At long last, Anthony Joshua’s date of destiny with Oleksandr Usyk is finally on after their Jeddah rematch was officially confirmed on Sunday night.
It has been over eight months since Joshua first triggered an immediate rematch against Usyk, who produced a masterful display to dethrone him as a unified heavyweight champion last September.
The Ukrainian proved tirelessly slick and elusive over 12 rounds in north London, meaning he departed Tottenham Hotspur’s 62,000-seater stadium with a unanimous points victory and AJ’s three world titles in the bag.
Anthony Joshua’s date of destiny with Oleksandr Usyk was finally confirmed on Sunday night
The Brit will get his shot at redemption against Usyk out in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on August 20
While it has taken longer to arrange than expected, a result of Usyk’s brief attempt to negotiate an undisputed battle with Tyson Fury and Russia’s invasion of his native Ukraine, Joshua will get his shot at redemption in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah on August 20 .
And quite simply, he cannot afford to let it pass him by.
That was exactly what happened when they first met nine months ago, with the Brit’s ill-advised strategy to stay at range and box Usyk, while failing to make the most of his clear physical advantages, providing a catastrophic blunder.
Joshua tried to play chess with the chess master and paid the price. It was an incredibly naive error for both he and ex-coach Robert McCracken to make, one which brought them only a handful of encouraging moments as Usyk cruised to victory.
This time around Joshua must ring the changes, a notion he has already acknowledged by hiring Robert Garcia as his new lead trainer.
Joshua was convincingly beaten last time out and needs to ring the changes to avenge the loss
He has already acknowledged that by appointing Robert Garcia as his new lead trainer
Garcia is one of the best coaches in world boxing and known for employing roughhouse tactics
Garcia, coach of four-weight world champion brother Mikey along with a host of other top names, is the man tasked with masterminding AJ’s revival and he certainly has his work cut out in doing so. Being honest, Joshua has not looked the same fighter since Andy Ruiz Jr brought him crashing down to earth three years ago, a damaging defeat which appears to have shattered his confidence in him, not to mention they are up against a modern-day great with very few weaknesses in Usyk.
Devising a formula to topple him will be easier said than done. The obvious answer, as most armchair experts seem to have cracked, is for Joshua to get up close with Usyk, impose his superior size on him and wear him down. Yet the former undisputed cruiserweight king is too savvy an operator to be undone by such a basic blueprint, especially against an opponent with little to no experience of fighting that way.
Joshua has never been one for a messy, gritty brawl on the inside and, in truth, probably doesn’t boast the engine to handle someone in this fashion for 12 rounds. He looked out on his feet from him at the close of the first fight, and that was after 36 minutes of a tit-for-tat boxing match, with Usyk on the verge of a stoppage when the final bell sounded.
It goes without saying that he needs to apply greater pressure when they meet again in the Middle East, though this pressure has to be educated and in short, sharp bursts to avoid sapping energy and walking on to counterpunches. Back in September there were floating glimpses of the problems AJ can cause Usyk and the tide even felt like it had turned in the fifth and sixth rounds, only for the latter to find his feet from him again and regain control from the seventh onwards.
Usyk has to be made warier about what’s coming back this time, and when it comes to attacking there are not many better coaches Joshua could have turned to than Garcia.
Joshua needs to apply more pressure when he meets Usyk again, but it must be educated
With Garcia, coach to Marcos Maidana as well as other top names, he is now in great hands
The Mexican has guided 14 men to world championships in his training career, including Marcos Maidana, Brandon Rios, Jose Ramirez, Abner Mares and brother Mikey.
Pretty much all of the aforementioned five shared similar traits; durable, physically strong fighters capable of employing aggression and roughhouse tactics up close to wear their opponents down.
However, Garcia’s biggest problem is that Joshua is not cut from the same cloth; he has never been a volume puncher capable of throwing 100 punches per round as Maidana tried in his valiant 2014 defeat against Floyd Mayweather, nor does he have the inside ability to rough someone up and bully them from close distance.
As Fury recently pointed out, Joshua will likely gas out and be stopped if he attempts to fight with similar intensity. Yet the aim for Garcia will be to bring the former heavyweight champion’s best attributes to the surface, not turn him into a 240lbs Maidana.
One weapon in Joshua’s arsenal that Garcia will surely be planning to use more frequently is body punching. On the rare occasion he whipped in an attack to Usyk’s midriff last time out the natural cruiserweight appeared in some discomfort, retreating backwards after feeling the effect of Joshua’s stinging power.
It will not be easy for Joshua and his new trainer to find a way to topple Usyk in the Middle East
Given Usyk’s head is always bobbing up, down, left and right, targeting the body could be the key to victory for AJ in Jeddah. At the end of the sixth round and throughout the eighth back in September he found success by doing so, briefly stopping Usyk in his tracks and giving himself time to fire shots upstairs.
He cannot allow Usyk to build similar momentum and get into his groove early, and his greatest chance of preventing that is with regular attacks to his midsection.
Garcia’s brother, former pound-for-pound chief Mikey, is one of the best body punchers in world boxing when at the peak of his powers, so if AJ can harness the same techniques and methods of his new stablemate he will increase his chances of revenge come August 20.
The Olympic gold medalist has also been guilty of moving backwards in straight lines after unleashing his own attacks. Usyk was quick and clever enough to capitalize on that last September, with his backhand of finding the target on far too many occasions throughout his dominant win.
Moving to his left after throwing can steer Joshua clear of that pinpoint backhand and force Usyk to try closing the distance himself, which Garcia and Co will hope to thwart with body work.
Moving left instead of in straight lines after throwing will steer him clear of Usyk’s backhand
A potential blockbuster with Tyson Fury and his own career is riding on this rematch
It is difficult to envisage a fighting juggernaut as talented and intelligent as Usyk succumbing to the power and losing inside the distance, however that does not mean Joshua is incapable of banking rounds and regaining his championships on the scorecards.
Failing to do so would completely alter the landscape of the heavyweight division; for a start, Joshua himself would either be forced to retire or drop down to a level he has not boxed at for some time, and having already amassed a fortune the former option seems more likely, while Fury will probably hang up his gloves for good instead of return to tackle Usyk with no domestic blockbuster on the cards.
Joshua triumphing in Saudi would therefore be a seminal moment for British boxing, with a Gypsy King showdown and his heavyweight career riding on it.