Can Anthony Joshua compete with the supreme boxing skills of Oleksandr Usyk, who has mesmerised all 18 of his professional opponents? The Panel deliver their verdict…
The Ukrainian star challenges Joshua for the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office.
Usyk has already conquered the cruiserweight division, becoming an undisputed champion, but what problems will his perfect technique pose to Joshua?
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Wladimir Klitschko was an extremely good technical fighter, an all-round boxer, and very clever but obviously at the tail end of his career. Oleksandr Usyk is in his prime, he’s a southpaw and AJ got stopped by a southpaw, Mihai Nistor, in the amateurs. Joshua has only ever fought one southpaw as a professional, and only completed one round against Charles Martin.
Yes, Usyk is extremely skilful, with an incredible amateur record. He’s unbeaten in 18 professional bouts and potentially a nightmare to solve. Not just his in the ring mobility and speed and skill which he brings, but also his mind games, his mindset. He’s an extremely strong individual.
I think it is the hardest fight of Anthony Joshua’s life. Maybe not mentally, because he had to go back in with Andy Ruiz Jr, who had beaten him, but certainly it’s a trickier problem than possibly he’s ever had to encounter yet.
I would say that Usyk has the best ring IQ out of all the fighters that AJ has faced. Joshua has got to find a way to put the pressure on Usyk, but not in a reckless manner.
It’s got to be intelligent pressure and he’s got to make Usyk uncomfortable in there, which Chisora did. But AJ definitely has better technical ability than Chisora and he can trouble Usyk with his jab.
Usyk stays on the outside, constantly touching you with his jab, and saps the energy of opponents with his physical presence.
Usyk is very good at maintaining the distance where he can take a little half step back and then get back into range quickly. By his presence, by his feints, by touching you with his lead southpaw jab, he can make you lead off with shots, then he is able to counter punch.
Usyk stays on the outside, constantly touching you with his jab, and saps the energy of opponents with his physical presence. You always feel under threat – and that’s what he’s good at.
This is definitely the most technically challenging fight for Joshua, because Usyk is so technically proficient in every aspect of boxing. They compare Usyk with Vasiliy Lomachenko, who has a similarly high skill set.
Usyk and Joshua are both Olympic gold medallists, but Usyk went on to become undisputed cruiserweight champion, in a division which was red-hot at the time.
AJ must use his size and strength, because boxing is a weight-governed sport for a reason, and Usyk is not a natural heavyweight. If he goes into a technical battle with Usyk – and tries to be smart and use his jab, and keep out of harm’s way to nick a points decision, then that’s probably the only way he’ll lose.
Anthony Joshua has great wins against Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin, who are both very technically good, but they might not have been at their peak. Usyk, right now, might be coming into his prime. He’s had two fights at heavyweight, but he’s spent some substantial time at heavyweight now, and could be a real threat to Joshua.
Usyk is a southpaw which is a challenge, but he’s really good on his feet to navigate in and out of range. He’s quick enough to pose problems at heavyweight and creates angles that can trouble any of the big guys in that division, because they are never that mobile.
Usyk can also set a decent pace and he’s patient with his work as well. He’s not looking to take you out in the first round, he’s not trying to load up on shots. Usyk knows that it will take a few rounds to impose himself, wear his opponent down, then he looks to hurt you with punches in bunches.
Oleksandr Usyk is the best fighter we may have seen in the ring with AJ to date. Success-wise – amateur and professional – style-wise, he is the best fighter that AJ will get in the ring with.
Not everyone will realise that. People might think, ‘AJ is getting in the ring with a cruiserweight,’ but he is the best, in my opinion. He’s just a winner all the way through.
Usyk pressures fighters well, without doing a great deal. He makes fighters think he is going to put them under pressure, makes them throw shots they don’t want to throw, and makes them work at a pace they don’t want to work at. That’s what he’s very good at and that’s what he did to Tony Bellew.
Remember, I saw this guy sparring with Wladimir Klitschko when he was preparing for Tyson Fury – and he was giving Klitschko nightmares.
Usyk is technically the best fighter that Joshua has come across. Obviously, you can say, ‘What about Wladimir Klitschko?’ But at that stage of Klitschko’s career, he was a little bit inactive and a little bit older.
Usyk style-wise has to be the ultimate nightmare for the history of AJ’s style. But so far as a heavyweight, Usyk has been far more predictable and a lot easier to get to, than what he was as a cruiserweight.
He’s gone back to working with Vasiliy Lomachenko’s father, so I believe he’s going to come in a little bit more sleeker. Usyk is going to go back to speed, go back to angles and the non-punching activity that fries people’s brains and makes them commit mistakes. Makes them work harder than they want and makes them throw when they don’t want to throw.
AJ has got to use his size, but he’s got to use it in an intelligent way. A good snappy, sharp jab to keep him off balance, along with body shots. He can’t just go in there like a caveman, like Marco Huck did, because you’re playing into Usyk’s hands by being predictable. AJ has got to be clever, set traps himself, because Usyk will have to come into range.
Watch Joshua v Usk on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office, from 6pm. Book it via your Sky remote or book it online here. Non-Sky TV subscribers can book and watch it here.