Joshua vs. Usyk: 5 questions – and answers – going into the fight

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Anthony Joshua still has his eye on an all-British heavyweight showdown against Tyson Fury. However, he and Fury will have to get past their immediate opponents first.

For Fury, that’s Deontay Wilder in their third fight on Oct. 9 in Las Vegas. Joshua’s obstacle comes sooner: The Londoner defends his three titles against mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (DAZN).

Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) is no pushover. The former undisputed cruiserweight champ is a small heavyweight but he’ll bring a wealth of ability and experience into the ring in his first heavyweight title challenge.

Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) is favored in part because of his size advantage but he also knows what he’s doing in the ring.

Here are five questions – and answers – going into the pivotal fight.

What are Joshua’s advantages?

The most obvious one is natural size. Joshua is a behemoth, 6-foot-6 and 240-plus pounds in most recent fights; Usyk is 6-3 and weighed 217¼ the last time we saw him. Joshua reportedly is slimming down to gain speed while Usyk is bulking up but you can bet that the champion will outweigh the challenger in the ring. And even if the disparity is less than we imagine, it won’t matter. Joshua is the naturally bigger, stronger man. That won’t change if he loses a few pounds and Usyk puts on some. Joshua also punches much harder than Usyk, who didn’t throw particularly heavy shots even as a cruiserweight. And, finally, the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight champion isn’t a big goon; he’s a good, relatively quick athlete who knows how to box. His combination of size, strength and ability have taken him to the pinnacle of the sport, where the oddsmakers believe he’ll stay for a while.

What are Usyk’s advantages?

Ability. The Ukrainian is No. 5 on Boxing Junkie’s pound-for-pound list for a reason: He’s an excellent boxer, as he demonstrated consistently as an amateur star and his successful run as a cruiserweight. He has superb footwork and anticipation, which makes him a particularly good defensive technician. Joshua could have trouble finding the target. Usyk also has more experience than Joshua. He honed his skills in a reported 360 amateur fights, compared to only 40-plus for Joshua. And while Joshua has seven more pro bouts than Usyk, the latter has an edge in rounds as a professional, 144-112. Of course, the main reason for that is Usyk’s relative lack of power; his fights go longer than Joshua’s. That said, Usyk does have 13 stoppages. His accumulation of hard, accurate shots can wear any opponent down. Bottom line: If Usyk can avoid big blows, he has a chance to upset the champion.

Are we making too much of the size disparity?

No. Joshua isn’t a relentless slugger but he fights aggressively when he wants to, as we saw in his most recent fight, a ninth-round knockout Kubrat Pulev in December. Opponents must give him a reason to box carefully, meaning they have be able to hurt him. That was the case in Joshua’s rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr., who knocked him out in their first fight. Usyk can’t punch like Ruiz. Again, an accumulation of his punches could do some damage. However, it will be difficult for Usyk to get Joshua’s respect because he doesn’t have the kind of power than can stop the champion in his tracks with one shot. Joshua most likely will fight aggressively most of the fight because he won’t have a reason not to and land enough power shots to wear down Usyk. That’s why I believe Joshua will win by a late knockout or a wide decision.

Is Joshua’s mental toughness still a question mark?

I think so. He fell apart in the first fight with Ruiz, who put Joshua down four times and stopped him in seven rounds. Joshua simply had no idea how to cope with what Ruiz was throwing at him and shut down. And the rematch didn’t alleviate the perception that Joshua is vulnerable. He outboxed Ruiz to win a clear decision and regain his titles but he fought tentatively to avoid a repeat of the earlier disaster. He looked more like the Joshua of old against Pulev, who was overmatched. However, we need to see what happens when Joshua finds himself in trouble again. Will he fold, as he did against Ruiz? Or will he fight through it the next time? Only time and a hard punch or two will tell. For the record: Joshua did demonstrate toughness when he got up from a knockdown to stop Wladimir Klitschko in 2017. He obviously has it in him.

What are we to make of Usyk performance against Derek Chisora?

Not much. Some have pointed to Usyk’s unanimous decision victory over Chisora last October as a sign of his limitations. Usyk had his hand raised but didn’t dominate the fight, as many expected him to do. After all, Chisora was 36 and deemed past his prime. I saw it differently. The Chisora who fought Usyk was fit and determined. He obviously saw the fight as an opportunity to reestablish himself as a bona fide contender and did everything in his power to take advantage of it. On top of that, he outweighed Usyk by more than 38 pounds. Still, Usyk used his superior skill set and impressive resilience to win the fight on all three cards. And remember: Chisora went on to give former titleholder Joseph Parker all he could handle in a split-decision loss six months later. If anything, Usyk demonstrated in his fight against Chisora that he belongs in the division.

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