The undercard aside, the coverage surrounding Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua was a triumphant return to form for big time boxing in the UK, writes George Gigney as he examines the boxing media’s offerings
IF THAT was to be Anthony Joshua’s final fight on Sky Sports, it was a fitting send off – and not because of the result. Yes, Oleksandr Usyk’s stunning win over the Brit throws the heavyweight division into a fascinating state of disarray, but the event at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium can be described as nothing short of a roaring success.
As the UK, and the world, continues to fight its way out of the global Covid-19 pandemic, to see almost 70,000 roaring fans packed inside the mesmerising stadium was at once both strange and comforting. It was a sign of what is possible, and it was yet another testament to the staggering drawing power of Joshua, particularly when he’s fighting someone as accomplished as Usyk.
There may have been a noticeable lack in that ‘big fight’ feel leading up to Saturday night, but there’s no question that the event itself had that intangible and unmissable quality to it. Credit needs to go to Sky and the organisers, including Matchroom Boxing.
The undercard was, as expected, pretty average, though the commentary and punditry teams worked well throughout the night. They rightly questioned the six-round decision given to Campbell Hatton, and handled another difficult situation elsewhere on the bill with class. When Callum Smith floored Lenin Castillo with a flush right hand, the Dominican remained on his back with his left leg twitching uncontrollably. It was a distressing sight, and Andy Clarke and Matt Macklin on commentary did not focus on the finishing blow or what’s next for Smith, but instead kept themselves collected and monitored the condition of Castillo as he was attended to by medical professionals.
The same cannot be said for the DAZN commentary team, with Todd Grisham screaming in apparent ecstasy that “His [Castillo’s] body is no longer working!” Reacting to the events in a boxing ring is a difficult job, but to revel in what was clearly a medical emergency is just plain wrong.
Just as Smith chose not to celebrate once he realised Castillo had not risen, the Sky broadcast did not show any replays of the knockout. Thankfully, later on in the night it was confirmed that Castillo had undergone brain scans which came back clear and he was released from hospital, having once again become responsive.
Adam Smith took over from Clarke for the latter stages of the card, including the main event. While there has been criticism of Joshua in the wake of his loss, Smith and Macklin seemed to call the fight fairly, highlighting the masterful tactics and execution of Usyk’s work, rather than postulating that Joshua was under par.
We don’t yet know whether Joshua will stick with Sky or move over to DAZN with the rest of Matchroom Boxing, but Saturday’s event proved how adept the former are at staging The Joshua Show. A shoutout should also go to Josh Taylor and Chris Eubank Jnr, who were excellent as pundits.
Boxing Social has steadily been growing into a valuable source of boxing content, providing interviews in the same vein as other channels like IFL TV. Now, they appear to have found a gap in the market and are producing more long-form videos and podcasts.
On Sunday, they invited in Clarke, writer Declan Taylor and pundit Ade Oladipo to break down and discuss the Joshua-Usyk fight and undercard. It’s a simple enough premise but one that conjured up an interesting discussion, with Rob Tebbutt hosting the chat.
Boxing Social also released a series of podcasts on their YouTube channel throughout the week, looking ahead to Joshua-Usyk but also fights like Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder and other prominent topics in the sport. The likes of Shane McGuigan and Mike Costello were guests on different episodes.
With quality production value and insightful discussions, hopefully this series continues to grow.
IFL, as they so often do, also rolled out countless video interviews during fight week, though the most interesting ones came after Usyk had defeated Joshua. While they managed to grab Joshua, Usyk and other names directly involved in the fight, it was the views of experts and observers that provided the most content to delve into.
The likes of Peter Fury, David Haye, Jamie Moore and Josh Taylor were all asked for their opinions and there was plenty of agreement on two points: that Joshua should be very wary of going directly into a rematch with Usyk, and that he may have had too many voices in his corner.
Whatever your take on it, there is something to be said for several different industry insiders adopting the same view. Now, in the coming weeks and months, we will see if Joshua chooses to take any of it on board.
FOX Sports ran an op-ed reflecting on Joshua’s loss to Usyk, claiming that ‘AJ’ had lost to another “banana skin,” the other being Andy Ruiz in 2019. Straight off the bat, that’s off the mark; anyone with an interest in boxing knew Usyk was so much more than that, and arguably the best fighter Joshua will have ever faced. The piece also goes on to say that the heavyweight division is now in ruins because Joshua lost his titles and argues that potential future fights with the likes of Wilder and Fury hold no value because “it’s the belts, the undefeated records that make a fight.” Obviously, that’s madness. For one, Joshua can still rebuild and remains one of the most marketable fighters on the planet, even without his heavyweight crown. Plus, the addition of Usyk into the heavyweight elite makes the division even more exciting, not less so. Now there’s another name to create potential superfights with.