How do you solve a problem like Oleksandr Usyk’s? 19 professional opponents have tried it, none have succeeded.
Those who have succumbed to the Ukrainian master’s technical wizardry include not only Anthony Joshua, Dereck Chisora and Michael Hunter, but the best cruiserweights on the planet, Tony Bellew, Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis among them.
Even as an amateur boxer he was exceptional, winning world championships and Olympic gold medals.
Until now, no professional boxer has managed to overcome the particular set of challenges that Usyk presents. But Anthony Joshua tries again in a high-stakes rematch tonight at Sky Sports box office.
The win will restore his place atop the heavyweight division, while a second straight loss would be a very damaging blow.
So what must Anthony Joshua do to break the aura of invincibility that Usyk has woven around him?
1. Start at the feet
It’s only natural that the eye of the beholder should be drawn to the punches that Anthony Joshua tends to land so hard. But watch your feet. Footwork will be where this fight will be won and lost. That’s where Usyk has been so effective, particularly as a southpaw, leading with his right hand instead of his left.
Delicious Orie, the new Commonwealth super heavyweight gold medalist, who faced Joshua, explains: “It’s that extra step. You always have to think about where your feet are in boxing, but you don’t really think about it against a style that you are used to. For example, almost everyone is Orthodox.
“But with a southpaw you have to think about where your feet are positioned because where your feet are positioned plays a big role if you connect to hit the target.
“When you have that extra step and that extra thing to think about, it slows you down a little bit, makes you a little less receptive to what’s coming or what you need to do.
“When I boxed a guy from Uzbekistan, southpaw, similar style to Usyk, it was the feet. Anytime my front foot was inside his front foot, I was more likely to be hit. Whereas every time my front foot I was out of it, I could catch it and I was catching it with my right hands and my jabs.”
However, that can be worked on in sparring. Joshua has had a long camp for this fight and plenty of southpaw sparring partners. Being more grounded in boxing against that stance will be crucial.
2. Make the jab a weapon
There are different hits. The front hand can be used as a rangefinder, a spacing tool, a feint, a way to set up other shots, and more. But it can also be a weapon in itself, especially when thrown hard while moving forward.
“With the jab, they need to have a lot more authority behind them, let him know he’s with a heavyweight,” Orie said. “There’s something extra to think about and that stops them from doing what they want to do. That’s how you get the upper hand.”
“There were streaks in that fight where Usyk was on his front foot and Joshua was on his back foot, so for me that’s the biggest thing that I feel needs to change. For me that comes from the mindset, if AJ gets in there with this I’m the heavyweight, I’m the big man, I’m the strong man thing.”
Orie knows firsthand from the fights that Joshua has a good jab. “The first thing that struck me was how fast his jab was. Look at him, he’s a big guy,” he said. “I would have expected to see his jab come a little more. That’s what surprised me, how fast he would throw his jabs, there were times when I didn’t even see them and he would throw them.
“That was the biggest surprise for me with AJ.”
3. Hit him in the chest
It’s not a shot on goal, so it may seem like a waste of time, but the ploy may pay off as Joshua looks to hamper Usyk’s work.
Former world title challenger Matthew Macklin explains: “The key for me for Anthony Joshua is to keep it simple. We know when they come up, the shots, the drills, the left hooks to the body, to the head, that kind of thing in inside that everything will flow.
“Getting there is the key. As he gets closer to Usyk, the lead hands will cancel each other out a little bit. I would just double down on that jab and dig the right hand into his chest.
“Usyk, who likes to lie down and pull and do all this, he won’t be able to move his chest. If he pushes it against his chest, he pushes, [Usyk] he will lose his balance, fall backwards and then AJ can get close to him again. Now he’s putting him under pressure, now he’s bossing him around.”
4. Method for the clinch
It sounds contradictory to say that the clinch can be a tool in a boxer’s offensive arsenal. Boxers often hold on in a clinch to get a break, either from exhaustion or punishment. But especially for a tall fighter, clinching, bracing and leaning over an opponent’s neck and shoulders can drain them of energy over the course of a 12-round fight.
It was something Joshua didn’t do effectively in the first fight, but Usyk should be on top of it for the rematch.
Dave Coldwell, who trained Bellew for Usyk, noted: “Look at how Lennox Lewis shut down Mike Tyson early on. It doesn’t matter how old Tyson is, early on he’s very dangerous. So all Lennox did to start with was turn him off. cancel it.” and tire him leaning, leaning, leaning. He removes her legs. He takes away her strength. If you’re doing that with someone who relies on footwork, you’re giving yourself all the opportunity in the world. for that section.
“When I saw the [first] fight, the most shocking thing to me was after a few rounds in the clinch, it seemed like it was AJ who was holding on. He was the one who just wanted to unplug and rest,” Coldwell added.
“That’s basically trying to rest mentally. Because the mental side gets tired first, then your body started to get tired. Because you’re fit, because you’re doing all this training, you’re not out of shape, but once your mind starts to get tired, your mind starts thinking you’re tired, then your body reacts.
5. Be a polite bully
Lawrence Okolie is the current WBO Cruiserweight Champion. He warns against discounting Joshua’s physical advantages.
“I think really using the fact that he’s a strong, talented heavyweight, who works the body from the first round relentlessly and mixes it up more. Obviously, he boxes in space, but he doesn’t give any unanswered punches. So every time Usyk throws, throw one to the body, throw one to his head. Just show him he’s in for a tough, tough fight. Hopefully the size and power will take him down,” Okolie said.
“I think it’s more intentional. It doesn’t matter that AJ is a good fighter, so watching the first fight was competitive. It wasn’t like it was a one-sided beatdown or anything, it was a competitive fight and I think it fits with more intention behind it. The hits [will work].”
It’s an approach former cruiserweight champion Johnny Nelson also endorses.
“Usually a bully uses his size, uses his strength, uses what comes naturally to him,” Nelson said. “In doing that fighting Usyk, he doesn’t have to second-guess his shots, he has to let the shots go. Because that split second when he thinks about the shot, Usyk will pop it.”
“AJ has to punch and push, lean, train him that way. That way he’s making Usyk very uncomfortable. Make him work at a pace that he’s not used to. What he’s going to do is try to get space so he can.” . he can control the pace. If you look at AJ’s physique, he’s slim, streamlined. He is there for speed. He is there for the power. It’s about the mentality, he has to go in and intimidate and train him that way.”
Can do it?
This handy five-point plan is easier to write than to do. But while Usyk comes in as the favourite, Joshua has a lot he can change after the painful experience of his first meeting.
“Usyk has won Olympic gold, undisputed cruiserweight and beat AJ for what he does all the time and I don’t see him being able to change it or wanting to change it,” Okolie notes.
“AJ has shown aggression, boxing from behind, a lot of different styles when he needs to, so I think he has a chance to adapt more.”
Live Usyk v Joshua 2: preparation
Saturday, August 20, 6:00 p.m.
Delicious Orie also points out that Joshua is a special fighter.
“Anthony Joshua started boxing at 18 and became an Olympic champion. [just before he was] 23. Who does that? He’s at the top of his game and he’s very, very good. Usyk is another great fighter,” Orie said.
“No matter what happens, AJ should always be a top-tier fighter because he deserves it with what he’s already accomplished so far.”
Regardless of how it plays out, Usyk-Joshua 2 is likely to be a special fight as well.
Anthony Joshua’s big heavyweight rematch against Oleksandr Usyk is on Saturday, August 20, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Pre-order Usyk vs Joshua 2 now!