Former two-time champion Anthony Joshua was succinct but intense in his description of the significance of Saturday’s fight for the unified title against Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia.
At the last news conference on Wednesday in Jeddah, Joshua stated, “It’s a must-win, but I embrace the pressure.”
Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) should be defended since he has done this previously. The 32-year-old British champion, who had previously lost his three world belts to Andy Ruiz in a shocking upset in 2019, came back to win the rematch six months later in Saudi Arabia by patiently outboxing an obese Ruiz.
The circumstances of this title rematch, though, couldn’t be more unlike, not to mention the calibre of the 35-year-old Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs), the former undisputed cruiserweight champion and one of the best boxers in the world pound-for-pound.
When Usyk and Joshua finally lock horns inside the Jeddah Superdome for Usyk’s first defence of his IBF, WBA, and WBO crowns, Usyk will definitely be in a peculiar mental state. Joshua’s motive may feel a little familiar.
In the 11 months since Usyk defeated Joshua in a boisterous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the United Kingdom, a lot has happened. Not only did Usyk’s native Ukraine become embroiled in a protracted conflict as a result of a Russian invasion, but he was also one of several well-known combat sports athletes to put their career on hold in order to fight alongside his country on the front lines.
Usyk really took the difficult decision to accept the Joshua rematch and start training camp during that battle after communicating with numerous senior military leaders on the ground and injured soldiers in hospitals. At the time, Usyk’s focus was on anything other than boxing.
Alexander Krassyuk, Usyk’s promoter with K2, said, “He made his decision to take the rematch in these conditions after he received a great support from his Ukrainian compatriots.” In every talk, he overheard encouragement to participate in the rematch. People want him to prevail in his fight. They desire the raising of the Ukrainian flag and the global broadcast of the national song.
“The entire world must be aware that Ukraine is a nation with free transportation, strong, and dependent people. Few people have the ability to communicate this message to hundreds of millions of people, but Usyk is able to do it through the sport of boxing.
Of course, it’s challenging to predict how much Usyk’s thinking and performance in the rematch would change as a result of the reality of war and his pride in his country. But if fight week is any indicator, Usyk is focusing and motivated at a completely new level.
Usyk has revived the hairstyle he proudly sported while winning gold at heavyweight in the 2012 London Olympics, the same competition in which Anthony Joshua triumphed at super heavyweight. Oseledets is the name of the hairdo, which was also worn by everyone from English monarch William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings to the Vikings in the tenth century. The Cossacks are a warrior people from south and east Ukraine.
Krassyuk has gone so far as to say that Usyk behaved like a “cyborg” during an intensely difficult training camp.
In the past three months, he endured torture and a training camp, but he survived. It strengthened him even more,” Krassyuk remarked. “This is the most determined I’ve ever seen him. Few champions in the entire world can compare to having survived a war before entering the ring to defend their heavyweight title. He had a particularly difficult obstacle, but it appears that he handled it well.
How difficult is it, one would wonder? Usyk’s manager, Egis Klimas, claims that his boxer arrived in Saudi Arabia by cycling 100 kilometres in 113 degree heat and then swam for five hours in a pool just hours before the press conference. According to Klimas, Usyk also buried himself underwater while holding his breath for up to four minutes and forty seconds, “nearly passing out and shaking himself.”
Usyk, like Joshua, though, struggled to find the right words when asked to discuss the significance of this bout and how the rematch would vary.
Usyk said, “We learnt each other in the first bout,” as Krassyuk translated. We have ample opportunity to research one another, and this Saturday’s bout promises to be fantastic.
The main narrative surrounding the rematch has not only focused on Usyk’s transition from the battlefield to the boxing ring, but also on the adjustments Joshua has made to his camp by hiring Mexican-American coach Robert Garcia in place of longtime trainer Rob McCracken.
Although videos from training camp that have gone viral on social media show Joshua’s renewed commitment to attacking the body, which was lacking in their first encounter in September of last year, Joshua didn’t discuss how his style might change under Garcia. Joshua did, however, say that he is “looking to compete” in the rematch.
Garcia added, “The squad performed their job.” “The champion completed his task, and we are prepared. We are ready to carry it out. With no issues, he is content and beaming at everyone. I consider that to be positive. We’re all set for him to bring those belts home, I believe.
Hardcore enthusiasts will recognise some of the names on the undercard. With the veteran fight between Filip Hrgovic and Zhilei Zhang, more heavyweights are added to the co-feature. Additionally, former champion Callum Smith will face Mathieu Bauderlique in a light heavyweight fight. At cruiserweight, Badou Jack will face Richard Rivera to face another former champion.
This week, Smith remarked, “I’ve got fantastic recollections of Jeddah because I was declared world champion here, the best moment of my career so far.” “It feels good to be here again.
“Yeah, good memories to carry into the fight on Saturday,” the fighter said, “I used the same gym the other day as I did for my fight with Groves.”
Before making a prediction and choosing the main event, let’s take a closer look at the entire fight card and the most recent odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
With a win, the British boxer would stand beside Ali and Lewis, but many forecast a loss that would lead to demands for retirement.
Seasonally hot weather is seen in Jeddah. For those who are not used to such conditions, this week’s temperatures in the mid- to high-30s and high levels of humidity have made Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city a sweltering place to be. And given that he already has other reasons to feel the heat, it might be too much for one guest in particular.
Anthony Joshua is present for what might end up being a battle that defines his career. He fights Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday night at the Abdullah Sports City Arena in an effort to exact revenge for their 11-month-old loss in Tottenham, which resulted in him losing the WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight crowns by unanimous decision.
The 32-year-old knew he had to make substantial changes if he was to defeat Usyk this time after being out-thought and out-fought in front of a home crowd. And that’s exactly what he did, firing his longstanding coach Robert McCracken and appointing the esteemed Mexican-American Robert Garcia in his place.
With a more aggressive approach, Joshua is convinced he can exact justice this weekend and become the third heavyweight champion to join the likes of Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis. But he will also have misgivings, and he will be aware that both bookies and gamblers have them.
Few, if any, believe Joshua can defeat Usyk, who is a skilled and resilient opponent. Many in the boxing community, including former world champions Carl Froch and Kell Brook, even go so far as to predict that Joshua will likely be forced to retire after his 27th professional fight if he loses to Usyk.
Although it may sound exaggerated, it is true that in sports the ascent to the top is frequently brutally rapid, and a loss on Saturday would unquestionably make Joshua look down rather than up in the heavyweight category. It is quite unlikely that the highly anticipated all-British fight with Tyson Fury will take place. This is partially attributable to Fury’s current retirement status. If he made a comeback, he would undoubtedly square off against Usyk in a unification fight. Joshua wouldn’t have many ways to stay inspired, let alone pursue excellence, which would hurt his box office appeal. He “wouldn’t have the X-factor any more,” as Brook phrased it
Joshua has reacted angrily to claims that suffering a second loss to Usyk would leave him with no options, stating that “It’s up to me and not everybody else what I do with my career.” Though he has also acknowledged that he “must win” occasionally, the pressured situation he finds himself in is all the more poignant given that it has been ten years since he won the super-heavyweight gold medal at the London Olympics. Joshua was 22 years old at the time, clean-shaven, and full of optimism for the future. Joshua has now accumulated more wealth and memories than he could have ever imagined. However, there might be a part of him that wishes he could go back to his exuberant and generally carefree amateur days right now.
Joshua is also likely to be pleased with his accomplishments since entering the professional boxing spotlight in 2013. In only his 16th bout, he defeated Charles Martin in the 02 Arena in April 2016, beating the goal of becoming a world champion in four years. A little over a year later, he stopped Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round at Wembley Stadium in front of a wartime record 90,000 spectators. With his ability to continually sell out stadiums and win while doing so, it was an incredible moment that solidified Joshua as one of the biggest stars in British sport, much alone boxing. Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, and Carlos Takam were all defeated in front of large audiences, both at home and in the stands.
But then, in June 2019, in Madison Square Garden, the unknown and, to put it politely, out-of-shape Andy Ruiz Jr. suffered loss. While Joshua got his retaliation by winning by unanimous decision in their rematch in Diriyah six months later, the lustre that comes with being an imposing, undefeated champion had been diminished. The stoppage in the seventh round was a shock to Joshua’s system in more ways than one. And mostly because of this, Joshua is once again in Saudi Arabia, where he is fervently seeking a victory that would restore his status as a legendary heavyweight given the opponent and the situation.
Joshua has acknowledged that in order for that to occur, he must return to the fundamentals. As a result, he has enlisted Garcia’s assistance and is concentrating on seizing the centre of the ring and making the most of his impressive size, range, and power. Given his lack of technical ability on both the back and front foot, it is what Joshua does best and, in reality, all he can do. Even though that might be a drawback, it also highlights the remarkable career trajectory of Anthony Joshua, a young man from a troubled Watford neighbourhood who was propelled into the glitz and glamour of professional boxing after becoming an Olympic hero and who essentially had to learn on the job given that he only had 35 fights under his belt when he left the amateur ranks.
He gained what knowledge he could, reached great heights, and—possibly predictably for someone so immature—fell twice. The brilliance of the guy he is up against makes a third crash this weekend in the scorching glare of a Middle Eastern night perhaps inevitable, and despite Joshua’s protestations to the contrary, it very well might be the end. If that’s the case, at least it was a unique journey.