Previewing Joshua vs Usyk 2

There was a time when a fight like the one that is happening on Sunday morning (AEST) would have stopped the world. Largely because of the incompetence of boxing, that is no longer the case.

But for us true believers, nothing else matters on Sunday morning as we will crown the best active heavyweight in the world (assuming Tyson Fury is actually retired, which would be a stupid assumption).

On Sunday morning Anthony Joshua will meet Oleksandr Usyk for three pieces of the heavyweight title and The Ring Magazine title in Saudi Arabia, and I am excited.

This fight is a rematch of a 2021 demolition by Oleksandr Usyk. It was Usyk’s third professional bout as a heavyweight and he showed in that fight ballerina-like feet and just enough power to keep Anthony Joshua honest.

Additionally, he was clearly the more fluid fighter and exhibited better head and foot movement. Essentially, Usyk looked he was a born boxer and Joshua looked like someone who had been taught how to box.

There are three questions which define the fight, and I will endeavour to answer all of them and at the end, I’ll make my pick for the winner.

With the trainer changes, which Anthony Joshua will show up?

AJ’s camp has undergone a complete reinvention. AJ spent his entire amateur and professional career, before the Andy Ruiz fight, with Rob McCracken. After the first Ruiz loss, the ever image-conscious Joshua brought in more voices to his camp, but declined to fire McCracken and indeed it was McCracken who gave him advice in the corner.

The kid from Bristol wanted to remain just that, without designer trainers.

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This time, however, he has brought in designer trainers and pushed McCracken even farther to the side albeit not all the way out. The head trainer that AJ has brought in is Robert Garcia. Garcia is not a known trainer of heavyweights and his gym is not a heavyweight factory like a Kronk Gym, but Garcia is a respected trainer and brother to retired champion Mikey Garcia.

Joshua has also elevated Angel Fernandez, a far less established voice in the fight game, to being a main trainer. Fernandez was brought into Joshua’s camp to work under McCracken before Joshua beat Ruiz in their second fight and was also in the corner as a subordinate for the Pulev fight and the first Usyk fight.

Oleksandr Usyk fights Anthony Joshua.

Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine fights Anthony Joshua of Great Britain during the Heavyweight Title Fight. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

There are essentially two cooks in the kitchen now and as I understand it, it is effectively an offensive and defensive coordinator split between Garcia and Fernandez. Garcia appears to be a Kyle Shanahan-style head coach and offensive coordinator while Fernandez is largely responsible for Joshua’s defences. This is a weird split.

I have my doubts about the efficacy of it. Joshua is 198cm tall and usually weighs in at around 110kg. He is a big man, yet he does not fight like one. He fights like his favourite fighter was Mike Tyson, throwing uppercuts and hooks and getting himself stuck on the inside with smaller, more nimble fighters like Usyk.

Joshua should watch footage of the Klitschko brothers, who were similarly framed, but threw exclusively straight punches because of their extraordinary power and length.

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Will these two trainers of smaller guys be able to harness and guide the power and strength of Joshua? I doubt it, and as a result I think we will see a similar AJ who is looking to box with someone who is simply a far better boxer.

How has Usyk been affected by the war in Ukraine?

This rematch came under some doubt when Usyk posted footage of himself returning to Ukraine after the Russian invasion, seemingly prepared to take up arms.

Naturally, this particular fight is far less important than the fight happening in his homeland, but this is a boxing column and it is reasonable to ask how he is affected by the invasion happening on his homeland.

It is apparent that the invasion is on his mind. He is less jovial pre-fight than he normally is and is consistently wearing clothes in the Ukrainian colours.

Additionally, he tried to buy the rights to broadcast the fight in Ukraine so he could show it for free but the Saudis did not take his money and have committed to showing the fight for free in Ukraine (good guys). So, how will that affect him?

It can go one of two ways: he could walk into the ring deeply affected by what is happening in Ukraine and channel it into a virtuoso performance combining his beautiful movement skills with precise punching while retaining an impressive rhythm throughout.

However, he could also simply struggle to break free from the pressure of knowing his country, that so desperately needs an icon, is watching him begging for his success.

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He could wilt under the pressure, and nobody would blame him.

Can AJ use Usyk’s aggression against him?

What was striking about the first fight was that Usyk was the aggressor. Usyk walked forward almost in a Cus D’Amato peek-a-boo style, weaving his head threateningly throughout but also while keep his lead hand constantly active prying for openings.

It was extremely effective against the more robotic Joshua, who seemed content to be dictated to. As a southpaw, that prying right hand from Usyk was very effective in setting up the left-hand shot to the head that Usyk landed extraordinarily consistently on Joshua.

I expect Usyk to do much the same thing, with that straight left hand always the most effective weapon for a southpaw against an orthodox fighter. The real question to me is, how does Joshua deal with Usyk’s aggression?

Joshua is not fluid enough to counter Usyk, who is extremely unpredictable in his movement. What Joshua has to do instead is look to take control of the centre of the ring, walk forward behind a stiff jab to the chest if the head is not there to be landed and look to bully Usyk.

He cannot allow Usyk’s speed and aggression to control the fight. Joshua is the bigger stronger man. He must be the bully.

Does he have the temperament and ability to do it? I doubt it.

My official prediction is a clear Usyk win, likely by a late stoppage. Usyk is simply too talented and fluid as a boxer for Joshua who is gifted but robotic in his movement.

Joshua looks like he read a textbook that Usyk wrote, not realising that Usyk has since written a second edition and is now working off that.

Official prediction: Usyk by round 10 stoppage.

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