‘Spiky’ and a ‘rascal’ – Oleksandr Usyk’s goofy personality, from dressing like the Joker to gym dancing, hides a bulletproof mentality and steely determination that Anthony Joshua must break


Oleksandr Usyk acts like a showman: a goofy, wild-eyed jester as likely to be seen dancing around his gym in his boxers as he is a rival in the boxing ring.

But you don’t become an Olympic gold medalist, an undisputed heavyweight champion, then a heavyweight champion and arguably the No. 1 in pound-for-pound boxing — without some serious inner steel.

Usky’s inner steel has taken him from amateur ranks to heavyweight and now heavyweight champion
Getty

Every once in a while, Usyk – who faces Anthony Joshua in a tantalizing rematch for the world title on Saturday – lets his mask slip off to reveal his fearsome training and thirst for competition.

In 2020, Usyk had a surprisingly tough night against Derek Chisora ​​in his second heavyweight fight. It was a fight the Ukrainian clearly won by decision, but one where he was mauled and intimidated in the early rounds by a fighter who already had nine losses under his belt – and was stopped by Tyson Fury, Dillian Whyte and David. Hague.

“Three out of 10,” was Usyk’s bruised verdict on his performance in an uncharacteristically pungent post-fight interview. When asked if his average display left more questions than answers about whether he could be an effective heavyweight, Usyk said via his translator: “I don’t know…those questions are for fans, for boxing ‘experts’ – whatever that means.”

Pushed on the question of whether his goal was still to become a world heavyweight champion, with naturally bigger men such as Fury and Joshua standing in his way, Usyk answered in the affirmative. Then, as the Sky Sports reporter finished the interview, Usyk cut him off, switching to English to clarify his point: “Not just world champion; not just world champion,” Usyk repeated. “Undisputed world champion.”

His goal was explicit. Few believed, based on his performance against Chisora, that this all-time heavyweight could topple giants like Fury, Joshua or Deontay Wilder. But Usyk didn’t just want to pick up an alphabet belt at heavyweight and then run away – he was coming for them all: AJ, Fury, Wilder. The one who stood in his way.

Self-confidence is at the top of Usyk’s key attributes, right up there with his fleet footwork or left jab. After all, the 35-year-old is perhaps the greatest road warrior in boxing history.

'Spiky' and a 'rascal' - Oleksandr Usyk's goofy personality, from dressing like the Joker to gym dancing, hides a bulletproof mentality and steely determination that Anthony Joshua must break
Usyk beat Derek Chisora ​​in his first significant test at heavyweight
Mark Robinson/Matchroom


Usyk has not fought in Ukraine since his ninth pro fight in 2015. Since then he has beaten (deep breath): Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki in Gdansk, American Michael Hunter in Maryland, Germany’s Marco Huck in Berlin, the Latvian Mairis Briedis in Riga, the Russian Murat Gassiev in Moscow, the Briton Tony Bellew in Manchester, the American Chazz Witherspoon in Chicago, then the British duo Chisora ​​and Joshua, both in London.

Nine fights, nine wins, all giving the home advantage. Saudi Arabia must feel like neutral territory by comparison (and even here AJ has the advantage of having boxed and won under these conditions before, when he saw Andy Ruiz Jr in his first pro rematch ). Continually battling in your opponent’s backyard, knowing the fans – and potentially the judges – are against you, while still winning is a remarkable feat of mental endurance.

But Usyk hides his competitive spirit behind his quirky humor and larger-than-life personality. At one of the last press conferences before his fight with Joshua last year, Usyk showed up dressed as the Joker. Appropriate as just like Batman’s nemesis, there’s no telling what’s really going on behind Usyk’s wide, gap-toothed grin. When he points to AJ’s muscles and is impressed by the weigh-in 24 hours before they step into the ring, is that a deliberate mind game or just Usyk being himself? It is a riddle that few have solved.

Prior to this fight, Usyk shared his true feelings more than ever, pointing out the atrocities of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, during which his own home was shot down by Russian troops. He talked about defending his country, praying that he doesn’t have to shoot anyone every day, and trying to explain the invasion to his crying daughter.

'Spiky' and a 'rascal' - Oleksandr Usyk's goofy personality, from dressing like the Joker to gym dancing, hides a bulletproof mentality and steely determination that Anthony Joshua must break
Usyk showed up to his meeting with Joshua dressed as the Joker and had fun with his rival before their final fight
Match room
'Spiky' and a 'rascal' - Oleksandr Usyk's goofy personality, from dressing like the Joker to gym dancing, hides a bulletproof mentality and steely determination that Anthony Joshua must break
He previously revealed that his home in Ukraine had been shot down
'Spiky' and a 'rascal' - Oleksandr Usyk's goofy personality, from dressing like the Joker to gym dancing, hides a bulletproof mentality and steely determination that Anthony Joshua must break
Usyk can be seen carrying the stuffed donkey before battle week, a toy given to him by his daughter when he joined the war
Getty

But you get the sense that Usyk says that to draw attention to the hardships his homeland is going through, not because he’s obligated to share his innermost thoughts. Ask him a question about his own motivation to fight or his thirst for success and you can expect a standard answer. This deeply religious athlete with a Cossack warrior haircut keeps his family life private and his personal motives out of the spotlight.

If Usyk is anything to go by, Joshua has been guilty of oversharing in the past; give too much of himself. As if the pressure of fighting under intense scrutiny wasn’t enough, Joshua tried to wear a variety of faces, from brand ambassador to global citizen, as he once said. He wisely stepped away from the limelight in the build-up to that pivotal rematch, but the odd thing is that a man who seemed so natural on the biggest stage – who first competed in stadium fights at sold out like a duck for water – appears more and more inhibited (inside and outside the ropes).

Promoter Eddie Hearn warned Joshua of being too comfortable with Usyk ahead of their first fight, calling the Ukrainian ‘naughty’, ‘weird’ and adding: ‘He’s quite scary, because he has seem to have zero fear”.

Usyk rarely, if ever, talks about pre-fight tactics, keeping his cards close to his chest. But when told that Joshua’s plan was to be a lot more aggressive in their rematch, that he was probably going for a knockout, Usyk replied: “Let him think about that…Let him want to. that.”

'Spiky' and a 'rascal' - Oleksandr Usyk's goofy personality, from dressing like the Joker to gym dancing, hides a bulletproof mentality and steely determination that Anthony Joshua must break
Usyk dethroned Joshua to win the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles and defends them live on talkSPORT in Jeddah
Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Heading into his last fight at cruiserweight, against Bellew in 2018, mutual respect reigned in abundance, but the lucid ‘Bomber’ understandably tried to gain pre-fight advantage, pressuring his undefeated rival by continually calling him a fighting superstar. .

“Tony likes to talk a lot,” Usyk said happily. “But he can’t get into my head. Nobody but me enters my head.

Usyk doesn’t make pre-fight predictions, but there’s one thing you can take for granted in cast iron. The title holder on Saturday evening is not unbeatable. He was brutalized by Chisora, cracked by Bellew and pushed to the brink of defeat by Briedis.

But he overcame injury layoffs, overcame constant fights away from home, overcame his natural 200-pound frame to fight for the world heavyweight title.

Usyk may not be invincible but his mentality is rock solid. Whatever gaps in the armor Joshua and his team can identify, they know Usyk’s will to win is absolutely undeniable.

Usyk vs. Joshua 2 on talkSPORT

'Spiky' and a 'rascal' - Oleksandr Usyk's goofy personality, from dressing like the Joker to gym dancing, hides a bulletproof mentality and steely determination that Anthony Joshua must break

talkSPORT will be in Jeddah for the Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua rematch on August 20.

Join us – FREE – for exclusive radio coverage of the huge heavyweight fight that puts the WBA, WBO and IBF titles on the line.


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