Boxing Social columnist Russ Anber has been in Oleksandr Usyk’s corner for the past eight fights. As the former cruiserweight king prepares to face Anthony Joshua on Saturday, Russ explains what he sees as the Ukrainian’s keys to victory…
The most important thing for Usyk to ensure on Saturday night is that AJ’s size doesn’t become the dominant factor. If he starts to absorb punishment or get into a wrestling match and it turns into a really physical contest then that will naturally favour Anthony and give him the chance to impose himself.
Usyk is the smaller man, but he isn’t a small guy by any stretch of the imagination. He’s probably as big if not bigger than Muhammad Ali was. Don’t let that confuse you. He is big enough to win, although he will have to avoid being tagged by Joshua’s big bombs. In Usyk’s favour is the fact he doesn’t absorb a lot of punishment. If you hit him with one shot he’s very good at evading the second shot.
Anthony is a very athletic and gifted fighter and I know he hasn’t taken Usyk lightly. He understands just how good Usyk is. A key to victory for Usyk is setting the sort of pace that I know he can set. He’s like the racehorse Secretariat – he can just go and go and go. He has what appears to be limitless energy and stamina, which could really work out well for him after round six.
Another aspect that gives me confidence that Usyk can win is his mental strength and the belief he has in himself. His self-confidence is extraordinary. And he always finds a way to win. He can adapt, he can box or he can take it to you. He’s a very versatile fighter. Look at his run through the cruiserweight division and look at the different styles he has faced and the different approaches he has brought to different fights.
If you watch his fights one by one you can trace his evolution, and the subtle ways that he has changed and adapted his style. Look at his performances in the World Boxing Super Series – in his performances against Huck, Briedis and Gassiev you had three different Usyks in my opinion.
Something else I know for certain is that Usyk won’t in the least bit be fazed by fighting AJ in front of 60,000 Brits. The man is a total road warrior. His whole career has been on the road since he last fought in Ukraine in 2015. He fought Briedis in Latvia, he fought Gassiev in Russia, he fought Bellew in the UK. It just doesn’t bother him, in fact I think he thrives on it. It fuels him. He loves and embraces being a road warrior. And it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to go into another guy’s backyard and topple him.
Usyk has the sort of mentality which reminds me of a Canadian featherweight from back in the 1960s and 70s called Art Hafey who couldn’t get any fights in Canada so he got on a plane to Los Angeles and won a string of fights over there. He walked right into the lion’s den and kicked the lion in the nuts.
One aspect of the fight which a lot of people have discussed is whether Usyk can win a decision in a close fight against Joshua in the UK. All I can say about this is that I hope the fight is judged fairly. We have one British judge, one Ukrainian judge and one American judge. If it’s a close fight let’s score it that way, if it’s one-sided let’s score it that way. No fighter wants to be awarded rounds they didn’t win because there’s always a backlash to deal with afterwards from fans, the media and so on. And that bothers fighters – they may not admit it but it does.
I really hope that controversy about judging and officiating doesn’t come into play with this fight. Let’s hope the fight is settled in the ring. I hope it’s a fair fight and a fair decision if it goes to the cards. I’ve seen evidence of the B side fighter not being treated or looked after properly when I worked with Oscar Rivas against Dillian Whyte. So it happens. But let’s hope it doesn’t happen this weekend because the world is watching.
Let the best man win – that’s what we want to see. This is a fight for the ages – a fight between two Olympic gold medallists from the same games for the heavyweight title. That hasn’t – to my knowledge – ever happened before.
So let’s hope there’s no controversy because we don’t want anything to overshadow what is a historic fight and what should be a magnificent event.
Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.