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Nick Peet: Joshua v Usyk – Joshua will need to produce the performance of his career to retain his straps

September 22, 2021January 7th, 2022

ANTHONY Joshua will need to produce the performance of his career on Saturday night in order to keep alive British fight fans’ aspirations of an era-defining heavyweight super-fight with Tyson Fury.

After a summer scarred by YouTube celebrity mismatches; shamefully ignored positive PED tests; waves of worthless alphabet belts and, worst of all, old aged pensioners returning to the ring, boxing picks itself up off the canvas with one of the most eagerly awaited fights of the modern era.

Britain’s unified heavyweight champion of the world defends his crown against the former undisputed cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday at a sold-out Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London.

There is an old adage in boxing, ‘A good big guy beats a good little guy’. But if the little guy happens to be great, then the big guy better produce something great too or all bets are off.

AJ is the big guy. He’s six-foot-six with an 82-inch reach and likely to step onto the scales on Friday around 235lb – lighter than he has for years.

The ‘little’ guy stands six-foot-three with a mere 78-inch reach and is expected to tip the scales at a career highest 220lb – still over a stone lighter than AJ.

 

 

In his rise to the top of the cruiserweight class, the 34-year-old Ukrainian with 13 knockouts in 18 straight wins hit the road like no champion has ever done before. He won his first world title against a Pole in Poland, defend it against two Americans in the US and then a German in Germany.

He added his second world title in Riga against a local Latvian, unified the belts against a Russian in Russia, then solidified his reign by stopping Tony Bellew in Manchester in 2018. Usyk’s campaign ranks alongside Evander Holyfield’s early career success as the finest cruiserweights the sport has ever seen.

Holyfield, of course, would move up to heavyweight himself, beat up the bigger guys, and establish his Hall of Fame legacy with a couple of stints as heavyweight champion of the world. Usyk looks destined to follow in those footsteps.

Usyk is faster than AJ, has better ring IQ, outstanding footwork and is a southpaw who knows how to push the limits of an opponent’s engine long before he even moves into third gear. A serious issue for a fighter like Joshua, whose gas tank has run dry in the past.

That’s why AJ appears fitter and leaner than ever coming into this fight. He has to hurt Usyk early, upset his rhythm for a change. Then work to the body and slow down the legs of the challenger and stop him from coming on strong in the second half of the fight.

 

 

Unlike AJ, who was dropped and stopped by Andy Ruiz, Usyk’s chin has never been questioned. Even in his two fights at heavyweight – in which flat performances raised questions about his ability to compete in this weight class – he never looked hurt.

He also showed boxing fans and potential rivals exactly what he wanted in those fights, holding something back to appear to show weakness where there likely is none.

Of course, big AJ could land clean in the first half of the fight and pounce, he’s a proven finisher and this is heavyweight boxing after all. But far more likely is a bright and energetic start from the champion before Usyk goes through the gears after the midway point.

The second half of the fight will be all about how quickly AJ can push through the fatigue wall and keep jabbing and moving to keep Usyk off him. AJ is never going to lose a points decision in London, something Usyk will be all too aware of, so the closing championship rounds could be quite special.

Two London 2012 Olympic gold medallists, both multiple belt world champions, live from London and broadcast around the world. This is what boxing can look like when it takes itself seriously.

TIP: AJ on points or Usyk TKO 7-9 – 11/4 or 20/1

 

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