Anthony Joshua vs. Oleksandr Usyk: Head-to-toe Breakdown and Prediction

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIAugust 18, 2022

Anthony Joshua vs. Oleksandr Usyk: Head-to-toe Breakdown and Prediction

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    It's a big fight week.

    Actually, it's more than that. It's a heavyweight championship fight week.

    Reigning IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO titleholder Oleksandr Usyk will engage in a 12-round rematch against the man from whom he lifted the belts last year, Anthony Joshua.

    The two fought at a jam-packed soccer stadium in England the first time around, but they're taking the show on the road this time to the Jeddah Superdome in Saudi Arabia.

    It's actually Joshua's second trip to the kingdom in his last four fights, and he'll hope to follow the script of the last one, when he defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. in December 2019 to win back the cache of championships he lost via TKO six months earlier in New York City.

    The B/R combat sports team analyzed each main-event principal from head to toe as a primer for the weekend extravaganza. Take a look at what we came up with, and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.

What You Need to Know

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    What: Anthony Joshua vs. Oleksandr Usyk 2

    Where: Jeddah Superdome, Saudi Arabia

    When: Saturday, Aug. 20 (main event starts at approximately 5:15 p.m. ET)

    TV: DAZN

    What's at Stake: At last check, heavyweight superiority.

    Consensus divisional kingpin Tyson Fury has been playing jump rope with the prospect of retiring in recent months, claiming he was exiting before recanting and then doubling down on that intention as recently as last weekend.

    Assuming Fury is gone at least for the time being, the winner of the Joshua-Usyk rematch holds the keys to the big-boy division, not to mention the IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO shares of the championship that Fury possessed during his initial run as champion several years ago.

    And with that jewelry comes the proposition of a match with Fury for full-scale heavyweight domination that nearly everyone will be expecting once a winner is declared.

    Usyk was a surprising unanimous decision winner when he and Joshua met in England last September, but it'll be less of a surprise if he makes it two straight given his standing as a -195 favorite (bet $195 to win $100), per DraftKings. Joshua, meanwhile, is a +150 proposition (bet $100 to win $150) to pull off the upset.

Anthony Joshua's Tale of the Tape

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    Nickname: AJ

    Record: 24-2, 22 KOs

    Height: 6'6"

    Weight: 240 pounds*

    Reach: 82"

    Age: 32

    Stance: Orthodox

    Rounds: 124


    All stats courtesy of BoxRec.

    *Official weight at last fight in weight class in September 2021.

Oleksandr Usyk's Tale of the Tape

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    BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

    Nickname: The Cat

    Record: 19-0, 13 KOs

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 221 pounds*

    Reach: 78"

    Age: 35

    Stance: Southpaw

    Rounds: 156


    All stats courtesy of BoxRec.

    *Official weight at last fight in weight class in September 2021.

Boxing Ability

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    Taller. Longer. Younger.

    Joshua had all three of those advantages when he and Usyk first met last September, and he'll have them again this weekend. But because the Ukrainian was on another level when it came to boxing ability, that initial fight veered closer to a rout the longer it went on.

    A 35-year-old southpaw, Usyk was miles ahead of Joshua in terms of ring generalship, so he could initiate exchanges and escape return blows thanks in no small measure to hand speed and footwork. He worked angles to confuse and frustrate his less polished opponent early on and by the end of the fight was the one walking his mentally beaten rival down.

    Reports have suggested he'll again come in around 220 pounds for the rematch, so he'll presumably have the same speed and agility. If so, it'll be incumbent upon Joshua, at or near 240, to better utilize his physical edges and bully the smaller man to offset the skills deficit.

    Unless he changes the dynamic, he has little chance of changing the result.

    Advantage: Usyk

Punching Power

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    Joshua has won 24 fights and stopped 22 of those victims, so it's hard to blame him for being infatuated with his power. But power is useless if the punches don't land.

    And against Usyk, they didn't.

    The then-challenger was never stationary long enough to be on the short end of punishing barrages or even hard single shots, a reality that both compromised Joshua's gas tank and his psyche.

    He ditched his old training team in favor of veteran Robert Garcia in the aftermath, and the new collective has promised an approach that better utilizes Joshua's physical tools. That means not only landing his power shots but using his size and strength to their full advantage in clinches and tie-ups with an eye on wearing Usyk down.

    Maintaining his own stamina over the long haul will be of prime importance to Joshua, who has a tendency to fight in spurts. Usyk has gone 12 rounds six times compared to Joshua's three, and it was the Ukrainian who was landing the more telling blows in the late going last September.

    Usyk's best approach will be making the power advantage moot.

    Advantage: Joshua

Defensive Ability

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    ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

    It's no coincidence that the guys typically lauded for being the best pure boxers are also the ones most often topping the lists of the sport's best defenders.

    Usyk was rugged enough to go through and win hellacious battles at cruiserweight, but he's been better served at heavyweight by avoiding fight-defining punches. He does that by putting his substantial ring IQ to work and using positioning to offset his foes' attacks.

    Joshua had the sort of power that provided seven KOs in nine title-fight wins, but he never got Usyk into significant trouble and was a spent and reeling force by the end.

    As for his own defense, Joshua is hardly a Pernell Whitaker clone.

    He was hurt badly by Dillian Whyte in 2015 before winning the title, hit and dropped by Wladimir Klitschko in a title defense two years later and downed four times on the way to a KO loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. that cost him his titles 2019.

    Usyk will presumably be able to hit him again as he did the first time, so the Englishman's best defense will most certainly be a more effective offense.

    Advantage: Usyk

X-Factors

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    Joshua's X-Factor: Is Robert Garcia the Answer?

    To the extent that this question gets answered could determine the winner.

    If Garcia can unlock a ferocious fighter bent on avenging an embarrassing defeat, then Joshua will emerge with his titles and line himself up for a shot at Fury.

    But if Joshua remains tentative and unable to solve the Usyk puzzle, he'll be boxed silly and probably stopped in the late rounds by a confident champion who already knows he can win because he's done it before.

    Chances are good we'll know before things get to the halfway mark Saturday.


    Usyk's X-Factor: Will He Handle Prosperity?

    It's one thing to be a hungry challenger. It's another to be a contented champion.

    Among the reasons Usyk was so successful with Joshua the first time around was the fact that he was doggedly pursuing a goal, the heavyweight championship, while his foe had already crossed over to some mainstream success and was awaiting his next big challenge.

    Twelve rounds later, the hunger was sated and Usyk was atop the boxing world.

    He's had plenty to deal with in the subsequent 11 months, but how effective he is in the rematch will have at least something to do with how much of the appetite for conquest remains.

Prediction

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    Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.

    Though it's only been 11 months since Usyk's coronation in England, it's difficult to have seen what occurred in that fight and simultaneously remember why the vibe going into it was that Joshua would retain his titles with at worst mild difficulty.

    He never landed a telling flurry and was continually exposed by an opponent whose skill set was more varied and better utilized on fight night. And by the time the scorecards were read, few people outside the then-champion's diehard camp disagreed.

    But sometimes you have to see something twice to believe it.

    Joshua will still arrive Saturday as a 6'6", 240-pound heavyweight who's laid out foes bigger than Usyk and, in the case of Klitschko, gotten off the floor to do it. He also changed his approach to bamboozle Ruiz in their rematch, avoiding prolonged firefights against a guy who'd rendered him wobbly and unable to continue six months earlier.

    Anyone willing to pick him in the rematch here is relying on that resolve. And Robert Garcia.

    Count us among that group.

    Though we concede a clinic in Usyk's favor is a distinct possibility, we'll return to pre-fight mode from last year and anticipate a motivated and determined Joshua will be the bully and hound the smaller man enough to offset his arsenal. It'll take a near-perfect effort from the Englishman to accomplish it, given the last result, but we'll stay on board until fooled twice.

    Prediction: Joshua by majority decision


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