Preview: Oleksandr Usyk vs. Anthony Joshua II

Within hours of losing his world heavyweight titles to Oleksandr Usyk in September, Anthony Joshua was adamant that he wanted to accept the contractual option of a rematch with the Ukrainian southpaw.

Many, probably the majority of people, viewed his response to defeat as a champion speaking at a time when his pride had been hurt, the belief being that a different decision may be made once he had taken time to reflect on being outclassed by the former unified world cruiserweight champion.

However, almost 11 months on from that night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the world is waiting to watch the second instalment of Usyk versus Joshua, the rematch taking place in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Even though Joshua received praise for taking his WBO mandatory rather than giving up one of his three heavyweight belts, there was a feeling that his size and power may be enough to nullify the supreme technical skills of a lighter and smaller opponent.

However, it quickly became apparent that would not necessarily be the case. Joshua fought the wrong fight – that has been widely acknowledged – but there was enough “pop” on Usyk’s punches to quickly earn respect from the champion, who also held the IBF and WBA belts.

The accuracy, as has always been the case with Usyk, proved decisive, and although there were times when Joshua had his moments and his opponent retreating, you always expected Usyk to respond with similar artillery to discourage a sustained attack.

On the most generous of scorecards, Joshua was no more than level after eight rounds, but Usyk pulled away in the final third of the fight, efficiently outboxing the man that he would soon be dethroning before going for the finish in the closing three minutes.

All things considered, Joshua was fortunate to make it to the final bell. There was a bewilderment when he raised his hand – Usyk’s triumph was in no doubt – and the scorecards read 117–112, 116–112 and 115–113, the latter too favourable for Joshua who did not appear to win five rounds given the one-sided nature of the championship rounds.


The initial assumption was that a rematch would take place in March or April, most likely in London despite Usyk being keen to fight in Kiev for the first time since 2015.

However, discussions over undisputed fights and step-aside money came into play with Usyk having the option of facing WBC belt holder Fury if Joshua was prepared to take a lucrative sum to delay another clash with the two-weight world champion.

That bout never materialised for reasons which have been disputed by different camps, but boxing was the last thing on Usyk’s mind towards the end of February when Russia launched a military invasion of Ukraine.

Usyk, alongside fellow boxer, friend and compatriot Vasiliy Lomachenko, took to the front line to defend their homeland and families, joining forces with Vitali and Wladimir Klitshcko, the former being the mayor of Kiev.

Although the war rages on, Usyk was given the go-ahead to resume training for his rematch with Joshua, a date being pushed back until the summer to allow Usyk an opportunity to sufficiently prepare for the biggest fight of his career.


At one stage, it appeared that the second fight was destined for London, Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn frequently insisting that the finances for another stadium clash in England made more sense than in Kiev.

A homecoming for Usyk was soon taken out of his hands, but a return to London was also put on the backburner when offers from numerous continents were put on the table.

The decision was eventually made to return to Saudi Arabia, the scene of Joshua’s redemption fight against Andy Ruiz at the back end of 2019.

While that fight took place in Diriyah, Saturday’s showdown is 588 miles to the West at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, the fight itself taking place at the Jeddah Super Dome.

The arena, which only opened last year, boasts a capacity of 35,000 and has previously been used for a WWE pay-per-view event.


If you are not aware of the pros of Usyk, take the time to watch the first fight. As has already been mentioned, there was the belief that the 35-year-old may get overpowered by Joshua’s power and physicality, but they were negated for large periods.

Hearn has constantly described Usyk as “a genius” and it is difficult to argue with that assessment. Technically, he is far superior to Joshua, proven by the fact that a near-20lb weight difference on the scales proved to be irrelevant, and Joshua heads into this fight aware that one lapse in concentration could either categorically move the fight in Usyk’s favour or result in game over.

A potential con for Usyk is his weight for the rematch. From images which have recently been circulating, he looks bulkier than in the first fight, an advantage when it comes to power but leaving him potentially heading into the unknown at a career-high weight. That said, Usyk is smart enough to know what works for him, and the benefits outweigh the drawbacks even if he is heavier than 11 months ago.

Meanwhile, Joshua has taken the decision to change trainers with Robert Garcia chosen as the man to replace long-serving Robert McCracken. Given the bond between the pair, it felt like a radical switch, but it is born out of Joshua’s desire to right the wrongs of the first bout.

Joshua has admitted that he wanted to “outbox the boxer” rather than rely on his natural physical advantages and although it would be naive to go into this contest with the mentality of all-out attack, that approach has to be part of his arsenal to some extent.

However, even with new voices in his corner, Joshua lacks the variety of Usyk, and that will not be lost on his opponent. Joshua is capable of knocking out any opponent, but it is engineering a clear-enough opening to execute that shot which will be the problem.


Joshua has been left in a difficult position ahead of this rematch. He would have taken Usyk by surprise in the first bout, but only by fighting in a way which was detrimental to his chances of recording a career-defining win.

The Englishman now has one less option available to him, and that will only help someone as resourceful as Usyk. Calculated or not, there will be more aggression from Joshua this time around, but Usyk can either bide his time and pick up rounds or take a likely chance to counter with his seemingly added power.

The most optimistic of Joshua supporter will feel that knocking out Usyk remains a realistic possibility, but the fact is that Usyk is a clearer favourite in this fight than he is being given credit for.

A far more neutral crowd may not matter – after all, Usyk thrives on being the away fighter – but a more subdued atmosphere may sharpen the champion’s focus, allowing him to put on a one-sided clinic before closing the show in the middle rounds.

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