Joshua had to fight for his ultimate ambition, to become the No.1 heavyweight, only for a referee to decide that rival champion Tyson Fury should face Deontay Wilder next.
With Fury set to lead a trilogy fight with Wilder in July, Joshua must take on an unenviable task, a mandatory WBO title defense against Oleksandr Usyk.
Anthony Joshua was given 48 hours from the WBO to prove his fight with Tyson Fury can continue before he is ordered to face Oleksandr Usyk
– Sky Sports Boxing (@SkySportsBoxing) May 19, 2021
The supremely skilled southpaw has proven to be an indecipherable enigma throughout his professional career leading to undisputed cruiserweight glory and 18 wins.
Usyk tinkered with a math problem at a press conference with Derek Chisora, a boxing genius who constantly spins the cogs by completing puzzles during practice sessions.
Tony Bellew admits he was exhausted after trying to outsmart the Ukrainian in a knockout loss.
“Usyk is perfect. He does everything very well, ”said Bellew Sky Sports Last year.
“He mentally exhausted me in our fight by constantly having his front foot close to mine.
“That doesn’t sound a lot. But it’s a mental pressure he puts on you, not a physical one.
“He wouldn’t be in any wrestling match with me. Every time we got closer, I would dig it right up to the body.
“He’s vicious and brilliant. “
Usyk scoffed at skeptics wondering if he could compete in a top division against physically superior champions like Joshua.
“If the king of beasts was considered based on his size, then it would be the elephant, not the lion,” he joked in response to concerns about his stature.
But Chisora tried to support the simple logic that size matters in an uncomfortable points win for Usyk in October.
The battered Briton ignored punches from a string of top heavyweights and gave a scathing assessment of Usyk’s ability to topple the boxing giants.
“No, because in the heavyweight game you have to fight, not box,” said Chisora.
“Half the time, I set the pace, he doesn’t set the pace.
“I gave a few laps, 100 percent, and he caught me with a few good shots. But not with painful blows. “
Joshua, like Usyk, won gold at the London 2012 Olympics, but wondered if his rival’s style had evolved enough to meet the stringent heavyweight demands.
“I was an amateur for two and a half years, so I always adapted to different styles,” Joshua said. “Usyk was an amateur for a long time, so he adopted the ‘hit and don’t get hit’ style from the pros.
“The good thing that helped me?” Sometimes I know I have to sit on my feet and hurt someone.
“You have to let them know you’re here because all that pitiful stuff after 12 rounds?” Sometimes people don’t respect this kind of power.
Joshua has always gone on a rare recon mission – watching Usyk’s victory over Chisora from ringside – and will know deep down that tactics will need to be drastically changed after being adapted to Fury.
American Michael Hunter, who was beaten on points during Usyk’s dominance at heavyweight, doubts the 34-year-old is a desirable opponent in a higher weight class.
“I don’t see him, other than getting a proxy, and someone he can probably easily send,” Hunter said. Sky Sports.
“But no one will really respect him. He won’t get these big fights.
“None of the big guys want to lose with a brush and don’t know how to come back in the next fight and fix it. “
Usyk has previously rated Joshua for his latest abstract art, a forced fight that must be waged for world titles and reputation.
For Joshua, the timing is cruel with undisputed world title plans in jeopardy, but for Usyk it’s perfect.