Three heavyweight titles are on the line on Saturday, August 20th in Saudi Arabia. Reigning WBO, WBA, and IBF champion Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) took those titles away from Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) last year in England, and now he’s defending them for the first time. Obviously this fight could’ve happened sooner if not for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which prompted Usyk to stay in his home country as part of the Ukrainian territorial defense battalion.
With Tyson Fury retired (we think), the winner of this fight would have the claim of boxing’s best heavyweight without any room for debate. Usyk conquered cruiserweight and seems on his way to establishing his legacy as a dominant fighter up at heavyweight, too. Meanwhile, Joshua is looking to repeat his success from 2019, when he lost his titles to Andy Ruiz Jr but won the rematch in Saudi Arabia. He’s carved out his own brilliant professional career but will he get revenge against Usyk? Or does Usyk simply have his number? Let’s get to the preview!
Oleksandr Usyk was a decorated amateur, winning gold at both the World Championships in 2011 and then the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. As we’ve seen with many other top amateurs from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there wasn’t much need to slowly develop Usyk as a pro. He had the World Series of Boxing bridge, yes, but is still took him just ten pro fights to win the WBO cruiserweight title from Krzysztof Glowacki. Usyk thoroughly established himself as a pound-for-pound elite with an epic run through the World Boxing Super Series gauntlet, handing Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev losses in their respective backyards en route to being the undisputed king of the division. In his farewell to cruiserweight, he wrecked Tony Bellew in England to successfully defend those titles.
Usyk’s heavyweight debut in 2019 was supposed to be against Tyrone Spong, but when Spong failed his drug test in stepped a way overmatched Chazz Witherspoon, who was stopped without much resistance. A tougher but still one-sided fight against Dereck Chisora ensued, setting up the showdown with Joshua in September 2021. It was a terrific atmosphere at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, and in the end Usyk kept his perfect record and ‘Road Warrior’ reputation intact with a unanimous decision triumph. I reckon another round or even another minute and Joshua might have been stopped.
Joshua also won Olympic gold in 2012, albeit with controversy, but there was no denying he was one of the best heavyweight talents to come along for quite some time. He turned pro the following year and embarked on a path of destructive knockouts, with his highest profile non-title fight coming against amateur rival Dillian Whyte in 2015. After getting shaken early on, Joshua outclassed Whyte and knocked him damn near out of the ring. His 2016 consisted of winning the IBF heavyweight title against Charles Martin, followed by easy title defenses against Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina. What made Joshua a major name beyond the United Kingdom was his epic with Wladimir Klitschko, in which he overcame a knockdown to eventually KO Wladimir into retirement.
After beating Joseph Parker he became the holder of the WBA, IBF, and WBO titles, with only Deontay Wilder in possession of the other major belt. While Wilder was getting his rivalry started with Tyson Fury, Joshua had a simple enough task to take on short notice replacement Andy Ruiz Jr in his United States debut back in 2019. What transpired was a shocking KO loss in one of the great upsets in recent boxing history. He prevailed in the rematch later that year, winning a safe decision. Prior to the Usyk loss, Joshua took care of Kubrat Pulev by TKO in front of a limited capacity crowd in England.
The Usyk fight may have been a loss but it wasn’t a total blowout. There were rounds Joshua clearly won and he was able to land some of his best punches on the Ukrainian, but it was hard to ignore that the pace, body work, and volume that Usyk set created problems for Joshua in the latter stages of the contest. Joshua has since changed trainers with the hopes of unlocking the combination to topple Usyk.
Not too much to get hyped about. Former super-middleweight champion Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KOs) takes on Mathieu Bauderlique (21-1, 12 KOs) in a title eliminator at light heavyweight. Smith is a comfortable favorite but I wouldn’t totally discount Bauderlique. The co-feature is a rescheduled IBF heavyweight title eliminator between prospect Filip Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs) and Zhang Zhilei (24-0-1, 19 KOs). I’ve never been overly impressed with either man but this is a fun scrap that I think Hrgovic should be able to win. Badou Jack (26-3-3, 16 KOs) is pretty much in the phase of his career where he gets gimme fights in the Middle East, and the utterly empty record of Richard Rivera (21-0, 16 KOs) is another example of that. Hey, he’s fought a lot of tough guys over the years so he probably deserves some softer touches to end his career.
Odds and Prediction
The odds are pretty close given how clear-cut the first fight was. Usyk is the favorite at -195 to Joshua’s +150 underdog odds, per DraftKings Sportsbook. Given the incredible fanbase that Joshua has it wouldn’t be a shock to see those odds tighten to nearly a pick ‘em line.
Anthony Joshua is and has been a great fighter. Oleksandr Usyk could end up being one of the absolute best of his era. I suppose the x-factor of Usyk’s mental state given the war in his home country should be acknowledged but I do not want to speculate that much. From strictly a fighting standpoint, there are too many scenarios I see for Joshua where if he does not get a KO — not impossible given his power and the fact that it’s heavyweight — he’ll struggle to keep up with the workrate and speed of Usyk over the course of the contest.
The common belief is that Joshua needs to use his physicality to wear on Usyk more, but that’s easier said than done and it greatly underrates how strong Usyk is. Trying to go for the knockout early might be the best path to victory even if that’s not a high-probability outcome. Joshua has a damn good jab and he should push to use his uppercuts more often than we’ve seen in recent fights. His work to Usyk’s body was subtly brilliant tactics even in defeat.
On Usyk’s side, he’s not that easy to hit cleanly and we’ve never really seen him badly rattled. His southpaw stance is something Joshua openly said gave him trouble, and while Robert Garcia is a terrific trainer I don’t see those problems magically going away. Usyk is not a heavy puncher but he’s accurate, sharp, and his footwork is like a heavyweight Vasiliy Lomachenko. Unlike last time, Usyk will finish Joshua late and end this rivalry. Oleksandr Usyk by KO, Round 10.
Bloody Elbow will have live coverage of Usyk vs. Joshua 2 starting at 12 PM ET/9 AM PT. It is expected that the main event will start at around 5 PM ET/2 PM PT. Viewers around the world except the United Kingdom and Ukraine can catch Usyk vs. Joshua 2 live and streaming on DAZN at no extra cost beyond the subscription fee. If you are in Ukraine, the fight will stream for free on YouTube, while viewers in the United Kingdom must purchase a pay-per-view through Sky Box Office at a cost of £26.95.