow enough to be beatable? Can the chin withstand true heavyweight power? At some point Joshua will land, the answers we need may come earlier than predicted.
Joshua at 31, is three years younger and naturally the bigger man. They are fighting in a division where size and power often matters. Joshua has both. But will he fight in a manner that will fully utilise those advantages? I have my doubts. Joshua has come in light, but is this a fight where he needs to be more physical?
If Joshua shows the same vulnerabilities he has before, Usyk will magnify them. Joshua seems to be at his weakest when he has his man hurt. But I worry more in this fight if he can cope with an opponent who will apply pressure all night long. Usyk could just be all wrong for Joshua.
It will be a night of intrigue and suspense, it will probably burn slow, but the drama will eventually arrive. It might not immediately explode into action, we might need a little patience, but at some point, if he survives the early danger, Usyk will gradually make it into his kind of fight. The real drama might come with the scoring if it goes that far.
Joshua can win, but I’m not sure he will. It will be a jab heavy and movement approach, at least in the early rounds, and it certainly could be his route to victory. But the feeling I had in the return with Ruiz was that despite being in total control, he could unravel at any moment. Saturday night has a similar feel to it. He might have shown versatility, but equally, there was a sense of fragility. There still is.
In a time of avoidance and protecting the money tree, Joshua and Matchroom deserve credit for not making their excuses and going elsewhere. With boxing trying to retrieve some semblance of dignity after recent events, it is a refreshing and welcomed change. The fact that we have a rare fight where the outcome is in serious doubt speaks volumes of where the sport currently is.
It is one almighty gamble, a Usyk win is more than a possibility. Eddie Hearn says he is nervous. He has every right to be. Fury lies in wait, but will we get there. Usyk could be the judge and jury that this time makes the dream fight once and for all dead in the water.
Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom