The rematch between Usyk and Joshua is finally here!
‘Rage on the Red Sea’ in Saudi
Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22KO) attempts to become a three-time world champion as he gets a chance to recapture his former WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles from the current holder Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13KO) on August 20 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The former foes will do battle at the 35,000-capacity, purpose-built Jeddah Superdome, 11 months on from their first fight, which Usyk won by unanimous decision.
In the first fight, the question was whether the history-making cruiserweight could take a powerful heavyweight shot, which he answered affirmatively.
He peppered the champion with his relentless southpaw jab all night, persistently pawing at him while firing in straight backhands to snap AJ’s head back. He totally outboxed the champion in his own backyard, one judge scoring the contest just two rounds apart, but the others rightfully ruling wider for the speedier southpaw.
In this second fight, the question isn’t so much as a straightforward, ‘Who wins?’, but it’s now a case of just what can Anthony Joshua do to win?
There’s inevitably a lot of talk and opinions circulating, but below are a few of the more frequent statements and lines of questioning:
“Joshua needs to be more aggressive”
This is statement is definitely true, but this can also be translated as throwing caution to the wind, which is always very risky.
So, we know AJ is not going to try and box with him again, as that was a very flawed tactic in the first fight, which he curiously didn't changed during the course of the contest because he mistakenly believed he was doing enough to win, somehow! His corner team feeding him false hope didn't help either.
When AJ did try to match Usyk’s workrate and fire back in volleys, Usyk just upped the tempo right back at him. In the final two rounds, Joshua was trying to be a bit more aggressive to finish strongly, but Usyk got the better of him in all the exchanges until he had him flailing around on the ropes in the final seconds, looking like he was going to be stopped.
AJ’s physique may look impressive, but his stamina is not great, which is not his fault, it’s simply due to the lack of boxing experience he possesses. The reason why Tyson Fury and Andy Ruiz Jr. can outdo AJ in fitness and endurance, despite their larger frames, is due to their muscle memory from fighting since the age of six. Either of those could jump in the ring and go 12 rounds with anyone at any time. For AJ to do 12 rounds, he requires a lot of conditioning.
Yes, he definitely does need to be more aggressive, but it comes at a risk of being open and countered, as well as potentially blowing himself out too early and leaving nothing left in the tank for later.
“He needs to use his strength and size to bully Usyk”
Joshua had over 20lbs in weight advantage and four to five inches in reach over Usyk, but it didn’t make a blind bit of difference in the ring. Usyk was able to slip inside, and outside, of Joshua’s bigger reach to potshot him all night long. Granted, AJ didn’t really use the weight and size gain, so that’s something new he can utilise in the rematch to give him an edge.
If Tyson Fury was in there with Usyk, he would be leaning all over him, sapping his strength. This isn’t really AJ’s style, but he could definitely try to clinch more and rough him up during holds. Being naturally the bigger man to not use that size and weight advantage this time would be a huge mistake.
“Usyk is too experienced for Joshua”
I tend to agree with this statement. The Ukrainian has had close to 400 fights and only lost around a dozen of those in the amateurs. He has experienced every style of boxing, every range of power, and every size and shape of opponent known to man.
Joshua was fast-tracked to success and achieved unbelievable feats within a short timeframe, but he is missing that wealth of knowledge and practise that allow good fighters to overcome struggles when under duress within those ropes.
Having had only around 40 amateur bouts and 26 pro contests, it just does not compare to Usyk’s number of 350 amateur and soon to be 20 pros.
Andy Ruiz Jr. demonstrated this in their fight, where he hit the deck for the first time in his career by a surprise shot that shocked him more than it shook him. He jumped straight back to his feet, fought fire with fire, and returned the favour to AJ, who was down seconds later. Both boxers went down, but only one of the two fought through it. Ruiz was clear and focused after his knockdown, but the far lesser experienced Joshua was stunned and dazed and just couldn’t fight through the struggle.
If Usyk gets knocked down – it will take a lot for this to happen – he will very likely get back up again, having proved his chin many times. If he sustains any pressure, he knows how to handle it. The same confidence can’t be said for AJ; yes, if he goes down he will likely get back up again, because the Brit is brave and plucky, but weathering through any onslaught that follows leaves you worried for him.
“His new corner, including Robert Garcia, will be key to victory”
I have no doubt that top trainer Robert Garcia will be able to bring out Joshua’s strengths and push his weaknesses down, but I can’t see him being able to improve a 32-year-old that drastically. Garcia is used to dealing with lighter wieghts, who have a higher output and workrate. He could change Joshua tactically, but not a great deal technically. Maybe he will equip Joshua with the perfect tactics and he will see out the game plan to get the win, but it's a tough ask. AJ's workrate will never be able to outdo Usyk's, it'll be hard enough just to match the Ukrainian.
I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes AJ has made, because he is a critical person, he loves to think of the science of his sport and make moves to improve himself, he’s got a great mindset for an athlete.
I’m convinced that we are going to see a bright start from him and hopefully be impressed by his new style and tactics, resulting in an exciting opener, but Usyk’s know-how will be able to steer him through any early difficulties, I believe.
“Chisora did well against Usyk and laid down the blueprint”
Did he? That’s not the fight I remember watching. In the first round, Del-boy came on strong and was hunting the Ukrainian down, wildly overreaching with looping head and body shots, but Usyk evaded most of them comfortably, and Chisora was left looking silly swiping at thin air, even hitting the ropes on occasion. When he did catch up with the mobile Usyk, his shots were caught on the Ukrainian's gloves and arms mostly, nothing dangerous landing cleanly.
What I believe is that the Brit’s bully tactics to constantly walk Usyk down and try to rough him up and bombard him with bombs was a lot more effective than trying to box with him. It’s fair to say that Usyk was forced to work hard in those opening rounds, and all fight long for that matter.
Usyk is such a skilled technician, he was able to overcome the early pressure from ‘WAR’ Chisora to eventually to turn it back into his fight at his preferred pace. Even when Chisora came on strong in the final moments, Usyk was again able to deal with the difficulties in front of him. Chisora made a good fight of it by being a bully, but he did look crude, and the disparity between their skill levels was very noticeable.
“The Ukraine-Russia war will have affected Usyk”
This is something that can't be told until fight night. Having a war break out in your own country, seeing the place you have lived in your entire life ripped apart must be devastating. Oleksandr had to sign up to fight as a soldier on the front line against the invaders, spending time away from his distraught children, who had to leave their family home.
This experience is bound to have affected him deeply. He claims to be completely focused on the fight, so it remains to be seen if the war plays a part or not. He has always been a consummate professional, but he has been through quite a traumatic experience and you just couldn't dismiss this as a being a key factor on fight night.
The Most Likely Scenarios
So, we all vaticinate an aggressive performance from AJ, which means he will be coming forward from the first bell. If he is wise, he won’t go all-out offence and risk the chance of gassing like he has done in other fights. So, we should expect to see a forward-moving, aggressive but calculated former champion, who should use his straight right more, as it was his best weapon in the first fixture. He caught Usyk a few times with it and stunned him on a couple of occasions, so the plan must be to try to land it more.
If he does take note from former opponents who have had success against Usyk, then he may be looking to swarm him a bit more from that opening bell and by making him work harder than he’s used to. What Chisora did to him, relentlessly walking him down and throwing non-stop, could work if a better boxer tried it out. It’ll in the least force him to work at a pace he wasn’t intending to set, taking the fight away from him. Mairis Briedis had the right idea to target the body and by throwing punches in bunches to get something through. Gassiev also landed well to the body of Usyk with left hooks, which is a known tactic for slowing quicker opponents down.
Usyk is an intelligent fighter and after 12 rounds with AJ, he will have him well worked out. He’ll know Joshua better than Joshua will know him because of his higher intelligence and boxing IQ. With 12 rounds of experience banked against AJ, mental notes drawn, Usyk will be able to take control of this fight at some point, but whether that’s from the first round or a few rounds in, it remains to be seen.
It’s quite possible there might be an early storm to weather if AJ plans to be more dominant and forthcoming from the off, but after listening to Joshua talking about his plans to be more aggressive all through the build-up, Usyk will be well prepared for how his opponent could start this rematch a bit differently.
The champion is the clear favourite to repeat the feat at 8/15 with Betway, while the Brit is being backed at 6/4 to get revenge, and the odds for a draw are low at 16/1.
Although I expect AJ to be vastly improved, I still don’t believe he can do enough to win. Joshua is a respectable world champion, but he’s going up against an elite world champion in Usyk.
AJ could start brighter and more positive, going forward and taking the fight to the champion, but Usyk should be able to evade his advancements, move laterally and use his superior speed, vaster experience and intelligence to get through any early attacks.
When Joshua comes on strong and opens up, I can see Usyk cleverly slipping his shots to land his own damaging counter-punches, which could really stun AJ if he walks onto them.
My prediction is that Joshua will tire after his plan to walk Usyk down fails, and the champion then takes him out by trapping him on the ropes and relentlessly overwhelming him until the referee is forced to step in and stop the contest. Usyk's shots are more tippy-tappy than explosive, so he has to overwhelm opponents to stop them. However, he comes into the contest heavier than ever, which could see an improvement in his power,
If Joshua does approach the fight as aggressively as he has been promising, then I think Usyk wins by TKO. Depending on how Joshua approaches the rematch, this could happen as early as round four to six, if AJ starts too fast and strong, or the TKO could come after the mid-rounds if AJ doesn’t blow himself out early. I think Usyk knows he can stop him if he wants to and will be looking for this outcome.
If Joshua is calculated with his aggression, then I can see Usyk just edging him on points. Depending on how well Joshua has improved and how much he has learnt from the first fight, then this could end in a closer points score than before.
The odds for a draw are quite low, so one nightmarish outcome could be that Joshua improves enough to land more and reach a stalemate, further holding up the heavyweight division for another year. This would not be a favourable finish!