With WBC and lineal title-holder Tyson Fury retiring from the ring (again), logic dictates that Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk will do battle for the one and only heavyweight championship of the world this Saturday. Logic similarly suggests that, after watching the world’s new number one and two heavyweights syphon the attention from him this weekend in Saudi Arabia, ‘The Gypsy King’ will have yet another of his famous changes of heart. But that sort of talk is for the future. What we have now is a mouthwatering rematch between ‘AJ’ and ‘The Cat’ for the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight championships, as well as Fury’s freshly-vacated belt from The Ring magazine.
The combatants will be entering the ring at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah eleven months after their first fight. Usyk outpointed Joshua on that electric night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, becoming the first fighter to hold unified titles at cruiserweight and heavyweight since Evander Holyfield. Soaking in the adulation after his upset victory, Usyk could never have imagined the year he would go on to have as champion.
The two-weight king has seen his home country of Ukraine invaded by Russia, and instead of defending his unified championship in the ring he has been defending his nation as part of the territorial defence force. However, ‘The Cat’ looks focused for this one. The former cruiserweight is truly growing into his frame as a heavyweight, and appears to be coming in stronger for this one. One might question if he is sacrificing mobility in favour of power but, considering Joshua’s likely gameplan, packing out might be wise.
Joshua tried to engage the master boxer in a boxing match last time out. Seasoned observers were left scratching their heads at the fact the Watford man did not use his size and strength advantages to impose himself. Instead, ‘AJ’ tried to pick Usyk off at range and failed. His two most recent wins, over Kubrat Pulev and in his rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr, had seen him employ similar tactics. But those were both needs must situations. Joshua was fighting bigger men, including one who had previously knocked him out. Even at cruiserweight Usyk was more renowned for his boxing acumen than his one-punch knockout power, and such caution seemed misplaced.
But if there is one thing we know about Joshua it is that he can react to adversity. He did it when climbing off the canvas to stop Wladimir Klitschko in 2017. He did it with the aforementioned tactical switch to take the play away from Ruiz in their rematch. The London 2012 gold medalist will be preparing a gameplan unlike what we saw in north London almost a year ago. Bolstered by new trainer Robert Garcia, the likelihood is that Joshua will look to leverage his power and size more effectively this time. Usyk has likely anticipated this, hence the added musculature.
These are the things you have to consider when fighting in a rematch. This is familiar territory for both men and they have had many months to think about the 12 rounds they shared in London. The pair will each be going over other old ground from their careers when they meet on Saturday. For Usyk, Joshua will be the fourth fight out of his last five where he has squared off against a British opponent. Along with ‘AJ’, Tony Bellew and Derek Chisora were the other domestic fighters he has defeated in recent years. For Joshua it marks a return to Saudi Arabia, the site of his victory over Ruiz in their rematch. Putting aside the human rights issues and controversy surrounding the venue, will Joshua gain an advantage returning to a country in which his opponent has never fought? Such intangibles can make all the difference in an elite level fight.
Of course once the bell rings, neither man will be focused on the location. There will be questions each need to answer. Can Usyk prove once and for all that he is every bit as good at heavyweight as he was during his majestic cruiserweight run? Will Joshua show that his old reservoir of resiliency still runs deep? Will either man put on a performance to win the hearts and minds of those who place the departing Tyson Fury on a pedestal? This is the excitement of heavyweight boxing and whatever happens on Saturday, it is bound to be wrapped in no shortage of intrigue.
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