On Saturday night in the Jeddah Superdome, we’re set to witness one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing as IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk defends his titles against former champ Anthony Joshua.
The vacant Ring title will also be up for grabs in Saudi Arabia, but this fight represents more than the opportunity to be king of the heavyweight division following Tyson Fury’s ‘retirement’. It may well go down as a legacy-defining bout for both fighters.
For ‘AJ’, this could either be the crowning moment of a career the British public have followed closely ever since he won super-heavyweight gold at the London 2012 Olympics – or, should he lose again, the confirmation for many that he may not be an era-transcending heavyweight great.
Whether you agree with the latter or not, it would be hard to argue that it wouldn’t be a massive disappointment for a fighter that has, at times, carried UK boxing on his back and is largely responsible for a resurgence in ‘big time boxing’ on these shores.
For Oleksandr Usyk, meanwhile, who has the weight of a nation on his shoulders as war currently rages in his home country, it would be the rubber-stamping of an all time, pound-for-pound hall of fame career.
So, to the question on everyone’s lips: Can Anthony Joshua do it? Let’s take a look.
Routes to Victory
In all the pre-fight talk of AJ needing to improve and having to come with a new approach, there’s one possibility that may well have been overlooked in all the noise – that Usyk may have improved as well.
The Ukrainian’s ability to adapt and overcome is second to none, and with another fight camp to settle further into the heavyweight division, becoming more natural at the weight and developing his power, the reality very well may be that Usyk will be even better than the last fight, which is quite frankly a frightening prospect for Joshua and his team.
The former undisputed cruiserweight champion has looked bigger in the build-up to the rematch, with some suggesting it may be the wrong move – but from where we’re standing, it’s a signal that he’s even more comfortable carrying the extra pounds while retaining his ability to push a relentless pace for 12 rounds.
So how does Joshua win? Well, put simply, he has to hurt him, and hurt him early. That isn’t something he was thinking about in the first fight, which his new trainer Robert Garcia has confirmed last month: “From what he told me, he was just thinking of going all 12 rounds.
“He never thought, ‘I got to win the fight. I just need to go 12 rounds.’ So that makes a big difference. Now, he’s thinking of winning and thinking of hurting somebody. That’s the most important thing.”
Why Joshua thought he could outbox Usyk is anyone’s guess, but there will at least be a change of tack this weekend in Saudi Arabia.
There have been calls from boxing fans to see the ‘old AJ’ – i.e the more risk taking, spiteful fighter we saw earlier in his career prior to being stopped by Andy Ruiz Jr. in New York in 2019.
Whether that fighter still exists remains to be seen, and it would certainly open him up to taking more shots from his opponent, like he did when he beat Wladimir Klitschko in that iconic fight at Wembley in 2017.
There’s no doubt Joshua has the power to hurt Usyk, but there are doubts as to whether he can set up such a punch against a world class operator like Usyk.
If he does come in taking risks, we’d look at our Boxing Social Boost of ‘Both Fighters To Be Knocked Down’ at 9/2 as an interesting bet.
But if he can’t get the champion out of there, it’s almost impossible to see him winning over 12 rounds, hence ‘Oleksandr Usyk to win by KO/TKO/DQ/Technical Decision’ at 15/8 being one of the bets we’re looking at here.
We can’t forget of course, Usyk had AJ wobbled in the last fight late on, and with him adding more size he may even get the job done inside the final bell so ‘Oleksandr Usyk Rounds 10-12’ at 10/1 is another that could tickle our fancy.
Overall, we find it hard to see a path to victory for the Brit other than an early finish amid a tank-emptying blitz. If you’re that sort of optimist and the heart rules the head, ‘Anthony Joshua Rounds 1-3’ at 25/1 could be worth a look.
Usyk v Joshua Betting Odds