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Joshua Usyk 2: Back to Basics?

One, two, three? Can Anthony Joshua overcome Oleksandr Usyk and become a three-time World Champion?

“The first time was so nice, I had to do it twice!” These were the now infamous words uttered by Anthony Joshua after he avenged his loss to Andy Ruiz Jr, with a convincing unanimous decision victory on the 7th December 2019. Joshua will now be looking to make it thrice when he takes on Oleksandr Usyk, and attempts to correct the only other blip on his otherwise sparkling resume.

Despite Joshua’s success in his other rematch against Ruiz Jr, the match against Usyk will be considerably harder. In his first bout with Ruiz Jr, Joshua suffered from a lack of composure and was caught with what has been described as a ‘miracle’ punch that landed on his temple. The second time round it was obvious what needed correcting. For his fantastic hand speed Ruiz has always suffered from a lack of mobility. Joshua’s route to victory was clear… shed some weight and keep out of reach, scoring frequently with the jab, risking very little and cruising to an easy unanimous decision. Usyk is not Andy Ruiz Jr. However, he possesses fast hands, which caused Joshua so much trouble in the Ruiz fight, and arguably the best cardio and footwork in the division.

Joshua has often spoken of his aim to improve as a boxer but perhaps this is not the route to explore against a fighter like Usyk. Perhaps Joshua’s best course of action, rather than increasing his boxing ability is to decrease it. Whilst the Andy Ruiz fights saw Joshua go from fighter to boxer, the technical changes are likely to go in the other direction against Usyk. We need to see the uncontrolled, un-fearing aggression that seems to have departed Joshua since Andy Ruiz’s left hook found his temple. Joshua will have to throw boxing technique aside and use his size and power to strike fear into Usyk.

This style of fighting does not come without its risks. Usyk is a renowned cardio machine, often training fifteen four-minute rounds to make the twelve three minute rounds seem like a stroll in the park. If Joshua comes out in his old aggressive style, then he will have to take Usyk out early: the longer the fight goes on, the harder it will be for Joshua. If he is to win this fight, it will have to occur in the first six or seven rounds. Going past that, Usyk’s stamina will start to take its toll on Joshua and we could see him retire in later rounds.

Regardless of this, it remains Joshua’s best avenue to victory. He made the crucial tactical error of thinking he could out box one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet and paid the price for it. Joshua needs to ask the question of Usyk that people have always pondered since he moved up to heavyweight - can he handle the power and the aggression of boxing’s premier division? Usyk had a much harder time against Chisora than he did against Joshua because Chisora was able to bring the fight to Usyk and use his superior size and weight to his advantage.

Usyk will be extremely confident of victory judging by the ease with which he won their first outing and he probably doesn’t have to change very much. Usyk will be well aware that Joshua will attempt to be far more aggressive in this rematch and will be confident that he has the footwork and cardio to stay out of Joshua’s way. With this in mind, it is likely that Usyk will eye up a late finish when a tiring Joshua has thrown all he can at the Ukrainian and succumbs to his relentless pressure much like Tony Bellew.

All in all, this fight should be more entertaining than the first, as Joshua will need to be far less passive and demonstrate his aggressive intent early on. He may take the first few rounds off but expect Joshua to have a flurry of aggression in the early middle rounds. Also, expect to see Usyk put on a boxing clinic as he attempts to avoid the barrage that is bound to come his way and counterpunch his way to victory.

Overall, you would have to put the ball more in Usyk’s court, but it is important to appreciate both fighters for pursuing each other yet again. Too often has boxing been hindered by a lack of ambition but these two fighters are shining role models to the rest of the sport. Whatever the result of the fight, both boxers can afford to hold their heads up high, but only one of them can afford to have their hand held high come Saturday night.


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