With the Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk fight days away our boxing expert Peter Morris gives his insight for the big fight.
22:00 Saturday - Joshua vs Usyk
This Saturday evening Anthony Joshua (24-1) is facing off against the former undisputed cruiserweight champion from Ukraine, Oleksandr Usyk (18-0) at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The fight represents a first for the stadium, with the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world title belts on the line, there will finally be some silverware raised aloft in the north London stadium.
Some are already calling this fight Anthony Joshua’s toughest test to date and there is no doubting that the southpaw Oleksandr Usyk is one of the most technically gifted boxers currently active. He cleaned up a deep cruiserweight division in 15 fights which is extraordinary, but he’s mixing with completely different beasts in the heavyweight division. For some context, in Usyk’s long amateur and professional career, he has been competing below 200lbs, which is his natural weight. In comparison, Anthony Joshua has recently trimmed down to his best weight: a gargantuan 240lbs.
However, there are more than just dimensions and mass to like about Anthony Joshua’s chances in this fight. Since losing to Andy Ruiz in New York, Joshua has made significant changes to his training camps and the impact has been on display already. Joshua’s boxing style has become more defensively responsible, his footwork is smoother, he’s shed some muscle, improved his stamina and his jab is more varied. He delivered a very polished performance in his rematch with Andy Ruiz and his last fight against Kubrat Pulev was arguably one of the most impressive performances of his career.
Oleksandr Usyk has, in some ways, a similar style to this new version of Joshua. He likes to box on his toes and standing tall, using his feet to control the distance and create angles. This style has proved fruitful in the cruiserweight division when he was not physically overmatched. However, this style will be more difficult to implement against a bigger and stronger man. Usyk isn’t going to suddenly become a crouching, slipping counter puncher like Ruiz or Povetkin overnight (both of whom caused Joshua problems). In order to have a chance of winning, the Ukrainian is going to have to hurt Joshua at some point; a chess match is likely to favour Joshua, with his longer reach, powerful jab and home judges on his side. However, Usyk is not a devastating puncher: even at cruiserweight most of his stoppage wins came by out boxing his opponent over a period rounds, breaking them down before stopping them. He certainly doesn’t have the one-shot power of a heavyweight fighter like Deontay Wilder or Wladimir Klitschko. Since fighting professionally over 10 or more rounds, Usyk has only once stopped his opponent earlier than the 7th round. The early rounds of the fight may well be cagey, with both fighters favouring their jab and Usyk’s southpaw stance, the first Joshua has faced since Charles Martin in 2016, adding another layer of complexity.
Backing the fight to go the distance at 27/20, available with Betfred, is good price for a fight that is likely to see plenty of rounds boxed at range. If you do want to back a stoppage, then Joshua to get a late stoppage (rounds 9-12) is a reasonable 9/2. However, the outstanding 13/4 available with 10Bet for Joshua to win on points looks better value. He’s no longer the seek and destroy fighter of the past and is far more polished and safety conscious than he once was. Factor in that his opponent is mobile, skilful and quick but may be lacking the tools in his arsenal to hurt AJ, and a decision victory for the Brit at an implied probability of 23.5% looks tasty.