There are some who suggest that Oleksandr Usyk is not a legitimate threat as a heavyweight even though at cruiserweight he became the first four-belt undisputed champion in division history, cracked most top 10 pound-for-pound lists and will go down as, at worse, the second-best in the history of the weight class behind Evander Holyfield.
Three-belt heavyweight titleholder and The Ring’s No. 1-ranked heavyweight Anthony Joshua is not one of those doubters.
“He’s good. Let’s give credit where credit is due,” Joshua told a few American reporters on a video conference on Wednesday. “In boxing, we do have big egos and we try to suppress people but let’s lift him up and say he is good. He won the [2012 heavyweight gold medal at the] Olympics. He won the world championship as an amateur. He’s done the undisputed thing. His accolades would say he’s one of the best I am fighting in my career.”
Joshua, who was one division heavier than Usyk when he won the 2012 super heavyweight Olympic gold medal for Great Britain, will make the second defense of his second title reign against Usyk, the WBO mandatory challenger and The Ring’s No. 10-ranked heavyweight, on Saturday (DAZN in the U.S., Sky Box Office in the U.K.) in the main event of the first boxing event to take place at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, where a crowd of some 60,000 is expected. The telecast begins at 1 p.m. ET with ring walks for the main event not expected before 5 p.m. ET.
Usyk moved up to heavyweight in 2019 and has boxed just twice, in part due to a biceps injury that sidelined him and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. In his first heavyweight fight, Usyk looked rusty but stopped Chazz Witherspoon in the seventh round in October 2019. In his second fight, Usyk won a highly competitive unanimous decision over perennial contender Dereck Chisora this past October.
Joshua (24-1, 22 knockouts), 31, discounts those who say Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs), 34, of Ukraine, is not a legitimate heavyweight.
“He’s fought heavyweights before. A full-fledged heavyweight doesn’t mean weighing like 200 kilograms or 300 pounds,” Joshua said. “It’s can you physically handle them in sparring? Can you push or shove heavyweights for 12 rounds when they’re fresh? If he’s doing that in training, he must be well-conditioned and handle the pressure of heavyweights. [His handlers] must know how he’s doing in training, so I can’t go against them.
“He got one stoppage. He stopped Chazz. That’s stopping a full-fledged heavyweight, a big guy. And his fight with Chisora was a tough one but Chisora gives a lot of guys problems. But he overcame, went 12 rounds and got the decision. Well done to him. You have to get past certain fights, no matter how they look, so you can always move on in boxing.”
Joshua was ringside for Usyk’s fight with Chisora in London to get a good look at him, knowing he might wind up facing him.
“Really good performance,” Joshua said. “I’ve been sparring Dereck for many years. It’s easy to watch people from the outside but it’s only until you get in there with them that you know what they’re about. Dereck’s a really good fighter, throwback fighter.
“It was a good 12-round fight but Dereck is a completely different fighter than I am, so I can’t take too much away from that. It was a good fight for Usyk, a rough and tough fight and he came out on top and that’s what put him in this position.”
While Joshua will have the size and power advantage, Usyk figures to be quicker and more technical. He’s also a southpaw. Joshua said he has gone to school on southpaws.
“I’ve done some really good studying. I’ve been invested in this camp,” Joshua said. “That’s important for a fighter, to be invested in his training. It’s tough but ultimately when he’s invested, he wants to train; he wants to improve and you’re at a good place with a fighter.”
Before the deal to fight Usyk was finalized in July, Joshua thought he would be fighting British countryman Tyson Fury for the undisputed championship in Saudi Arabia on August 14. The complicated deal was done but the fight did not take place because Deontay Wilder won an arbitration case he had brought against Fury in an effort to force him to honor the rematch clause that was in the contract for their second fight in February 2020 and fight him for the third time. So, they will meet for Fury’s Ring and WBC titles on October 9 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with the prospect of the undisputed fight between Fury and Joshua in limbo.
Fury being forced into another Wilder fight caused Joshua to suddenly change gears from thinking he would be fighting Fury for all the belts and a career-best nine-figure payday in the biggest fight in boxing to focusing on Usyk in a far smaller event for a lot less money.
Joshua, however, said he took it all in stride and is over any disappointment of having the undisputed fight fall out.
“Time. Time is the most important thing with that situation,” Joshua said. “Time is the best healer, so if I would have felt any emotions, for example, over the period of time I’ve had, I’d get over it. You need a couple of days [to] re-adjust. We had sparring partners in sparring for the Fury fight, so I had to re-adjust. And then for Usyk, it was just setting the date and having the right amount of time to prepare.
“We had in the back of our mind that this might happen because we understand – I don’t want to say anything negative – I understand how Fury operates. On any day, he can pull out of a fight, say he’s gonna fight you, doesn’t fight you. So, in the back of our mind – we had one southpaw in training, so, in a way, it wasn’t too bad and I had enough time to prepare [for the southpaw Usyk]. I’ve learned how people operate and I make sure I have myself prepared for anything in this game.”