Anthony Joshua can emulate Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis by beating Usyk to set up Fury clash
“Man, the first time was so much fun, I had to do it twice,” roared Anthony Joshua after avenging his shocking defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr to become a two-time heavyweight world champion in 2019.
After raising his belts at Saudi Arena’s Diriyah Arena six months earlier, having been shaken, fallen and finally shocked by his, on paper, considerably lesser opponent just six months earlier, he was once again the rightful owner of the WBA, WBO and IBF belts, and stood as the man to beat in the heavyweight division.
Three years later, Joshua finds himself in an almost identical situation: once again traveling to Saudi Arabia seeking recovery from an agonizing defeat, once again seeking to regain his collection of belts, and once again seeking to get back on the road to undisputed .
Anthony Joshua became a two-time heavyweight champion with a rematch win over Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019
The Briton now faces an all-important rematch against Oleksandr Usyk (left) later this month
Parallels, yes, but a totally different challenge. Against Oleksandr Usyk, arguably the best boxer at the moment, a man who not only defeated Joshua but also skilled in their first fight last year, there is no quick fix; staying out of range against a largely immobile opponent isn’t a viable game plan this time around.
Nor is staying disciplined and avoiding a gunfight, which Joshua did at his own peril last September at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. If the 32-year-old is going to join the likes of Muhammad Ali, Vitali Klitschko and Lennox Lewis to become a three-time champion, that big right hand will definitely be needed.
Joshua was warned by many not to jump into a rematch right away – just as he did after losing to Ruiz Jr. But as it was then, the risk is certainly not without reward. Forget the retirement talk, the victory of a rematch would, you’d hope, finally bring about an undisputed showdown with Tyson Fury in what would become the greatest fight in British history.
Repetition or revenge is the question, and on August 20 we have the answer. But while repetition is widely regarded as the most likely outcome, both fighters recognize that the second fight will be different from the first.
Indeed, while it’s been less than a year since the pair last shared the square circle, so much has changed in that time — for both fighters.
For Usyk, everything has changed: his purpose in life; what he fights for; meaning victory – all that changed when Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24 and war broke out on European soil.
The 35-year-old soon dropped all thoughts of a rematch against Joshua when he joined Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko and longtime friend Vasiliy Lomachenko in the Ukrainian army.
He left the troops in March to begin training for the rematch, but the Ukrainian plans to return to the front line immediately after the fight.
‘I didn’t want to leave my city. I really didn’t want to leave my country,” he said in June. “But when I went to the hospitals where our wounded soldiers are being rehabilitated, they told me to go. Go fight this battle not only for your pride, but also for Ukraine. You will do even more for our country by fighting in the ring than fighting here.
“So now I want to bring some kind of joy to those soldiers and to those who stay on the front lines by doing what I’m doing.” He added: “Immediately after defending my titles against Joshua, I plan to return to Kiev. I must be in my country.’
The 35-year-old boxer (center) has joined the Kyiv Territorial Defense to help defend Ukraine
Usyk wore a yellow and blue shirt with the logo: ‘Colors Of Freedom’ to the press conference in June
The united heavyweight champion insists he’s not just fighting for pride, but also for Ukraine
Usyk, who insisted ‘I’m not fighting for money or recognition’ at the launch press conference in Saudi Arabia, now has more than titles at stake for the rematch. He is even partnering with an NFT platform in a bid to raise £1.64 million for Ukraine ahead of the match.
A lot has changed for Joshua too. He admits his approach was totally wrong on their first meeting – he even insisted he thought he was winning the fight the whole time – and has parted ways with longtime trainer Rob McCracken as a result.
Joshua had plenty of options to replace his former mentor, having visited countless prolific trainers in America, but it was Robert Garcia who led Eddy Reynoso, Virgil Hunter and Ronnie Shields to the track.
Garcia has established himself as a world-class trainer over the past two decades, leading his fighters to 14 world title victories and helping brother Mikey – a former four-weight world champion – become one of the best fighters in the world.
Garcia teams up with Angel Fernandez, an existing member of the Joshua camp, and tries to execute an aggressive game plan, after describing his “special” fighter as “insane force”.
Joshua will have to drastically change his game plan after being outclassed by Usyk last year
The 32-year-old said goodbye to long-term trainer Rob McCracken after the defeat
The former champion now teams up with widely respected trainer Robert Garcia (right)
The question now is whether Joshua can deliver that killer blow. Usyk certainly felt his power at times last September, and the Ukrainian is known to be prone to physical assault, but whether the Briton can exert his pressure and thereby avoid being gassed remains to be seen.
The heavyweight landscape has also changed since their first meeting, with Tyson Fury claiming he’s retired. Of course, he has also claimed that he will only return for £500 million and that he will return to fight Joshua for free, easily clinging to that WBC belt of his. Most of us have learned to take what he says with a grain of salt.
More importantly, Fury defeated his mandatory challenger in Dillian Whyte and is under no pressure from WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman to make his next defense. Essentially, he’s free to watch as the action unfolds and make his next move accordingly.
Of course the British public will want Fury and Joshua to go head to head, but a clash against either fighter will nevertheless be a historic event.
The winner will likely fight WBC champion Tyson Fury next time – despite his talk of retirement
One man desperate to be part of it – other fighters, of course – is Matchroom chief Eddie Hearn, for whom a defeat to Joshua would be disastrous.
After Joshua signed a long-term, high-money exclusive deal with DAZN, it was then announced that the upcoming match will be shown on Sky Sports Box Office.
Joshua’s stock will rise again if he beats Usyk, but it would arguably plummet with defeat – as would the value of that DAZN deal.
And with Usyk heading for his final appearance as a Matchroom fighter, with a post-match break from boxing also on the cards, another loss would be devastating for both the British fighter and promoter.
For Usyk, however, the victory would be a symbolic and historic triumph during a horrific period for his country. And for Joshua, the win would revive his career and set up one of the greatest fights of all time. For both, defeat leaves you wondering what the next step is.
While Usyk takes the fight as the favorite, the fight – which will certainly be drastically different from the first – could really go either way. So is the direction the heavyweight division is moving, with not only Joshua’s legacy at stake, but the chance to finally seal the biggest fight in British history.