On Saturday night Oleksandr Usyk defends the heavyweight titles he wrested from Anthony Joshua last year in a rematch between the Ukrainian and the Briton.
Will it be a case of repeat or revenge? Four of the Boxing Social team make their big-fight predictions ahead of Saturday night’s showdown in Saudi Arabia.
I’ll take Anthony Joshua by split decision or majority decision. There’s a lingering doubt at the back of my thick skull concerning Usyk’s preparation and his state of mind.
We know he’s an incredible fighter, and blessed with unshakeable focus in extreme, sport-related circumstances. But he hasn’t just been dealing with normal circumstances. Joshua will have been working constantly without anywhere near the same type of turmoil or distraction, and looks to be in outrageous condition (as always, in his defence).
I think he’ll try to be more active, not necessarily pushing on the front-foot. But working smarter up close, as well. Interestingly, Usyk only out-landed Joshua in seven of their 12 shared rounds last time around.
The Brit landed more punches in five of those rounds (per CompuBox). So, despite losing, he wasn’t a million miles away. AJ to steal it – controversy to follow.
Prediction: Joshua by decision
I’m fascinated to see how both men approach this fight. Last time Joshua seemed bamboozled by Usyk’s fast start, his straight left consistently finding the target and his footwork denying Joshua the chance to set himself.
This time I think we’ll see Usyk more tactically elusive for the first half of the fight, using his faster hands and feet to counter the Brit as Joshua’s stamina wanes. AJ’s best work in the last fight was to the body and that’s exactly where he needs to prioritise.
Too many pundits have droned on about Joshua simply needing to steam into the champion. If he tries that it’ll be an early night’s sleep for AJ. One of the Ukrainian’s best assets is his ability to remain calm in punching range. An overly eager AJ gasses and gets stopped.
He’ll need to work to a disciplined plan if he’s to win, always remaining in mid-distance, working the body, and cutting off the ring. Ultimately, however, such a plan demands impeccable footwork, an elite gas tank, and head movement aplenty.
Joshua lacks these assets at the highest level, while Usyk is the sort of throwback fight who’d have thrived in the 15-round era. I see this fight being an exciting early affair, with Joshua having some success, but Usyk eventually exhausting his opponent and finishing the job in rounds 8-10.
Prediction: Usyk by stoppage
There are a number of problems for Joshua going into this fight. For starters, Usyk is a much better boxer, so Joshua has a lot to overcome in that department.
There is also the issue of the amount of weight he has on his shoulders going in. It is win or bust and we’ve already seen his promoter, Eddie Hearn, complaining that Sky Sports have not given him, rather than his fighter, enough airtime.
Joshua needs pure positivity going in so another aspect is whether or not he has been able to enjoy a relatively calm build-up. With the move to DAZN looming, the web of stories surrounding the fight and the need to get those titles back it is highly likely that he will carry a lot of nervous energy into the fight.
Throw in the fact he is more of an athlete than a boxer and it looks a steep hill to climb. Indeed, Joshua is no longer the young gun in the division, he bulked up far too much earlier in his career, reaching peak bodybuilder-esque, size over proportion levels by the Dominic Breazeale fight then has had to build down in recent years, which takes its toll physically.
You could point to the fact that he avenged his only other defeat by beating Andy Ruiz Jr, you can equally point out that Ruiz probably took a leaf from post-Holyfield 1 Riddick Bowe’s book by allegedly having a fridge installed in his bedroom. You need to take that reversal of fortune out of the equation and ask if Joshua can adapt and improve — going back to one-twos is unlikely to be enough to beat Usyk.
I don’t think he can win this one, he will probably put so much mental and physical energy into the first few rounds that he will burn out in much the way Tony Bellew did when trying to compete with Usyk. Bellew did as well as Usyk alowed him to do early on, faded and then was taken out – the same thing will happen to Joshua and once things go against him he will collapse as quickly as a badly baked flan and get knocked out.
If he wins it will be a huge victory for him, and sets up a trilogy, but should he lose excuses can be made and we can move on to Joshua: The Rebuild.
Prediction: Usyk by stoppage
Luke G. Williams
This fight should be a foregone conclusion.
Usyk is by far the more skilled operator and he seems to be growing into the heavyweight division nicely (I expect him to be a few pounds heavier than last time, with no resulting deficit in speed or skill).
Last time around, Usyk was clearly the boss (from memory I scored the fight 9-3 or possibly 8-4 in rounds to the Ukrainian), but two of the judges still managed to be almost absurdly generous to the clearly outboxed, outfoxed and out on his feet in round 12 Joshua.
And this is where my only doubts about the outcome originate – if Joshua has more success than last time and the fight is even remotely close then the Briton will most likely get the nod. Perception will be key – if AJ has more success than last time, having looked so befuddled and outclassed that north London night last September.- then most likely he will be given the lion’s share of the tight rounds.
My tentative pick – therefore – is the same as it was last year – namely Joshua by tight and highly controversial decision.
Prediction: Joshua by controversial decision.