It is late in a London pub this Saturday night. The sound is deafening. As a non boxing enthusiast walks by, they wonder why the noise is louder than usual…….
At that same exact moment, 1,600 miles away in an undisclosed oblast, the boisterous output of countless Ukrainian soldiers shakes the very soil they are protecting……….
The rematch between Oleksandr Usyk 19-0 (13), and Anthony Joshua, 24-2 (22) this Saturday night in Saudi Arabia will provide the conclusion to the opening herein.
The rematch is the tale of two stories, or alternate endings, as you will. The curtain rises……
Act 1-First Ending…..USYK, The Champion…..
Usyk is a modern day Picaso, painting on the canvas of the squared circle fight after fight. In his first fight with Joshua, Usyk performed a masterclass taking the title from the former champion.
A former top cruiserweight champion, now wreaking havoc in the heavies, he is on a similar career path reminiscent of a legend from Atlanta.
Back in February, this rematch was the last thing on the champion’s mind as his beloved homeland of Ukraine was senselessly invaded. The overused idiom, “fighting for something larger than yourself” can unapologetically be inserted here as Usyk left boxing to fight for his country. At the urgence of his fellow soldiers, he left to pursue the rematch with Joshua.
As long as Usyk doesn’t get careless, which he has never shown to be, this fight will be one-sided. Usyk will be even more dominant this time around. He knows the power Joshua possesses, and he has the edge of having bested him the first time around. In fact, Usyk was close to putting Joshua in serious trouble late in the first fight, last September.
What we know….Usyk possesses the blueprint to beat Joshua. Working from his southpaw stance, a stance that Joshua admittedly admires and credits for giving him difficulty, Usyk circles, works in and out, and lands power when the opportunity presents itself. That said, it is the active jab of Usyk that is the core of the blueprint.
In the first fight, it was Usyk’s jab that caused Joshua to reset, over and over. The southpaw’s jab confused Joshua, and he fought cautiously, not knowing when the left power shot would come. In fact, this caused Joshua to correctly keep his right glove sealed tightly to his face, keeping himself out of harm’s way. This is textbook; however, Joshua was so cautious, he negated his own advantage, the power of his right hand. Joshua was trapped in the tangled web that is the genius of the Ukrainian.
Usyk needs only to follow his game plan from last September, and improve upon it. Use his speed, which was a factor against the heavy muscled lumbering approach of Joshua, and mix in the sneaky power left like he did initially in Round 3 and then throughout the fight. The jarring effect of Usyk’s power left caused Joshua to rethink everything, and arguably had him doubting his own gameplan.
Joshua has been almost embarrassingly complementary regarding Usyk’s southpaw style. I’m unsure if he believes he can be successful. Usyk can use this to his advantage and possibly switch stances, confusing Joshua and providing an opportunity for a huge opening.
In the lead up to this rematch, Joshua’s energy is off, not in a physical sense, but in a mental one. His body language is off and he appears to visibly show signs that he has doubt he can actually win. Usyk’s job is half done, the other half is the easy part for a painter.
Act 2-Alternate Ending…..Joshua The Challenger…..
Anthony Joshua, are you all in? Have we already begun to see the decline? The oddity of the first fight with Andy Ruiz goes without saying. Even in the rematch, although one-sided, was not overly convincing in a stylistic sense, and more of a case of a lesser Ruiz, than an improved Joshua.
Flash-forward to the first fight with Usyk, and it is clear, something is amiss. Sure he KO’d Kubrat Pulev in between; however Pulev is a tailored made-flat footed opponent who was fighting on a 13 month layoff.
Combine all of this with the aforementioned vitality zap, and Saturday night may be the longest of his career yet, unless he focuses on the basics.
In the first fight, Joshua’s body attack was non-existent, his jab was sloppy and non committal, and his inability to fully commit to his power provided a recipe to relinquish his belts.
If Usyk had any vulnerability in the first fight, it was his inability to fight off his back foot. If you look close enough, you can see that Joshua’s angles and movement were giving Usyk a bit of confusion. When Joshua moved Usyk back even with a lazy jab, Usyk looked uncomfortable, and he had to reset, stopping all of his beautiful movement. The problem is, Joshua could not sustain it, and he allowed Usyk to dictate the terms. Further, Joshua did not cut off the ring, and allowed Usyk to control the space.
If Joshua is to be successful in the rematch, he needs to fight tall, and commit to the jab, which carries a four inch reach advantage. Use the stick as a weapon, not just as a range finder. Be a big heavy against a blown up cruiser. Back Usyk up, and use combinations to set up the advantage. Work the body, and impose his will.
That said, he must have success early and often. Heavily muscled fighters fatigue quickly. Evander Holyfield was the rare exception. Usyk appears bigger in the rematch than he was the first go; however, where Joshua’s size is more akin to a bodybuilder, Usyk’s size is more about endurance strength with speed.
If Joshua fights tall, works behind the jab, and stays disciplined he can keep the superior boxer at bay. This will force Usyk to fight off of his back foot and not allow him to impose his will like he did in the first fight.
Go back to the basics. Under the wise guidance of Robert Garcia this time around, Joshua may just be all in……
We may get a heavyweight version of Hagler v. Hearns at some point in this one, but only for a minute or so. I believe both bigs will try and make an early statement. Due to his speed, Usyk will get the better of it and will work under Joshua’s long reach, negating his power. Joshua will smartly understand that this tactic will not work, even though he is the bigger man. As such, each blueprint will have to be executed.
There is a lot to like about Joshua’s chances after rewatching the tape and seeing that it is only the most basic components of the sweet science that he needs to execute to have success. That said, the physical piece is only half. You must have a mindset that knows no defeat. Usyk has that, Joshua has not shown that he does.
Joshua will have more success and make things interesting; however, Usyk is just too good at this point in his career. He gets better with every fight and will be even better in the rematch. Joshua’s improved limited success will be his downfall. He will provide openings for the champion and will begin to take a beating. As the fight carries on past the middle rounds, and the heavily muscled Joshua begins to get arm weary, the speed of Usyk will become power and Joshua will find himself in trouble. His heart will say fight but his mindset will enter down that dark lonely land known as doubt.
Joshua will show a warrior’s heart, but the referee has a job to do. Usyk’s combination punching with bad intentions are too much.
Usyk TKO 8
As a loud patron leaves the London pub, the non boxing enthusiast inquires of the uproar….the patron says..”Joshua was knocked out”.
At that same exact moment, 1,600 miles away in an undisclosed oblast, the Ukrainian soldiers celebrate with pride as one of their own defends the world heavyweight championship…AND STILL!!!…….for these soldiers, and all of the Ukraine, all is right, if only for a moment…..