Tuesday, August 23, 2022

One Perspective On The Usyk-Joshua Rematch

Since my journey covering Boxing and combat sports began in the mid-1990’s and even before that time, this observer has seen countless fights that have ended in disputed decisions. More often than not, especially in the era of social media, such decisions stir heated debate regardless of whether such debate has a basis or not. If there is one thing I have learned over and over again through the years it is that not everyone will agree with a perspective on how one sees a fight that goes the distance.

The highly anticipated rematch between undefeated two-division world champion Oleksandr Usyk, current holder of the unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight championship and former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua was one that had several questions. Could Joshua change his approach from the first fight where he was out boxed by a shorter, but extremely skilled opponent? Would he be more assertive as the naturally bigger fighter? Although the task that faced the champion in his first title defense was essentially attempting to repeat a near perfect performance when he defeated Joshua last September to win the championship, the rematch for Oleksandr Usyk took place amid the ongoing war in his native Ukraine. The circumstances of that war also played a factor in this rematch getting delayed from being scheduled as Usyk was on the front lines fighting with his countrymen in defense of Ukraine.

Although Usyk was eventually given permission by the Ukrainian government to resume his Boxing career and thus this rematch was finally able to take place, an obvious question going into the second fight with Joshua given the circumstances was how the ongoing conflict would effect Usyk. The rematch would take place at the Jeddah Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A location and region of the world that is still fairly new to hosting sporting events, but one that provided an atmosphere that most would associate with a Heavyweight championship fight with an enthusiastic crowd on hand.

In previewing this bout, I stated that Joshua would need to be more aggressive than he was in the first fight, but would need to do so tactically. For a good portion of the rematch, it seemed that he was doing exactly that by putting more pressure on Usyk as well as going to the body of the champion more consistently than was the case the first time they fought. While this change was beneficial for the challenger as I felt he was able to land the harder punches through much of the first half of the fight, one aspect that I pointed out that may have benefited Joshua more that remained absent in the rematch was he did not cut off the ring and thus was not able to nullify Usyk’s movement for a sustained period of time. Despite this, one adjustment that the challenger also made was that he was able to change levels as well as be more defensive as compared to the first fight.

The view of yours truly notwithstanding that Joshua seemed to land the harder punches throughout the first half of the fight, as was the case in the first encounter, this was a tactical Boxing match and that did favor the champion. The combat was however, close round by round and when it comes to close fights often it is moments throughout the round or towards the end of a round that can leave an impression as to who got the upper hand and won a round.

Much like he was able to do when he won the championship, Usyk displayed quick hands and effective counter punching throughout the fight. What made this a difficult fight to score round by round was that it was an extremely tactical fight where many of the rounds seemed to be defined by moments rather than a fighter necessarily being able to control a round from beginning to end. Despite the improvement from the first fight in terms of a focus on Usyk’s body, something that I felt gave an edge to Joshua in some very close rounds, his inability to cut off the ring from Usyk is in part what made this difficult to score in addition to the champion’s hand speed, counter punches, and ability to pot shot Joshua with jabs and left hands from the southpaw stance. Having said this, I do feel that Joshua was able to get the upper hand in the early rounds in part because Usyk did not seem to be settled into a rhythm early on.

A misconception some fans might have both because of a potential bias as well as a possible lack of understanding of how Boxing is scored is even though several rounds may be close, fights are scored round by round. It is not unusual for one scoring a fight to end up having one fighter a few rounds ahead of the other in terms of scoring even though the deficit may not reflect how close and competitive the fight and the rounds in one might be. This is precisely the scenario I found myself in as the fight progressed as I felt Joshua was able to do more based largely on his body attack and seeming to land the harder punches of the two when he did let his hands go as I had him up four rounds to two at the conclusion of six rounds of the scheduled twelve round world championship bout. A 4-2 margin may give an appearance of a lopsided fight, but in this case, it was a circumstance where I felt one fighter was able to edge rounds in order to win those rounds. Quite frankly, there did not come a point in this fight until the second half of the bout where I felt one fighter was dominant in a round over the other.

There were portions over the second half of the fight where what worked so well for Joshua over the first six rounds seemed to decline slightly. This is due to Joshua seeming to fall into a slight lull, which allowed the champion to make up some ground, in my view. In round nine however, Joshua had his best round of the fight when the effects of the body work, he had been doing throughout the fight appeared to have effected Usyk. It was during this round where Joshua showed aggressiveness and seemed to be on the verge of taking control of the fight.

As is often the case when I cover fights such as this in the era we live in where social media is prominent, I shared my thoughts on Twitter over the course of the fight as to how I was seeing things. It was after the ninth round where I made the comment that one could make an argument that in terms of points scoring, the ninth round could have been scored 10-8 in favor of Joshua based on how hurt Usyk was by the body punches and what seemed to be an overall dominant round by the former champion. Despite this, I did not scored any 10-8 rounds throughout this fight and my comment was merely an observation based on years of experience covering Boxing and scoring fights in an unofficial capacity having seen some judges score similar rounds 10-8 without a fighter being knocked down or point deductions for illegal blows/tactics.

Despite appearing clearly hurt at the end of the ninth round, the champion responded in the tenth round by producing a similar round as Joshua was able to do in round nine, landing several right hands and combinations that had Joshua stunned. At the conclusion of ten rounds, I had Joshua leading six rounds to four, but I made a point of it to point out to whomever was following my insight during the course of the fight that this was an extremely close fight and went as far as to say at the conclusion of the eleventh round, after I scored the tenth and eleventh rounds in favor of Usyk, that the fight was on the table heading into the last round of the bout. I felt Joshua just did enough over the final round to win the round, resulting in a final scorecard of 7-5 in rounds or 115-113 in points in favor of Joshua on my scorecard.

After a lifetime covering the sport and longer watching it from a far prior to my covering Boxing beginning in the mid-1990's, I have seen countless fights on every level of the sport that ended up close in terms of the official scoring. Despite my statement shortly after the twelfth round of my final score and my stating that “Interesting scorecards” were likely, it did not stop the venom of some across social media from being critical and even throwing derogatory language in my direction.

Now, it is important for me to point out to the reader that if you have spent any time covering combat sports, such criticism and language being thrown in your direction is something that does come with the territory regardless of whether such criticism is warranted or not. I did, however, point out my credentials to those who did take issue with how I saw things in pointing out that I have spent most of my life covering the sport and simply stating that this was my point of view based on what I saw.

The reason I did this was to demonstrate that my point of view was one based on experience having covered every level of Boxing including amateur, traditional professional and Bareknuckle professional bouts, and not someone who was a novice/casual viewer of the sport. While some may have thought that I went a bit overboard in doing this, the reason for this was due to the litany of comments that tend to be said towards yours truly after almost every fight regardless of whether or not the issue of scoring is a part of the discussion. Although I can go on and on about how a fan can at times say things without thinking before they say it, my observation that this was a close fight and that there would be “Interesting scores” proved to be accurate as two official judges, Glenn Feldman and Steve Gray each scored the fight seven rounds to five resulting in the same 115-113 as yours truly did, but were split in who had won the fight. The third judge meanwhile, Viktor Fesechko scored the fight eight rounds to four or 116-112 in favor of Usyk making him the winner via split decision.

It goes without saying that not everyone is going to see the same fight 100% of the time, particularly among those of us who cover the sport. There are times where official scores will differ, at times significantly, from what appears to be a close fight and there are times when what seems to be a clear wide score, will end up being closer on the official scorecards. Although those who understand the sport know that scoring is a subjective practice, it is important to illustrate the backgrounds of the three judges involved.

Glenn Feldman, who has been a judge for over thirty years, had Joshua winning the fight by a 7-5 margin. While some fans may laugh at that scorecard, including the Usyk-Joshua rematch, Feldman has judged 1,246 professional fights including many world title bouts around the world. Feldman’s two colleagues, Viktor Fesechko, a veteran of fourteen years in the sport as both a referee and a judge, has judged 460 professional bouts, keep in mind, his scorecard of the Usyk-Joshua rematch was slightly wider than judges Feldman and Gray, an 8-4 margin or 116-112 for Usyk. Finally, judge Steve Gray, a veteran of seventeen years in the sport as both a judge and referee, scored the fight seven rounds to five or 115-113 in points for Oleksandr Usyk. Much like his two counterparts, Gray has a deep resume as a judge having served in that capacity in 415 professional fights including the Usyk-Joshua rematch.

The illustration of the backgrounds of these judges should indicate one thing to any objective observer that can be summed up in one word. “EXPERIENCE.” What some expressed to me as they were critical of my score was, they felt that a scorecard of an 8-4 margin was more appropriate in their view. While those who shared that view with me are certainly entitled to their view, what some fail to understand is if a judge who arrives at an 8-4 scorecard at the end of a twelve round fight scores a single round differently, they would arrive at the same 7-5 margin as judges Feldman, Gray did as well as yours truly regardless of who you feel won the fight.

Ultimately, those who have their own view, have their view and those of us who cover the sport have our view. It goes without saying, that regardless of one's background or credentials that not everyone is going to share the same opinion as to who won a fight every time. Same as three judges who are charged with the responsibility of scoring fights, opinions will vary where all you can do is agree to disagree. Speaking only for myself, I felt Joshua did enough to win the fight, but I acknowledge that the fight was close, and I am certainly not surprised based on how the rematch was fought that it ended up in a split decision. I will also go further by saying that it does not surprise me that some felt Oleksandr Usyk won the fight. It was close, open to interpretation, and ultimately comes down to one’s perspective in how they saw the fight.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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