In September of last year, undefeated former Undisputed Cruiserweight world champion turned top Heavyweight contender Oleksandr Usyk entered the ring to challenge two-time unified Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua for his IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO crown. Before a crowd of 66,267 spectators at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England, Usyk masterfully outboxed the heavy favorite Joshua over twelve rounds to win the unified world championship and in the process score what was considered by many to be a major upset.
The basis of that obviously stems from the fact that Usyk became one of a handful of fighters to have successfully moved up from the Cruiserweight division to win a portion of the World Heavyweight championship. It also should not be ignored that he did so against a fighter in Joshua that had only been the distance twice in his career prior to that fight having scored knockouts in twenty-two of his twenty-four career wins.
As masterful as that performance was last September, it was not surprising to see Joshua invoke his rematch clause as most fighters who hold world championships are given. Of course, there has been one major obstacle to this rematch taking place. This observer is referring to the ongoing circumstances of war in Usyk’s home country of Ukraine, which did understandably postpone the scheduling of the rematch as Usyk was on the front lines with his countrymen in defending their country. With Usyk being granted permission by the Ukrainian government to resume his career, the long-awaited rematch with Joshua will take place on Saturday, August 20th at the Jeddah Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The fight, which can be seen in the United States and Canada as well as 190 other countries on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN and Sky Sports Box Office Pay-Per-View in the United Kingdom and Ireland, obviously has much intrigue perhaps more so than the first meeting between the two fighters. A reason for this is obviously in part curiosity of a world champion making their first title defense, but also because of Anthony Joshua’s status as a former two-time World Heavyweight champion, he now has an opportunity to make history if he should win by becoming part of a select group of fighters to have won a version of the World Heavyweight championship on three separate occasions. Much of the intrigue and questions that surround most rematches center on what could the fighter who was defeated, assuming there was a winner in the original encounter, do differently that might create a different outcome the second time around.
In their first fight, despite being the shorter man, it was Usyk who established the tempo of the fight and began the bout aggressively. This along with a very technical style from the southpaw stance with an emphasis on movement, angles, and using faints lulled Joshua into a tactical Boxing match where he never really seemed to be able to get into a rhythm. A major component of Usyk’s success was his ability to land straight left hands from the southpaw stance which Joshua seemed to have trouble being able to time. This along with Usyk’s hand speed gave him the edge and was able to win the fight for him.
The task that faces Joshua now as the challenger is to try to change his strategy from the first fight. An obvious adjustment is he needs to be more aggressive, but do so tactically. This observer believes that Joshua’s main tactical error in the first encounter was that he tried to box with a master boxer and that decision played right into Usyk’s strategy. One thing that Joshua has that is a theoretical advantage is he has punching power. Although Oleksandr Usyk has yet to really show he can stop Heavyweights, he did stun Joshua periodically in the first encounter. Despite Joshua’s theoretical advantage, he needs to be aware of Usyk’s hand speed and ability to counter punch, which led to him being stunned throughout that fight, as he approaches this rematch.
While Joshua did have success in landing his right hand throughout the first fight, which is part of the approach in how to fight a southpaw, there were a few aspects that were missing in his approach that I felt worked against him. The first aspect was the lack of a consistent jab that if nothing else could have been used as a way to close the distance between himself and Usyk. In addition to this, Joshua did not cut off the ring from Usyk and was content to stand at distance where Usyk was allowed to dictate the combat.
Some may wonder how Joshua can change his approach this time around. He must find a way to get his jab working early and remain consistent with that jab throughout this rematch. Joshua must also find a way to limit the champion’s movement. There are two ways to do this, which are certainly easier said than done. The first would be to apply smart pressure and try to cut off the ring from Usyk. A way to limit Usyk’s upper body movement in addition to narrowing the ring for the champion would be for the challenger to implement a consistent attack to Usyk’s body.
While it cannot be discounted that Anthony Joshua has the type of punching power that can both turn a fight as well as end one with one punch, he did not really focus his offense on Usyk’s body, which over the course of a twelve round fight would have limited his movement over time and may have led to opportunities later in the fight for Joshua. Simply put, if Joshua wants to be successful in this rematch, he needs to force Usyk into a fight, but must be smart in doing so as he has been caught before as was the case in June 2019 when his first reign as Heavyweight world champion ended when he was stopped by Andy Ruiz.
Joshua was able to show in the rematch later that year, coincidentally also in Saudi Arabia, that he was able to make the tactical adjustments necessary to regain his title. The difference between his second fight against Ruiz and this one against Usyk was Joshua was able to implement a strategy in his rematch with Ruiz with an emphasis on Boxing as opposed to looking to land power punches with the intention of scoring a knockout. This time, he needs to find a way to impose his will and power on Usyk, but must do so without getting caught as he was in the first fight against Ruiz when he knocked Ruiz down and rushed in recklessly for a stoppage, resulting in him being knocked down in a fight where he was ultimately stopped in the middle rounds. It will be interesting to see what Joshua’s new trainer Robert Garcia is able to bring into this fight in terms of tactics that may lead to a Joshua victory and whether or not he has been able to teach the former champion how to approach a hurt opponent tactically without being reckless should the opportunity arise in this fight where Joshua may be able to score a knockdown of Usyk.
The champion meanwhile is tasked with trying to duplicate what was a near perfect performance in the first fight. There are many who are picking Usyk to retain his title in the rematch not only based on his overall skillset, but also based on his performance in the first fight. It should not be overlooked however, that this rematch for Usyk does take place amid the ongoing circumstances in his native Ukraine and it would be naïve to think that those circumstances have not had some effect on his preparation for this fight. Boxers and other combat sports athletes are after all human like the rest of us and given the horrible circumstances that the people of Ukraine are going through as well as Usyk’s involvement in fighting with his countrymen before being given permission to prepare for this fight, it has to have had some impact on his focus.
A illustration however, of the champion’s priorities can be demonstrated by the fact that he has made sure that the people of Ukraine will be able to view this rematch free of charge via YouTube in the country. An example of not only good will, but also one that all in the sport should take notice of and follow as there are more important things than profit, which Usyk as the defending champion certainly could have enjoyed via a cut in revenue of the respective broadcast rights in his home country as well as elsewhere.
In terms of his strategy for this fight, Usyk must use his angles and be an elusive target for Joshua. The champion became the champion by out Boxing and out thinking his opponent in the first fight. Usyk must try to repeat the same approach because it has been established that Joshua’s best chance is not by trying to box with him. If a scenario were to emerge where he is able to stun Joshua as was the case in the first fight, Usyk must remember that he is not the naturally bigger fighter and must stick to the blueprint that led to his success in the first encounter.
This rematch has taken an even greater importance in terms of what happens in the Heavyweight division as the division as a whole may be headed toward a period of transition following the retirement, un-retirement, and re-retirement of undefeated two-time Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury. Fury, who still technically holds the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) version of the World Heavyweight championship was also regarded as world champion by the prestigious Ring Magazine. The publication has announced that they will recognize the winner of the Usyk-Joshua rematch as Heavyweight champion.
While it remains to be seen what will happen with regard to the WBC’s version of the World Heavyweight championship, the winner of this fight will almost certainly be in the driver’s seat in regard to any potential unification that would lead to an Undisputed Heavyweight champion of the world being crowned, assuming of course that Tyson Fury’s recent announcements regarding his status prove to be legitimate and he is in fact retired. We will see what happens when Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua meet for the second time in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Usyk vs. Joshua II takes place on Saturday, August 20th at the Jeddah Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The fight can be seen globally in 190 countries including the United States and Canada on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning at 1PM ET/10AM PT (U.S. Time). For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, Smart TVs, availability around the world, local start times in your area, and to subscribe please visit: www.DAZN.com.
In Ukraine, please visit: www.YouTube.com for more information.
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