Road to Undisputed: Anthony Joshua (24-1) vs Oleksandr Usyk (18-0)

Written by Tom Cleary for We Love Sport

On the 25th of September, Anthony Joshua’s quest to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis continues as he faces former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk. The bout at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will see AJ defend his WBA (Super), IBO, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles.

How was this fight made?

This bout between two Olympic gold medallists comes after Joshua’s planned fight vs WBC and Ring Magazine heavyweight champion with Tyson Fury was called off, due to Fury having to give Deontay Wilder a rematch despite the allocated time for the rematch allegedly having passed. Fury and Wilder compete on October 9th, but this saga left Anthony Joshua without an opponent. In stepped the WBO, telling promoter Eddie Hearn that Anthony Joshua must fight Oleksandr Usyk as he is the mandatory challenger.

It feels like an awfully long time since Watford’s own Anthony Joshua fought in front of a sold-out crowd in the UK – and that’s because it has been. September 22nd 2018 was when AJ knocked out Alexander Povetkin in front of a full capacity Wembley Stadium. Since then, the champion has been to New York where he lost to Andy Ruiz Jr, a rematch vs Ruiz to win his belts back in Saudi Arabia and Wembley Arena where he fought in front of only 1000 people. This is not the fight people thought Anthony Joshua would have next, however it does give him an opportunity to fight and eliminate a serious competitor to his belts. The fans want AJ v Fury, so Joshua must make sure he does his part to make that fight happen by beating Usyk, but it must be remembered that the last time fans (and possible Anthony himself) looked past Joshua’s current opponent, he ended up spitting his gumshield out in Madison Square Garden after a beatdown by Ruiz.

The unbeaten Ukrainian is best known by British fans for knocking out and retiring Tony Bellew to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion in 2018. Since then, Usyk stepped up to the heavyweight division and defeated Chazz Witherspoon in what was a relatively underwhelming performance. A year later, he returned to England to fight Derek Chisora who he defeated on points. Many people believed that Chisora won that fight and again were unimpressed with Usyk at heavyweight. Nevertheless, Usyk won two fights and had enough credit in the bank to become the WBO’s mandatory which is why he is the man Anthony Joshua is expecting.

“In for a rough ride” – but what can AJ actually expect?

Johnny Nelson, former boxer turned boxing pundit, believes AJ will win against Usyk, but he is “in for a rough ride”. In fairness, every fight in elite-level boxing is a rough ride. Usyk is a fighter with a great pedigree and despite the relatively bad performances at heavyweight, he still is incredibly talented, unbeaten and dangerous. Yes, he was a cruiserweight, his power is yet to translate to the heavier weight class and it is true that his frame is probably not the generic heavyweight frame.

The heavyweight division, for the most part, is filled with heavy and tall fighters. Joshua himself is 6’6, Fury is 6’9 and Deontay Wilder is 6’7. Oleksandr Usyk, on the other hand is only 6’3. Usyk is short, but this is actually bad news for AJ. Joshua struggled against Carlos Takam and Andy Ruiz Jr, both men do not have the height of most heavyweights. It is proven that the Englishman is not at his strongest against smaller fighters – and the worst news for Joshua is that Usyk is a much more skilled and technical boxer than Ruiz and Takam combined. Usyk has incredibly clever footwork with top-level agility to glide in and out of range. This means that the sort of fight we can expect is AJ carefully following Usyk to land his big shots and use his power and size advantage but without getting caught in any of Usyk’s traps. Everybody knows that Anthony Joshua’s chin is susceptible to wobbling, and whilst we are yet to see Usyk knock someone out at heavyweight, it has been 11 months since he last competed, so he may have found some of his past power in that time.

September 26th – where does heavyweight boxing go?

On September 26th, one of Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk will hold the belts. If it is Usyk, there will be an immediate rematch and hope of the British showdown between Fury and Joshua will be postponed indefinitely – and maybe forever. As of right now, the glamour is still there as people are looking at AJ’s loss v Ruiz as a fluke. Lose against Usyk, and it’s a different story. Interest and intrigue in that fight falls as Fury will be heavy favourite.

The other way this plays out is that Joshua wins and retains the belt. His part is done. He can do no more in terms of making the super fight with Fury happen. It was Fury’s camp that scrapped the fight last time and an AJ win here means it is again on the Fury camp. Anthony Joshua will have to wait until the 9th of October. If Fury wins, it is almost certain that next up will be Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury in a bout that will be the biggest in British history and one of the biggest in the history of boxing. There is the chance that Wilder beats Fury which will result in a fourth fight most likely, pushing any fight to become an undisputed champion with either opponent back to 2023. This means that Anthony Joshua’s next opponent would be completely up in the air.

In short, the last thing the Joshua and Fury saga needs is to end like Mayweather v Pacquiao. Two of the best of all time fighting too late in one’s career, so no definitive answer. Boxing needs Joshua to beat Usyk and Fury to beat Wilder, so we can finally have an undisputed heavyweight champion again.

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