Tagged ‘Rage on the Red Sea’, Anthony Joshua’s title rematch against Oleksandr Usyk at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday (today) is easily the most anticipated heavyweight fight of the year.
And just like the biblical Moses and the Israelites were faced with an obstacle at the Red Sea that would determine their future, Joshua now faces a similar scenario in his own ‘Red Sea’.
This is a hugely significant fight for Joshua.
It’s a must-win fight for the two-time heavyweight champion as he faces Usyk in a bid to recapture the WBO, WBA, and IBF heavyweight titles he lost to the Ukrainian in London last September.
“That’s it. Must win. I like the pressure,” Joshua said.“It’s been tough. (Now) just get the job done. Instinct, stay focused, get the job done, God willing, victorious.
“It’s competition. I’ve got goals I want to achieve in the ring on the night. That’s competition with myself.”
Should he lose a second time in a row, making it three losses in his last five fights, it would have dire consequences for him in terms of ranking, marketability and his reputation.
Joshua described the rematch as the biggest fight of his professional career saying; “I’ve got to take this one the most serious.”
Ukrainian Usyk is a brilliant boxer, a genuine pound-for-pound contender.
That was clearly evident in their first bout last September and it could be an even easier night’s work for Usyk in Jeddah, where he is fancied to stop his challenger.
Usyk is inspired by competition too and insists he’ll be up for the fight once again.
He said, “We were born to compete for life, for belts, for everything.
“The one who does not compete does not live.
“All our lives are competition, for anything, for something, for somebody, that’s why we are competing.”
When the two met at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Joshua 24-2 (22) was out-boxed over the 12-round distance. It was a fight that was more tactical than exciting, but when the judges’ scorecards of 117–112, 116–112 and 115–113, all in Usyk’s favour, came through, Joshua looked surprised.
After the fight, he revealed that his corner was telling him he was winning the fight.
“I swear I thought I was looking like Muhammad Ali in there,” he said.
“I thought at that stage I was well in the fight because it didn’t seem like there was any real communication as to where I’m at; like ‘you’re losing this fight… you’re down by two rounds’. I didn’t get that.”
Heading into this rematch now, Joshua has replaced long-time amateur and professional trainer Rob McCracken with Robert Garcia in a bold move.
Garcia is known to have a very aggressive boxing mentality and tactical style, a style that should reward Joshua in the rematch
Adopting to try and outbox a master boxer in Usyk was definitely the wrong move on Joshua’s part. To regain the titles this time round, he must utilise his significant physical advantages to greater effect. He gave Usyk too much space to use his fluid movement in their first meeting.
In this rematch, Joshua must stamp his authority early on. He must use his size, power and explosiveness, all the traits that define him as a fighter, if he wants to win. He needs to take a chance. He looked reluctant to use his power at times in Tottenham, which was a mystery as Joshua’s right hand can knock many out.
He doesn’t have Deontay Wilder one-shot power, but his 22 wins out of 24 tell their own story.
A mistake one would easily make is to focus on what Joshua didn’t do. At times during the first fight in London, he did look slow, but despite using the wrong tactics, the fight didn’t go Usyk’s way throughout. The Ukrainian was cut and marked up badly by Joshua; a fact that should inform all that should Joshua be more aggressive, he can get the win today.
Should he win, this will be the second time that Joshua has come back from a loss to reclaim his titles following his saga with Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019.
Joshua’s first fight against Ruiz Jr was supposed to be a routine defence. He had initially been scheduled to face Jarrell Miller, but after he failed a drug test, Ruiz Jr was drafted in to replace him.
The stage was set for Joshua’s American debut, and Ruiz Jr was not expected to pose many problems.
After struggling to impose himself in the opening two rounds, Joshua started the third round at his brilliant best. A right uppercut followed by a thunderous left hook sent Ruiz Jr flying to the canvas. The end seemed to be in sight.
But Ruiz Jr refused to go down without a fight. A left hook connected with Joshua’s temple, scrambling his senses as the favourite fell to a knee.
Now Joshua was the one badly hurt, and he went down again in the final seconds of the round after another barrage of punches from Ruiz Jr.
It was only a matter of time before Joshua went down again, and in round seven he hit the canvas twice more. Referee Michael Griffin did not like Joshua’s response after the second knockdown and waved off the contest, bringing an end to his world title reign.
The second time he met Ruiz, however, Joshua looked edgy but focused, knowing that he could not afford to make the same errors again.
He briefly wobbled Ruiz Jr with a sharp right hand in the opening round, and momentarily sensed an opportunity for an early night. Like in their first fight, though, Ruiz Jr fired back, and Joshua had to reset. He had to curb his natural instincts to finish the job, and instead gradually break his opponent down.
Round by round, Joshua took control. He established the jab early, kept on the move so that he didn’t offer Ruiz Jr a stationary target, and refused to trade up close.
As the final bell rang, there was only one winner. Joshua had shown a different side to his craft, keeping calm under pressure and carrying out a game plan exactly. He was back on top of the world.
Joshua looked more focused and at the top of his game right from the start on his last visit to Saudi Arabia. He knew how he wanted the fight to play out, and did not stray away from his tactics throughout the bout.
That same mentality will be necessary if he is to have any chance of overcoming Usyk, rather than the shaky display last year at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The chances of Joshua winning almost every round like he did in the Ruiz Jr rematch are slim – Usyk is simply too good for that.
But if Joshua can get his mindset right under new trainer Garcia, he will give himself the best opportunity to earn revenge against Usyk and become a three-time world champion.
A defeat will not only lead Joshua back to the drawing board, but as his promoter, Eddie Hearn, has said, he may never get another world-title shot. So, beating Usyk today is a must-win for his legacy.