Joshua vs Usyk: A New Champion & An Uncertain Future
“The road to undisputed and all that stuff, it’s good,” Anthony Joshua said shortly after Oleksandr Usyk had handed him his second professional defeat.
But for Joshua and indeed the heavyweight division itself, the path to undisputed is far less clear than it was before Usyk gave us his latest masterpiece. We now will probably never get there. Usyk only needs the WBC belt to replicate the undisputed he achieved at cruiserweight, but the politics at heavyweight are far harder to navigate.
At 34, Usyk has far less time to waste going through the never-ending and often meaningless mandatory defences that will undoubtedly now be part of his future. Usyk has the look of a fighter that will take the fights that make sense.
Joshua despite his words of bravado must now accept that it is extremely unlikely he will ever lay claim to being the one true heavyweight king. Exposed might be a little strong, but it might not be that far off.
Of course, anything can happen in the land of the giants, one perfectly executed punch can change the course of heavyweight history. But the manner of the defeat to Usyk puts his future undisputed credentials in the most fragile of claims. Usyk drained Joshua mentally and physically, even Eddie Hearn admitted his man was well beaten. Although in truth he couldn’t say anything but.
Joshua will get his rematch, but it would be nice if boxing could somehow outlaw immediate rematches and let defeated fighters actually earn the right for redemption. In a sport of bluff and outright lies, it really isn’t that hard.
The defeated ex-champion certainly showed Usyk far too much respect and coming in so light gave away some if not all of his physical advantages. But Usyk looked superior in virtually every department, a reversal of fortunes in that rematch would take something quite extraordinary.
The dream fight with Tyson Fury now looks exactly that. Fury is equally and almost certainly more the skilled boxer Usyk is, and has something Usyk will never have, true heavyweight size. We might never see Fury vs Joshua, but on the evidence of last night, we don’t need to.
It is far too early to write Joshua off, and the heavyweight division never runs in straight lines, but his career could very well end if Usyk beats him again sometime next year. The rematch could certainly be branded as ‘Go Big Or Go Home.’ It really is that type of fight. Joshua, to his credit, took his latest defeat with class, and said he will learn the lessons he needs to. But can he? The recently signed career long contract with Matchroom could be an incredibly short one.
Joshua has achieved plenty in his career, but the resume, despite the bold claims of his promoter, isn’t what it seems. Too many of his opponents were past their primes or were simply not good enough. Usyk was arguably, the first elite opponent he faced who was in his prime.
The rebuilding will be long and hard. Sadly for Joshua, with the immediate rematch clause, he won’t get the time he almost certainly needs.
The stadium setting was a reminder of what we once took for granted, yet again Matchroom gave us a production for the main event that few can match. The Rocky IV themed entrance of Joshua was spectacular even if he couldn’t give a performance to match the occasion. As the song says, there will be no easy way out for Joshua.
But overall it was a strange night, a worrying knockout, another daylight robbery to shame British boxing, the rest of the undercard was underwhelming and had the look and feel of fights that could be given away to an old friend without offending the new working partner. In many ways, it was a reminder of what boxing in the modern era really is.
But the main event was thoroughly absorbing, even if the result was plain to see from the very early exchanges. Usyk ruined a lot of plans, but yet again showed what a quality fighter he truly is. It might be an upset to some, but to those who understand and know boxing, it was anything but.
Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing