Two Olympic gold medalists with sterling professional pedigrees will duke it out this afternoon (Sat., Sept. 25, 2021) when WBO/IBF/WBA Heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua, defends his titles against former undisputed Cruiserweight kingpin, Oleksandr Usyk.
Joshua was originally slated to face WBC champion Tyson Fury earlier this year, but “The Gypsy King’s” contractually obligated trilogy match with Deontay Wilder got in the way (read details here). As a result, Usyk exercised his WBO mandatory challenger status to get a crack at his fellow London 2012 standout. The DAZN-streamed card will also see newly-crowned WBO Cruiserweight champion, Lawrence Okolie, make his inaugural defense against unbeaten Dilan Prasovic and former No. 1 -ranked Super Middleweight, Callum Smith, test the waters at 175 pounds against Lenin Castillo.
Nothing’s more pivotal than the main event, though, as it could determine the course of the Heavyweight division for the foreseeable future. Let’s try and see how it’ll go:
Anthony “AJ” Joshua
Record: 24-1 (22 KO)
Last Five Fights: Kubrat Pulev (TKO-9) Andy Ruiz Jr. (UD), Andy Ruiz Jr. (TKO-7 Loss), Alexander Povetkin (TKO-7), Joseph Parker (UD)
Significant Victories (other than those mentioned above): Wladimir Klitschko, Dominic Breazeale, Charles Martin, Dillian Whyte.
Record: 18-0 (13 KO)
Last Five Fights: Dereck Chisora (UD), Chazz Witherspoon (RTD-7), Tony Bellew (TKO-8), Murat Gassiev (UD), Mairis Briedis (UD)
Significant Victories (other than those mentioned above): Marco Huck, Michael Hunter, Krzysztof Glowacki.
Usyk is the greatest Cruiserweight of the modern era and it’s not particularly close. He absolutely ran the table at 200 pounds; indeed, if there’s a noteworthy figure he didn’t beat, odds are he beat the guy who beat that guy. His record absolutely holds up against the likes of Evander Holyfield and other all-timers.
How good a Heavyweight is he? Well, it’s hard to tell. He went through potential opponent after potential opponent (including K-1 and MMA veteran Tyrone Spong) for his thoroughly cursed divisional debut before finally securing a match up with the shopworn Chazz Witherspoon, then sat through another year-long layoff after stopping Witherspoon in seven rounds. Upon his return, he met ultra-gritty veteran Dereck Chisora, surviving an early onslaught to claim a competitive decision.
The impeccable footwork and fluid combinations that made him so dominant at Cruiserweight are clearly still there, but some red flags came up that brought his ceiling into question. Usyk struggled to consistently hurt Chisora despite landing at a steady clip and had difficulties staying off the ropes or getting his pivots going until Chisora slowed down and allowed him to set the pace.
While few men at the weight are as hard-nosed and relentless as Chisora, it does make one wonder what a more composed and technically-sound aggressor could accomplish.
The question, then, is whether Joshua fits the bill. He’s certainly a far crisper puncher than Chisora, who throws his right hands at an angle generally reserved for tomahawk dunks, and his snapping jab makes the most of his absurd wingspan. At the same time, he’s nowhere near as willing to put his neck on the line as Chisora is, especially not after the debacle against Andy Ruiz Jr. (watch it here).
Weird as it is, there are situations where a more “sound” approach can actually work against you, especially against artisans like Usyk. Chisora’s willingness to walk through fire gave him opportunities that Joshua’s more measured attack won’t, and giving Usyk more freedom to ply his craft could prove costly.
At the end of the day, I’m leaning Joshua. That’s because from what I’ve seen, his physical advantages are sufficient to offset Usyk’s edge in speed and movement. Joshua’s much more likely to do damage when he lands and has a key weapon in that jab, which gives him an ability to threaten Usyk at range that the lumbering Chisora lacked. Usyk will get his licks in and could very well sting the big man if he gets inside without getting clinched, but Joshua’s more eye-catching work should sway the judges even if “AJ” can’t put him on the canvas. In the end, Joshua takes a competitive 8-4, 7-5 sort of decision in an entertaining affair.
Prediction: Joshua def. Usyk via unanimous decision