When one of the most sought-after heavyweight bouts in the division’s history between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua fell at the final hurdle last year, fans and pundits alike were left understandably upset as it highlighted a glaring problem that exists within the sport.
Power-hungry promoters, unrealistic purse-splits and warring broadcasters have plagued boxing over the past couple of decades, ultimately hindering the growth of the sport. With that being said, a fight needed to be made, and when Fury couldn’t proceed with negotiations to fight Joshua due to a pre-existing contractual agreement in place with Deontay Wilder – former undisputed cruiserweight champion and mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk became the obvious opponent next in line.
It was a good sign for boxing in the UK, as it showed courage from Joshua as he was willing to put his legacy ahead of the financial incentive of a match-up with Fury – knowing full well that a loss to Usyk would risk severely lessening the interest in a future fight between the two Brits. When Joshua and Usyk’s fight was announced to take place on September 25th in 2021 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, there weren’t too many casual fans who tipped the Ukrainian when placing their bet on Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua.
However, to those in and around the sport, Usyk was a live threat as he was the best pure boxer that Joshua had faced in his career. The Ukrainian’s southpaw stance, punches from awkward angles and silky footwork always had the potential to cause Joshua problems. And cause problems they did – with Usyk dominating the first few rounds of the fight with a prominent jab and a well-disguised left hook. It was visible that the Joshua corner were bereft of answers, and their advice for their fighter to stick to the gameplan in spite of the momentum being with the opponent left many scratching their heads.
At the halfway point of the fight, it was clear that he was being outclassed – and the pre-fight tactic to attempt to outbox the boxer was proving an ineffective one. Although Joshua had a couple of bright spots throughout the middle rounds, the Ukrainian largely controlled the pace from start to finish. Usyk seemingly hurt Joshua on multiple occasions during the fight, however, it was in the closing stages of the 12th round that had those watching on in shock. Flailing on the ropes and finding himself gasping for air, Joshua was arguably saved by the bell after being on the receiving end of some heavy shots dished out by the smaller man.
As Joshua stumbled to his corner and sat on his stool at the conclusion of the contest, that aura of vulnerability had returned. His loss could speak to another problem that appears to have hampered his career to date – shorter fighters. Whether it be his upset defeats to Andy Ruiz Jr. and Oleksandr Usyk – or his fight with Russian Alexander Povetkin where he got clipped by a looping left hand – his issues with boxers built lower to the ground is something that needs rectifying.
As it happens, he’ll have another chance to lay that theory to rest and silence his critics when he takes on Usyk in a rematch in Saudi Arabia this month. For Usyk, it’s a chance to further add to his case as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet today.