How to solve a problem like Oleksandr Usyk? 19 professional opponents tried, none succeeded.
Among those who have succumbed to the technical magic of the Ukrainian master are not only Anthony Joshua, Derek Chisora and Michael Hunter, but also the best cruiserweights on the planet, including Tony Bellew, Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis.
Even as an amateur boxer he was outstanding, winning world championships and Olympic gold medals.
So far, no professional boxer has successfully mastered the particular set of challenges that Usyk presents. But Anthony Joshua tries again in a high-stakes rematch tonight on Sky Sports ticket office.
Victory will restore his place at the top of the heavyweight division, while a second loss in a row would be a hugely damaging blow.
So what must Anthony Joshua do to break the aura of invincibility that Usyk has woven around him?
1. It starts at the feet
It’s natural for the beholder’s eye to be drawn to the punches Anthony Joshua typically lands with such punch. But watch your feet. Footwork will be where this fight will be won and lost. This is where Usyk was so effective, especially as a southpaw, leading with his right hand rather than his left hand.
Delicious Orie, the new Commonwealth super heavyweight gold medalist, who faced Joshua, explains: “It’s that extra step. You always have to think where your feet are in boxing, but you don’t. not really compared to a style that you’re used to. For example, almost everyone is Orthodox.
“But with a southpaw you have to think about the position of your feet, because the position of your feet plays an important role if you connect to hit the target.
“When you have that extra step and that extra thing to think about, it kind of slows you down, makes you a little less responsive to what’s coming up or what you need to do.
“When I boxed a guy from Uzbekistan, left-handed, similar style to Usyk, it was the feet. Anytime my lead foot was inside his front foot, I was more likely to be Whenever my lead foot was outside of his, I could catch him and I would catch him with my right hand and my jabs.”
This can however be worked on in sparring. Joshua had a long camp for this fight and many southpaw sparring partners. Being more stable in boxing against this position will be crucial.
2. Make the jab a weapon
There are different jabs. The main hand can be used as a range finder, a tool to create space, 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 have to have a lot more authority behind them, let him know he’s with heavyweight,” Orie said. “There’s something more to think about and that’s stopping them from doing what they want to do. That’s how you get the advantage.
“There were flare-ups in this fight where Usyk was on his front foot and Joshua on his back foot, so for me that’s the biggest thing I feel needs to change. For me, it comes down to the mentality, if AJ comes in there with this I’m the heavyweight thing, I’m the big man, I’m the strongman.”
Orie knows firsthand from the fight that Joshua has a good shot. “The first thing that struck me was how fast his shot was. You look at him, he’s a big man,” he said, “I would have expected his shot to come a bit That’s what struck me, how fast he was throwing his jabs, there were times when I didn’t even see him and he was throwing it.
“That was the biggest surprise for me with AJ.”
3. Kick him in the chest
It’s not a goal kick, so it may seem like a waste of time, but the ploy may pay off as Joshua looks to thwart 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 get close, the punches, the drills, the left hooks to the body, the head, that kind of things on the inside that will sink everything.
“Getting there is key. As he approaches Usyk, the leading hands will cancel out a bit. I would just double that jab and drive the right hand into the chest.
“Usyk, who likes to lean back and pull and do all that, he won’t be able to move his chest. If he pushes it into his chest, he pushes, [Usyk] will lose his balance, fall backwards, and then AJ can walk towards him again. Now he pressures him, now he directs him.”
4. Melee Method
It seems contradictory to say that the clinch can be a tool in a boxer’s offensive arsenal. Boxers usually hold on to gain some breathing space, whether from exhaustion or punishment. But for a tall fighter in particular, hanging on, leaning, and leaning on an opponent’s neck and shoulders can drain them of energy over the course of a 12-round fight.
It’s something Joshua didn’t do effectively in the first fight, but Usyk should be aware of that for the rematch.
Dave Coldwell, who coached Bellew for Usyk, pointed out: “Look how Lennox Lewis canceled out Mike Tyson in the beginning. It doesn’t matter how old Tyson is, in the beginning, he’s so dangerous. So whatever Lennox did for to start is to stop it, to cancel it. and to tire it out leaning on, leaning on, leaning on. It takes away the legs. It takes away the strength. If you do this with someone which relies on the movement of the feet, you give yourself all the chances in the world in this stretch.
“When I looked at the [first] fight the most shocking thing for me was after a few rounds in the clinches it looked like it was AJ holding on. He was the one who just wanted to shut down and rest,” Coldwell added.
“It’s basically trying to rest mentally. Because the mental side gets tired first and then his body started getting tired. Because you’re fit, because you’re doing all this training, you’re not not unfit, but once your mind starts tired, your mind starts thinking you’re tired, then your body responds.”
5. Be an educated bully
Lawrence Okolie is the reigning WBO heavyweight champion. He warns against reducing Joshua’s physical advantages.
“I definitely think to use the fact that he’s a strong and talented heavyweight, working the first round body relentlessly and mixing it up more. Obviously boxing in space but not giving him any punches unanswered. So every time Usyk would throw, throw one to the body, throw one to the head. Really show him he’s in for a tough fight. Hopefully the size and power will take him down,” said said Okolie.
“I think it’s more intentional. Regardless, AJ is a good boxer, so watching the first fight, it was competitive. It wasn’t like it was a one-sided beating or anything. , it was a competitive fight and I think adjustments with more intention behind the blows [will work].”
It’s an approach that former heavyweight champion Johnny Nelson also endorses.
“Usually a bully uses their size, uses their strength, uses what’s natural to them,” Nelson said. “While fighting Usyk, he shouldn’t guess his shots, he should let the shots pass. Because that split second when he thinks about the shot, Usyk will pop it.
“AJ has to punch and push, bend over, work him that way. That way he makes Usyk very uncomfortable. Make him work at a pace he’s not used to. What he’s going to doing is trying to get space so he can control the pace. If you look at AJ’s physique, he’s lean, he’s streamlined. He’s there for speed. He’s there for the power.
Can he do it?
This practical five-point plan is easier written than done. But while Usyk is the favourite, Joshua has a lot he can change after the painful experience of their first meeting.
“Usyk won Olympic gold, undisputed cruiserweight and beat AJ from what he does all the time and I don’t see him being able to change that or want to change that,” Okolie notes.
“AJ has shown aggression, boxing on the back foot, a whole bunch of different styles when he needs to, so I think he has the ability to adapt more.”
Direct Usyk against Joshua 2: preparation
Saturday August 20 6:00 p.m.
Delicious Orie also points out that Joshua is a special fighter himself.
“Anthony Joshua started boxing at 18 and became an Olympic champion [just before he was] 23. Who does this? He’s at the top of his game and he’s very, very good. Usyk is another great fighter,” Orie said.
“No matter what, AJ should always be a top fighter because he deserves it with what he has already achieved so far.”
Anyway, Usyk-Joshua 2 will probably also be a special fight.
Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch against Oleksandr Usyk will take place on Saturday August 20, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book Usyk vs. Joshua 2 now!