Jeddah’s Superdome Arena will play host to a huge rematch between Oleksandr Usyk (19-0-0, 13KOs) and former two-time world champion Anthony Joshua (24-2-0, 22KOs) on Saturday evening as the Brit looks to reclaim the belts he surrendered in his defeat to the Ukrainian eleven months ago.
Usyk comprehensively outboxed the Brit that night in London at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium against a Joshua who, despite spurts of success across the twelve rounds, looked to have ran out of ideas by the end of the contest. The fight was only the second defeat of the Brit’s career to date but, unlike his loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. three years ago, ‘AJ’ enters the rematch a sizeable underdog against a man many consider to be the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Usyk has also had another eleven months to fully grow into the weight, although much of that time has been heavily disrupted due to the tragedies unfolding in his country Ukraine at the hands of the Putin regime. The corner team of Joshua was subject to much speculation, with Robert Garcia eventually brought in alongside a familiar face in Angel Fernandez as long-time trainer Rob McCracken made way following the defeat in London.
Even the brutality of war will spur the Ukrainian heading into his second run-in with Joshua, with Usyk determined to put on a show for everyone watching back home at a time when his people need it most. It was on the advice and feedback of his fellow countrymen, soldiers and the Klitschko brothers that informed his decision to take the rematch and to use the platform that comes with it to shine a light on the travesties that have continued to engulf his country for the last six months and beyond.
Joshua meanwhile heads into Saturday not only with the unified heavyweight championship of the world on the line, but also his dreams of becoming the undisputed man atop of the sport’s premier division. Some have senselessly suggested that another defeat for AJ means his time at the top will be done, a ludicrous statement given the large number of big fights out there for the London 2012 gold medalist regardless of the result this weekend, but one cannot help but wonder what back-to-back losses might do to the psyche of the two-time heavyweight ruler. Questions have been asked about how much trust Joshua holds in his chin since the seventh-round defeat to Ruiz Jr. in New York three years ago, doubts which were elevated further following the defeat to Usyk last year where the then champion failed to step-up the pace in the latter stages in an attempt to sway the momentum of the fight.
One thing that is for certain is that any lack of trust in Joshua’s ability to take a punch have to be dispelled in Jeddah if he is to emerge victorious, with an aggressive, ruthless but at the same time measured approach surely required if he is to put an early dent in the Ukrainian on Saturday night. Usyk is a fighter who, if allowed to settle into a rhythm, can run away with a fight in a heartbeat and leave his opponents scratching their heads at how they’ve found themselves in a position where a knockout is required after the midway point if they are to get their hand raised. The confidence of the Ukrainian was evident for all to see in September of last year, while the opposite could have been said of Joshua, who looked to be doubting every shot he threw, such was the intensity and frightening accuracy of the man facing him, a man who belongs to an exclusive club of boxing’s elite. Usyk started and finished fast in London, quickly halting any momentum the Brit looked to be building in the middle portion of the contest when he picked up a couple of rounds, only for the Ukrainian to runout in the next session a clear winner. Such an occurrence had to only exacerbate the seeds of doubt planted in the mind of AJ, who from then on never really threatened to turn the tie around.
One major point of discussion throughout fight week has been the respective weights of the two fighters, with Usyk rumoured to have added an extra 15kg since the first contest. Such rumours were quashed at Friday’s weigh-in however with the scales revealing both men to practically be the same weight as last time out. Usyk came in at 221.5 lbs, only one-and-a-half pounds heavier than he weighed-in at eleven months ago, while Joshua stood on the scales at 244.5 lbs, which is 4.5lbs heavier than the first fight.
The consensus seems to be that the fight will go one of two ways; Joshua early or Usyk late. A fast start is crucial for the Brit if he is to slow down the pound-for-pound star, but Usyk showed in the first fight a calmness and ability to ride a storm, and if Joshua does pounce and look to get him out of there early it wouldn’t be a shock to see Usyk step it up and finish proceedings himself against a man who has hit a wall and gassed in a number of showings in his career so far.
Regardless of what happens, no matter what the result is, it is important to remember the huge role Anthony Joshua has played in moving the sport forward on British shores in the last decade, starting with his Olympic triumph in 2012 before going on to secure multiple world titles which he has defended on several occasions, selling out stadiums in the process. Boxing would not be where it is now without Joshua, and we should remain eternally grateful for what he has given us.
Matchroom Boxing promote and the card will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Box Office at a price-point of £26.95, with the main broadcast set to begin at 6:00pm UK time.