Will power trump poise in Anthony Joshua’s ring return against Oleksandr Usyk?

·4 min read

Anthony Joshua steps back into the ring for the first time this year when he takes on Oleksandr Usyk in front of around 60,000 fans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday night.

It may not be the Tyson Fury fight everybody is clamouring for, but Joshua faces a legitimate threat when he defends his WBA, IBF and WBO titles against the former ruler of the cruiserweight division.

Here, the PA news agency gives the lowdown on this weekend’s bout.

Who is the favourite?

Oleksandr Usyk is the underdog with bookmakers (Nick Potts/PA)
Oleksandr Usyk is the underdog with bookmakers (Nick Potts/PA)

All the leading bookmakers overwhelmingly favour Joshua. The age-old theory suggests ‘a good big ‘un beats a good little ‘un’ and the Briton has the physical advantages in height and reach and will almost certainly be heavier than his Ukrainian rival by at least one stone. Joshua weighed just over 240lbs for his win over Kubrat Pulev last December while Usyk was more than 20lbs lighter two months earlier in outpointing Derek Chisora. There is a suspicion Joshua is looking leaner than usual in training camp but he should still be the heavier of the two.

So what gives Usyk a chance?

Usyk, right, stopped Tony Bellew when they fought in November 2018 (Nick Potts/PA)
Usyk, right, stopped Tony Bellew when they fought in November 2018 (Nick Potts/PA)

From a purely technical standpoint, Usyk is the best boxer Joshua has ever faced. The Ukrainian has been able to make many an opponent dance to his tune with his faultless footwork, which left Tony Bellew “mentally exhausted” when they fought in November 2018. That was Usyk’s last fight at cruiserweight and he has underwhelmed in his two contests in the blue riband division – stopping Chazz Witherspoon and eking out a points win over Chisora. But he is back with Vasyl Lomachenko’s father and coach Anatoly, which has brought the best out of Usyk in the past.

What is each fighter’s best route to victory?

The two biggest questions facing Usyk, the WBO mandatory challenger, concern his chin and power. He will probably have the advantage in speed so can he avoid the heavier shots, and if not, can he withstand them? And can he trouble Joshua in return? He was not the biggest puncher in the division below, so a points win seems the best option. Joshua’s punch resistance is not exceptional, though, and he has struggled against smaller fighters, most notably when he suffered the only defeat of his professional career courtesy of the blurring hand speed of Andy Ruiz Jr. The Watford fighter showed he has more strings to his bow in the rematch, using a ramrod jab to subdue a bloated Ruiz, but Usyk is a superior foe so Joshua could be relying on his heavy-handedness this time around.

Does Joshua need to make a statement?

Tyson Fury, pictured, takes on Deontay Wilder next month (Bradley Collyer/PA)
Tyson Fury, pictured, takes on Deontay Wilder next month (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Not particularly. This contest is one for the purists and it will be interesting to see what tactics Joshua employs. It is worth noting that coach Rob McCracken has had time away from Joshua’s camp due to his Team GB commitments at Tokyo 2020 but fighter and trainer are aligned in the view it is insignificant. Ultimately, Joshua does not need to rock the boat here and he will probably be pleased just to get a win, hand Usyk his first professional defeat and then look towards WBC champion Fury, who must first overcome Deontay Wilder next month.

Are there any other subplots?

Anthony Joshua, left, is promoted by Eddie Hearn (Nick Potts/PA)
Anthony Joshua, left, is promoted by Eddie Hearn (Nick Potts/PA)

There will be a few references this week to London 2012 – Usyk won gold the day before, and in the division below, Joshua memorably topped the podium in the super-heavyweight category. This clash is also Joshua’s last on his deal with Sky Sports, which will broadcast the fight in the UK and Ireland on pay-per-view, with DAZN screening it in more than 100 other territories. Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn this summer took the rest of his Matchroom stable to DAZN after ending a long-term partnership with Sky, which is understandably keen to hang on to Joshua. However, any tug of war between Sky, DAZN and other parties is unlikely to be resolved this week, with Joshua in fight-mode.

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