Why Oleksandr Usyk Could Prove To Be AJ's Toughest Opponent Yet

The undefeated Ukrainian provides a different test for AJ on September 25th
20:00, 21 Jul 2021

Before Anthony Joshua’s shock Madison Square Garden defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr in June 2019, there was an aura of invincibility surrounding the Watford man. Of course, he avenged that loss just six months later, and has since returned to his destructive best with a ninth-round stoppage of Kubrat Pulev. However, that unbeatable feel that followed ‘AJ’ throughout his early career is no more, and it is safe to say that his vulnerabilities have been displayed to the watching world on more than one occasion.

Why then, ahead of his September showdown with the undefeated Oleksandr Usyk, is the Brit as short as 2/5 with Betfred to have his arm raised at the end of their bout?

This is the same Usyk who took just 15 fights to collect every belt in the cruiserweight division, before handing Tony Bellew the most crushing knockout of his proud career. Sure, there is the size factor. Joshua is a natural heavyweight, while his Ukrainian opponent has had to work extremely hard to bulk up in order to compete in the top division. Having said that, a quick glimpse at his recent social media footage should put to bed any concerns that Usyk is too small to topple the 6”6 Joshua.

Since stepping up to heavyweight, Usyk has weighed in at 215lbs before stopping Chazz Witherspoon and then at a shade over 217lbs when beating Derek Chisora over 12 rounds. ‘Del Boy’ did enjoy brief moments in that clash last October, although it is a stretch of the truth to suggest that Usyk was fortunate to be handed the decision, as some biased UK media outlets had suggested. In reality, the 34-year-old was in control throughout and appears to have learned his lesson in allowing too much in the way of bulk to his naturally bigger opponents. A recent social post showed Usyk weighing a formidable 230lbs and he now looks like a natural heavyweight himself.

AJ fans will hope that isn’t the case because size is the main attribute that makes their man a firm favourite in the September 25th bout at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. If Usyk is the real deal at heavyweight, we could be weeks away from witnessing another ‘upset’ involving the brilliantly marketable Joshua. Let’s not forget, Usyk is ranked at number four in the Ring Magazine pound-for-pound ratings – a list that AJ has never threatened to gate-crash.

Usyk’s perfect record of 18-0 is impressive enough but is made all the more remarkable given that he has yet to come close to tasting defeat. His most impressive wins to date have come against fellow undefeated contenders. In first winning a world title at cruiserweight, he romped to a unanimous decision against Krzysztof Glowacki in his native Poland. The likes of Marco Huck and Michael Hunter were dealt with before unifying against the 23-0 Mairis Briedis in his home country of Latvia. He then claimed all the marbles while barely losing a minute of any round against the widely fancied Murat Gassiev in – you guessed it – the Russian’s backyard. Since then, he has beaten Bellew in Manchester, Witherspoon in Chicago, and Chisora at Wembley.

This is a formidable fighter who has no issue with upsetting the home crowd on his way to glory. Will Joshua be next? If fight fans are finally going to see the undisputed clash between AJ and Tyson Fury, let’s hope not. However, anyone thinking that this is another routine defence for the 24-1 superstar is in for a rude awakening.

Oleksandr Usyk defeated Tony Bellew via a round eight KO at Manchester Arena
Oleksandr Usyk defeated Tony Bellew via a round eight KO at Manchester Arena

Usyk is back training alongside Anatoly Lomachenko – father of fellow Ukrainian sensation Vasyl. Since ‘Loma’ turned pro, his father has trained his son exclusively but has made occasional exceptions for Usyk’s biggest bouts. His career-best performance against Gassiev came off the back of a full camp with the 56-year-old trainer, and if Usyk puts on a display like he did to be crowned WBSS king three years ago, this could be Joshua’s toughest night yet. Of course, you’d have to say that Joshua represents Usyk’s most difficult challenge to date also, but the 2/1 available on the visiting fighter upsetting the home crowd once again may need to be considered.

It’s a viewpoint that former Usyk foe Tony Bellew agrees with. “It’s a very, very hard fight,” the Liverpudlian admitted.

“If anything, it’s just got even harder because Usyk has now gone back with Lomachenko’s father. They will create a game plan that is going to try and negate everything good that Anthony Joshua does.

“That’s what Usyk does so well. He takes away your strengths before he looks at implementing his own strengths.”

Before claiming that he hopes and believes that Joshua’s size will catch up with his opponent in the later rounds, Bellew finished with a warning…

There’s no easy way to beat this guy.

For anyone thinking that this will be a straightforward Joshua victory ahead of that potential super fight with Fury, you might want to keep those eight words in mind.

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