This Saturday, the boxing world will be treated to a true spectacle when WBA, IBF and WBO Heavyweight World Champion, Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) puts his titles on the line to face the former Undisputed Cruiserweight World Champion, Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs). In an age where boxing headlines are being dominated by YouTubers and retired MMA fighters, it is a relief to finally have some serious, competitive, World Championship boxing on our screens.
This is exactly what the boxing world needed. All sports thrive off the best playing the best, whether that’s Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer, or Messi vs Ronaldo, sport needs competitiveness and rivalries to remain entertaining. Boxing, more than most, has struggled with this for several years. The politics of the sport have routinely gotten in the way of the best fighters fighting, look no further than the last-minute collapse of Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury and the long-avoided super fight between Terrence Crawford vs Errol Spence Jr, two of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. But this weekend Joshua and Usyk will step up to the plate and put their respective legacies on the line in pursuit of greatness, in what has the potential to be classic.
When it comes to predicting which one of these great Champions will come out on top on Saturday night, a number of important factors need to be taken into account. Both fighters have exceptional resumes, with a number of Usyk’s last opponents being undefeated World Champions. Michael Hunter, Mairis Breidis and Murat Gassiev all have just the sole defeat to the undefeated Usyk. These fights, however, were all at Cruiserweight. At Heavyweight, Usyk’s opponents are slightly sparser, consisting of Chazz Witherspoon and a very game Derek Chisora. For Usyk, the Chisora fight was supposed to be an example of what he could bring to the Heavyweight table and, despite the lack of a KO, Usyk still managed to box himself to a fairly easy UD win over the course of the 12 rounds.
Joshua’s resume isn’t bad either, boasting easily the best CV amongst the current set of Heavyweights, with victories over Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker, Alexander Povetkin, and Wladimir Klitschko. Despite this, Usyk’s fast hands and exceptional footwork make him probably the finest technical boxer that Joshua has fought in his career. It is also worth noting that Joshua has not fought a southpaw since he knocked out Charles Martin to win his first World Title in 2016. While Joshua easily defeated the American, Usyk represents a completely new threat. It will be interesting to see how Joshua handles the change of style.
For Usyk, Joshua will represent the largest and hardest hitting boxer that he has faced, however, this does not mean that Joshua will be the hardest to hit. Usyk is used to slightly smaller and faster fighters, such as Hunter and Breidis, so Joshua’s speed and defensive abilities will be lacking in comparison. Joshua has proven in previous fights that he is susceptible to a knockdown, with both Klitschko and Andy Ruiz Jr putting him down and Whyte wobbling him in the second round of their 2015 fight. While Usyk may not punch as hard as most Heavyweights, he is more accurate; if he can find the sweet spot that Andy Ruiz did in 2019, it could be a long (or short) night for Joshua.
In order for Joshua to win this fight he will have to box behind his jab and be patient, similar to how he fought Kubrat Pulev. He will need to cut off the ring and use his size advantage to almost bully Usyk into submission. Joshua cannot afford to be as passive as he was in his rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr, as Usyk’s exceptional footwork will allow him to find the gaps and breach Joshua’s defences. Joshua has always had a problem with his head and upper body movement, if he has not improved this then Usyk will have little trouble finding the target throughout the night with a mid to late round stoppage being very much on the cards.
Usyk’s speed and skill set make him a nightmare for anyone at Heavyweight, and Joshua should be applauded for taking the fight, rather than vacating the WBO title and waiting for Fury and a potential mega fight. The slick Ukrainian is looking to join Evander Holyfield and David Haye as the only men to have won both a Cruiserweight and Heavyweight World Title. On Saturday night we could see the very best of Oleksandr Usyk as he knows that he truly has nothing to lose, coming into this fight a huge underdog, with Joshua 4/11 to win. Usyk’s odds of 8/1 to win by stoppage and 4/1 to win over the distance seem very appealing, especially when you consider that Joshua has struggled against fighters with fast hands like Andy Ruiz Jr.
Joshua will have to be at his very best this weekend as he takes on the toughest test of his career. A marker will definitely be laid down in the Heavyweight division if Joshua dispatches of Usyk. A decisive victory for Joshua has to make him firm favourite over Tyson Fury (Fury is currently the 4/7 favourite), if their mega fight ever does happen, but Joshua cannot afford to over-look Usyk or he may be attempting to become three-time World Champion next time he fights.
Regardless of the result both of these fighters deserve the utmost respect from the boxing world. Too often have we as fans been robbed of super fights in boxing, and now we have in our possession a potential classic. I for one cannot wait for Saturday night and thoroughly believe that this fight is a complete 50/50 contest. Joshua’s size and power probably just gives him the edge, but write off Oleksandr Usyk at your peril.