Johnny Nelson previews the Anthony Joshua – Oleksandr Usyk fight

JOHNNY NELSON: If Anthony Joshua can’t KO Oleksandr Usyk inside seven rounds, his stamina will be his downfall and he’ll have it all to do against a patriotic Ukrainian determined to send a message to Vladimir Putin

  • Anthony Joshua needs to start strongly in his rematch against Oleksandr Usyk
  • AJ’s strengths come from his strength and power, while Usyk is intelligent 
  • The Ukrainian is not a natural heavyweight, but does Joshua have the stamina? 
  • It should be more explosive than their first meeting – and could go either way

With Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk set for a hotly-anticipated heavyweight rematch in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, both fighters will be keen to get on the winning end of proceedings for different reasons.

Ukrainian Usyk, the winner of their initial tussle in London in September 2021, is keen to send a message about his native land to Russia, after the turbulence of war between the two countries. 

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Joshua has changed set-up since last year’s defeat, and is coming into the weekend’s fight in Jeddah keen to get revenge on the 35-year-old. Here’s how the tactics, strengths, weaknesses, physicality and motivation of the two fighters match up.   

Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua are ready for their much-hyped rematch in Saudi Arabia

TACTICS

Joshua needs to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Usyk from the start. That’s easier said than done against such an elusive opponent but it’s about being a calculating bully effectively. 

He needs to try a right-hand lead, follow with a left then push Usyk in the chest, use the forearms, elbows. Push it to the point of being warned by the referee, invading the natural space and not giving Usyk a chance to settle. Sometimes Joshua can rely too much on his gameplan and you can see him formulating what should come next, he needs to rely more on his instinct, let punches go, be aggressive and rough up Usyk in old school ways. 

I see it as a six round contest as once it goes beyond there, Usyk takes the advantage. He is an unorthodox southpaw fighter, he will try to bamboozle Joshua, mislead him in how he sets his feet then feint. He doesn’t need to change much from the first fight just do things quicker and set the pace that tires out Joshua.

Tale of the tape: Usyk vs Joshua

Oleksandr Usyk 

Age: 35

Height: 6ft 3ins

Reach: 78ins

Weight: 221.5lbs

Record: 19-0-0

Anthony Joshua 

Age: 32

Height: 6ft 6ins

Reach: 82ins

Weight: 244.5lbs

Record: 24-2-0

STRENGTHS

Joshua has natural strength and power. He has 22 knockouts which testify to the fact he can punch, he has the height, the reach, the jab and he has the weight. He is also good at taking on instructions. The progress he has shown since he was an 18-year-old proves he is a good listener and he has a strong self-belief.

Usyk has the greater ring craft, the greater experience from his days as an amateur and through different divisions to where he is now. He is an intelligent fighter; he is quick and he doesn’t panic. He also has this unnerving, poker face. As Tony Bellew said you don’t even know if you’ve hurt him. The first emotion we saw from him in the last Joshua fight was when he cried at the end.

Brit Joshua may not have the stamina to take on Usyk over 12 rounds in this weekend’s bout

WEAKNESS

Joshua’s downfall is his stamina. Sure, he has boxed 12 rounds but he loses too much towards the last quarter of the fight.

His muscle size does play against him sometimes as you see him tighten up with the lactic acid and that’s always a danger at this weight. Also he is still learning on the job, he has less experience than others including Usyk.

Usyk is not a natural heavyweight. If you are going to fight him in this division now is the time to do it. He hasn’t grown into it yet like with Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer when they moved up, he needs a bit more time to be a fully-fledged heavy.

Ukrainian Usyk is not a natural heavyweight, and that might be a weakness in Saturday’s bout 

PHYSICALITY

Usyk has looked heavier in the build-up but I don’t expect him to be too much different. That would just negate the things he is good at. He is a mobile, southpaw. He’s not awkward, he’s unorthodox in terms of the feints he makes, his footwork , his head movement. 

It’s all about deception and sleight of hand hence his little magic tricks outside the ring. It’s all aimed at distraction making you think he is up to something. Joshua needs to just smash through it, terrorise the guy. Abandon all this touchy, feely leather glove on glove, feeling out the distance. He needs to use his extra size as if in a cagefight, fight like the bigger guy and manhandle Usyk.

Usyk wants to send a message to Russia about Ukraine, whilst AJ fights for pride, not money 

MOTIVATION

Oleksandr Usyk wants to send a message to Vladimir Putin that the world heavyweight champion belongs to Ukraine. He is a warrior who has come back from the frontline of a war to put his country back in the headlines for sporting greatness. Showing a resilience against the odds. The symbolism is all there, that’s very tough for Anthony Joshua to compete with.

Usyk is incredibly patriotic. Proud of his country, his history. You only have to look at how he turned up in national dress, how he talks. When I walked into his dressing room at Tottenham, it was adorned with Ukraine flags, you could not disturb him, he was meditating, humming the Ukraine national anthem. Most dressing rooms at that stage are bristling with testosterone and a violent man wanting to smash the place up. He’s not in this for money and they are often the most dangerous of fighters.

For Joshua it’s about pride, revenge and legacy. He has enough money, for him it is about success. I always believed the hardest part of being a world champion is staying world champion. It’s easier to be the hungry one chasing someone down, that’s where Joshua finds himself.

It should be more explosive than their initial match-up, and the result could go either way 

VERDICT

It’s going to be a much more explosive fight than the first I’m sure. If Joshua executes his plan, uses his size and manages to physically dominate Usyk, I see him winning inside six or seven rounds. If he doesn’t get the job done in that time then I see Usyk coming back into it, applying the pressure to wear Joshua down and taking the fight.




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