Preface: Thank you for your continued reader support! I wanted to do a larger breakdown of this fight but work and life has gotten in the way. Finally a Fight that has not been delayed or cancelled. This is a very interesting collision course of size vs skill and experience vs late starts and growth potential. Without further to do here is my prediction of this weekend’s big fight.
Significance: This is the first major clash pitting a dominant cruiserweight champion against an elite heavyweight champion since Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye met in 2011. Haye was a multiple belt holding cruiserweight champion who moved up to heavyweight and picked up a WBA championship when he defeated the massive Nikolai Valuev. Haye and Klitschko had a long drawn out rivalry that took a few years to materialize in the ring. Both men were hard hitting punchers with very different styles. In the end Klitschko won a dominant decision on the judges scorecards in a contest that never materialized into an entertaining fight.
Amid an era of the so called “super heavyweights” big men usually 6’5″ and over 240 lbs. have continued to hold titles and dominate the landscape of the division. Since 2000 big men like Lennox Lewis, the Klitschko brothers, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua have been big men and have commanded the division. Some smaller men have had moments in the sun like Chris Byrd, David Haye, and Alexander Povetkin who all had title runs and were seen as serious contenders. Tomasz Adamek, the popular Polish fighter made a run at heavyweight after wearing title belts at light-heavyweight and cruiserweight but he was not taken very seriously as a contender in the Klitschko era. On a side not Deontay Wilder is the bridge of super heavyweight and normal heavyweight as he stands over 6’5″ but has weighed anywhere from the 210’s to the 230’s. Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine has established himself as a legitimate threat in the heavyweight division having unified all four titles at cruiserweight and has remained undefeated through two fights with the big boys.
The Size Factor: Boxing is full of tired adages and there is one that is used often and that is “a good big man beats a good little man”. Anthony Joshua holds advantages in height, reach, is naturally larger, is younger and by any objective eye is the more powerful puncher. Now of course the tale of the tape alone does not win fights but Joshua’s advantages will all compound to hurdles that Usyk will have to overcome to win. For Usyk to score punches he will have to close a gap which will mean he has to get inside the longer jab. He will have to pay a price to get beyond the jab. When he does get inside he will have a much larger opponent leaning on him and wearing him down. Every punch that Joshua scores will hit him harder than he has likely been hit in his entire career and that will take its toll. Usyk is also the older fighter and is carrying more weight for this fight (the weigh in has not happened). How does this effect his conditioning and how does this effect his speed? Likewise, Joshua is noticeably trimmer for this fight as his build closer resembles his lighter frame in the rematch with Andy Ruiz than it did in his most recent fight against Kubrat Pulev. I have read opinions critical of this weight choice as observers seem to believe it is a sign that Joshua will try to out box the boxer. I disagree, to win Joshua will need the speed to match Usyk, the conditioning to handle Usyk’s activity, and this is an overrating of unnecessary size. Joshua moved well and boxed effectively against Ruiz in the rematch with a leaner build resembling more of a traditional boxer and less of a bodybuilder. Losing ten pounds or so is not going to dramatically cut Joshua’s punch power down.
Examples of the big man winning:
1899- James J Jefferies Defeats Bob Fitzsimmons 39 lb. advantage
1941- Joe Louis Defeats Billy Conn 25 lb. advantage
1962- Sonny Liston Defeats Floyd Patterson 24 lb. advantage
1970- Joe Frazier Defeats Bob Foster 21 lb. advantage
1999- Lennox Lewis Defeats Evander Holyfield 25 lb. advantage
Examples of the little man winning:
1919- Jack Dempsey Defeats Jess Willard 58 lb. disadvantage and 5″ height disadvantage
1985- Michael Spinks Defeats Larry Holmes 22 lb. disadvantage
2000- Chris Byrd Defeats Vitali Klitschko 34 lb. disadvantage
2009- David Haye Defeats Nikolai Valuev 99 lb. disadvantage and 9″ height disadvantage
Styles: What Oleksandr Usyk gives away physically he makes up in ring experience and style. Much like countryman Vasily Lomachenko, Usyk is a southpaw with a unique mobile style based around accurate punching, adept footwork and activity. He is hard to hit and difficult to time and that poses serious problems both offensively and defensively for any opponent. The previously mentioned Wladimir Klitschko dominated behind a powerful jab and mauling physicality that drained his opponents who crumbled under his power. Klitschko was masterful in imposing a style based around his advantages honed by the legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward. Anthony Joshua has not shown the same level of domination that Klitschko has shown and I do not believe he has mastered his ability to take the full advantage of his size like Wladimir did. However, unlike Wladimir and more like 1990’s heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe he can fight like hell on the inside. He has a fight ending uppercut and a strong inside left hook that provide a danger that Klitschko did not have. Where Klitschko leaned and mauled Joshua punches in combination. This may surrender his height and get him in unnecessary exchanges but it also affords him the chance to score a dramatic blow that ends the fight.
The Prediction: Early in the fight I think Anthony Joshua is going to be patient and measured in his approach to Usyk. This will allow Usyk to build momentum and fight within his comfort zone. Joshua has shown a tendency to be tentative in big fights as he was very patient for five rounds against Klitschko, never really opened up against Joseph Parker and started slowly against Alexander Povetkin. I feel this will result in Usyk building an early lead on the judges scorecards and he will be winning after the first half of the fight. I believe by this point Joshua will turn up the pressure like he did when he sensed the Klitschko fight was getting away from him and dial up the attack. By round eight or nine I expect Joshua to pursue and engage Usyk in more of a brawl where he is on the front foot looking to land bombs and Usyk will be slowing down and more vulnerable. The winner will be determined in the last four rounds where Usyk will need to weather a storm and show resolve against the larger champion. I pick Joshua to leave with his hand raised and watching eagerly the fight on October Ninth.
Another opinion from a writer whose opinion I value