By: Sean Crose
It might well be the biggest fight of the year. Oleksandr Usyk surprised quite a few people last September when he decisioned defending WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua after 12 rounds of combat. Now the two men are squaring off again, only this time it’s Usyk who holds the belts. There’s been a sense online lately that many are writing Joshua off heading into today’s rematch in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Joshua was beaten decisively the first time he battled Usyk, after all. On top of that, competitive though the first match was, Joshua simply wasn’t able to crack Usyk’s style, which is a frustrating combination of slippery defense and hard, clean punches. Many seem to feel Joshua will fail to crack it again this time.
These people are wrong – sort of. Don’t hate me for being vague, just hear (or, in this case, read) me out.
Joshua is nothing if not a popular fighter. Indeed, the 6’6 Londoner might well be the most popular fighter on earth. Being popular in today’s fight world means being lucrative, which means Joshua brings in a ton of money. And, as every fight fan knows, money matters. Boxing officials know who the powers that be are rooting for in a particular fight. Although those officials may not be overtly, or even consciously, corrupt, it must be hell to deal with that kind of pressure. Throw in a screaming live crowd showering the popular fighter with bombastic accolades throughout the fight and it’s easy to see how faulty judging comes about.
The point is, Joshua may not have to get the better of Usyk in the ring in order to emerge victorious today. He may only have to be a bit more aggressive than he was the last time he faced Usyk, and to last until the final bell. The judges might well just do the rest. People can deal with a controversial decision from the judges. What they can’t deal with is an outrageous decision. So long as Joshua keeps it close until the final bell, he can walk out of the ring with a slightly controversial decision win that fans will sadly learn to live with.
On the other hand, Joshua just may beat Usyk outright.
The thing about Joshua is that people are forever underestimating the guy. He’s only lost twice, once by getting what appeared to be concussed by late replacement opponent Andy Ruiz, and once by getting outskilled by Usyk. Joshua changed his style to come back and beat Ruiz in their rematch. And although Usyk is a far more nuanced fighter than Ruiz, I find it hard to believe that Joshua and new trainer Robert Garcia haven’t come up with a strategy to improve Joshua’s game. I wouldn’t be surprised if this rematch ends up looking a bit like the Teofimo Lopez-Vasyl Lomachenko fight, where the more traditionally capable Lopez was able to use his natural strengths to ultimately outmatch the flashy style of Lomachenko.
Either way, I see Joshua walking out of the ring on Saturday with the WBO, IBF and WBA title belts back in his possession courtesy of a split decision win awarded to him by the judges.