Joshua vs Usyk hit the heavyweight dance floor, DAZN Saturday
SAN DIEGO, Calif., September 24, 2021 – After Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk both scored relatively easy victories in their respective fights to close out 2020, Usyk remained the WBO mandatory challenger to unified champion Joshua. At the time, Usyk and his manager Alexander Krassyuk said they would insist on the fight being made.
At the time, they were the only ones who expected it to happen. Joshua and Tyson Fury were headed for their long-awaited heavyweight unification matchup. But – it’s boxing. When a judge ruled in favor of Deontay Wilder getting a rematch with Fury, Joshua and Usyk turned to each other as dance partners.
Joshua of Great Britain (24-1, 22 KOs) and Usyk of Ukraine (18-0, 13 KOs) hit the dance floor Saturday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. It airs on DAZN in the US, free to subscribers and via PPV channels. The undercard kicks off at 1 pm ET/10 am PT, with the main event ring walk expected at approximately 5 pm ET/2 pm PT.
As the opening bell nears, interest is finally building in what seems close to a 50-50 fight with multiple scenarios how it might work out. A Joshua win puts him back on track toward a fight with Fury; an Usyk win throws the heavyweight division into tasty disarray.
Joshua: ‘Respect? Fear? It’s just a fight’
Joshua, the WBO/WBA/IBF champion who’s as big a sports superstar in the UK as any top ten NBA star in the US, will have 58,000 of the 60,000 fans in the seats cheering him on. In December, Joshua took down Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev with ease, scoring four knockdowns en route to a ninth-round knockout win. In this fight, patience paid off for the champion, picking up right where he left off after beating American Andy Ruiz Jr.
Joshua came in at 240 pounds at Friday’s weigh-in, 19 more than Usyk at 221.25 pounds. The relative size of the two men is a significant factor In the fight.
“Now, I should be able to do the 12 rounds easily because weight does make a difference,” said Joshua. “As long as you are loose, nimble. Loose and heavy, relaxed shots. I should be good.”
Joshua said he has no specific game plan for his 11th title defense or at least none he would share. “Just win. Because you never know what is going to happen when the first bell goes.”
Joshua said of Usyk, “Respect? Fear? It’s just a fight. I’m not someone who will be disrespectful unless someone is disrespectful to me. I respect the man. He has achieved phenomenal things.”
Usyk: ‘Nothing bothers me’
Usyk, who, like Joshua, won an Olympic gold medal at the London 2012 games, will fight for just the third time as a heavyweight after he became the unified, undisputed cruiserweight division champion.
Usyk defeated Derek Chisora of Great Britain by unanimous decision. He admitted after the fight, he was lured into fighting Chisora’s fight, letting the bigger man crowd him early. But Chisora gassed out, and the more nimble and better conditioned Usyk took over, working first behind a jab at distance, then moving in with impressive hooks in the final rounds to win.
Usyk is a small heavyweight in the modern era, although he’s precisely the same height and weight as Muhammad Ali in his prime. The southpaw leverages one of boxing’s best minds in the ring, an incredible IQ along with the same skill of his countryman and stablemate Vasiliy Lomachenko. He can get his opponents to waste their effort in early rounds to little effect. As with this Chisora fight, he then takes over and wears them down completely.
How will Usyk approach Joshua? He played his cards close.
“He is going to be watching right now, how can I tell? I’m not going to tell … Can he do something different instead of boxing with me? Everything he wants, he can do it. I’m going to do what I’m going to do.”
Usyk brushed off concerns about the size difference. “It’s all like (people talk) about it. Who is bigger, who is smaller. Nothing bothers me.”
Prediction: Home field advantage holds
Criticizing Usyk’s relative lack of power isn’t useful. All heavyweights are big, and all heavyweights can punch. Smart heavyweights like Joshua and Usyk aren’t easy to tee up to be hit with flush power punches. Both will begin the fight by boxing, working at distance. Joshua needs to work the jab and size up what Usyk offers. Usyk needs to lean on his movement and stamina to try and wear Joshua out and slow him down.
If Joshua can make it a tactical fight, his effort will get every consideration from the judges. They will hear the fans roar and see Joshua’s excellent form in the ring. It will be difficult for Usyk to win this type of fight on the cards.
It’s not impossible. Usyk has all the skills to do it. If his southpaw approach ties Joshua up and forces him to make mistakes, Usykl will be ready to pounce. Joshua can be knocked down. Usyk has never been knocked down as a pro.
An Usyk win would derail plans for the all British showdown between Joshua and Fury as early as the end of the year, and everyone involved, including the officials, know it.
While we love the theater of the unexpected and admire Usyk’s approach both to boxing and his “what, me worry?” philosophy of life, he’s the underdog for a reason. We see the fight going to Joshua by unanimous decision.
Undercard: Lawrence Okolie, Callum Smith, featured
Cruiserweight Lawrence Okolie of London (15-0, 12 KOs) makes his second straight appearance on a Joshua undercard. He is an overwhelming favorite to defeat Dilan Prasovic of Montenegro and win the WBO World Cruiserweight Title. At 6-foot-5, the 29-year-old Okolie is destined for the heavyweight division. Until then, he’s content to run the cruiserweight division table.
Light heavyweight Callum Smith of Liverpool (27-1, 19 KOs) looks to get back in the win column after a tough loss to Canelo Alvarez. He fights Lenin Castillo of the Dominican Republic (21-3-1, 16 KOs). Castillo’s losses are to Dmitry Bivol, Marcus Browne, and undefeated Joseph Williams.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on social media at @PRProSanDiego.
Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.
Copyright © 2021 by Falcon Valley Group