IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston weighs up Saturday night’s titanic heavyweight collision between WBA Super, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and former undisputed cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk in London.
This year’s biggest fight takes place at Tottenham Hotspur football ground in London today as Britain’s Anthony Joshua defends his heavyweight titles against Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk in a clash of London 2012 Olympic gold medallists. Joshua is favoured, but Usyk is a live underdog.
Usyk has won two fights at heavyweight after moving up from the cruiserweight division. He weighed in at 221¼ lbs on Friday, four pounds more than when he outpointed Dereck Chisora last October. Joshua, at 240 pounds, came in three quarters of a pound less than he weighed for last December’s KO win over Kubrat Pulev. So, both men are where they should be regarding weight and both looked good on the scales.
Joshua is the bigger man, taller and heavier, while Usyk has the speed advantage. And while Joshua has to be considered the puncher in the fight, Usyk seems to have the more reliable chin. So it’s a fight where either man is capable of hurting the other.
Tactics? I’m expecting Joshua to force the fight but in a disciplined way, looking to jab and come through with the right hand but not trying to get too much done, too soon. Joshua doesn’t want to get into the sort of fight where he’s being made to miss and getting picked off. So, I believe Joshua’s focus will be on applying patient pressure. Usyk, meanwhile, will likely move around, stay alert and open up in spurts. He will try to get Joshua bemused and befuddled.
Joshua, 31, has never met anyone as skilled, smart and mobile as Usyk, 34. And Usyk’s southpaw stance might present problems. Although Joshua blew out lefty Charles Martin in two rounds he had an easy time landing his punches that night against an opponent who seemed lacking in confidence and was basically right in front of him. Usyk will most likely be moving in and out, side to side, giving angles and perhaps attacking in spurts. He won’t be a sitting duck like Charles Martin.
That said, we’ve seen Usyk get tagged. Mairis Briedis was able to hit him quite consistently in their cruiserweight title fight. Tony Bellew was doing well in the early rounds. Dereck Chisora hit Usyk often enough to win five of the 12 rounds on two of the judges’ cards. As talented as he is, Usyk isn’t a will-o’-the-wisp.
There’s something else. I believe Usyk genuinely likes to fight. He doesn’t think exclusively about defence. This could give Joshua an opportunity to land something big.
However, I don’t see Usyk as being totally outgunned. I believe he punches hard enough to get Joshua’s attention. It seemed to me that Usyk wobbled the much heavier Chisora with a series of left hands and right hooks in the seventh round. He backed up Chisora in the 11th. And Usyk broke down and stopped the 242-pound Chazz Witherspoon. So, Joshua can’t just try to walk through Usyk with no regard for what’s coming back at him.
However, the flip side is that Usyk has never met anyone with Joshua’s firepower. And Joshua has shown that he can box a controlled, steady fight and win on points. He doesn’t necessarily have to stop Usyk to win.
But it’s important that Joshua is assertive and lets Usyk know from the start that he’s in with a big man who can hurt him. He can’t afford to let Usyk get comfortable. If Usyk is able to get into a free-flowing rhythm he will be hard to beat. Joshua must not allow that to happen.
A projected crowd of more than 70,000 will be right behind Joshua, but Usyk is unlikely to be fazed. He’s made a habit of beating opponents on their home ground. But the roars of the crowd could lift Joshua if he has to fight through difficult moments.
Joshua’s physical advantages, his experience in big fights, the crowd’s thunderous support, sway me in AJ’s direction. If errors in judgement and defensive lapses are made they are likely to prove more costly for Usyk than for Joshua: I just think AJ has more margin for error.
So, that’s the fight and some thoughts on how it might play out. But what of the betting angle?
If you feel confident enough in a Joshua victory, you can bet him at 2/5 (-250) at Betfred. Usyk can be backed for 9/4 (+225).
Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable laying the price on Joshua. This is a fight he could lose. One idea might be to bet on Joshua to win by decision. Betfred offers the Joshua “by decision” proposition at 11/4 (+275). But if you feel that size matters and that the bigger, more powerful Joshua will win by KO, you’re looking at odds of 11/10 (+110)
Usyk to win by decision is available at 4/1 (+400). At first glance that might look a good bet for Usyk fanciers, because he’s boxed mostly as a cruiserweight and he isn’t considered a big puncher. For those tempted, the Usyk KO/TKO proposition is offered at 11/2 (+550).
Undecided who wins? Then the under/over market might be appealing. The industry has set the total rounds at 9.5, with a price of 4/6 (-150) for the “over” and 11/10 (+110) for the “under”. I’m liking the “over 9.5” as my favourite bet out of all the propositions being offered. The admittance price isn’t too steep and we have a meeting of two elite heavyweights who will surely respect what the other man has in his arsenal.
If the KO comes I don’t think it will be until very late in the contest. My lean is Joshua by decision in a close contest. And with a Ukrainian judge, a British judge and a neutral doing the scoring, a split decision looks quite possible if the fight does indeed go to the scorecards.
Main image: Eddie Keogh/Matchroom Boxing.