Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) defends his heavyweight belts against former undisputed cruiserweight champion and fellow Olympic gold medalist Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) on Saturday at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It’s the biggest heavyweight fight of the year and Joshua deserves a lot of credit for taking it. Usyk is his mandatory challenger for the WBO belt and Joshua could have dropped the belt and directly embarked on a big money unification fight from his other belts with winner Tyson Fury against Deontay Wilder.
Usyk unified the entire cruiserweight division between 2016 and 2018 and then moved on to heavyweights. He beat short-notice replacement Chazz Witherspoon in his debut and followed it with a decisive victory over veteran British heavyweight Dereck Chisora.
The match is interesting because neither of the fighters has faced someone like the other in the pros. The closest Usyk fighter Joshua has faced is Charles Martin (one of the world’s worst titlists in history) and the similarities end with the fact that they’re both left-handed. Joshua easily stopped Martin by countering his jab with the right right hand, but landing on Usyk is going to be much more difficult.
The Ukrainian is skilled, mobile and has excellent combinations. Using his size to win the fight inside would be a good idea, but that’s not the best area of Joshua’s game. His best shots are his straight right and uppercut and I’m not sure his left hook is good enough to consistently prevent Usyk from taking him out while spinning to his right. Of course, his power is a great equalizer and if he landed on his right Usyk would be in trouble.
I think Usyk will be able to dodge it and outsmart Joshua, who has had cardio issues in the middle of the laps before, and at least win the fight in the ring. Whether that is enough to earn it on the judges’ scoreboards in England is another matter.
In the main co-event, Lawrence Okolie (16-0, 13 KOs) defends his WBO cruiserweight belt against Dilan Prasovic of Montenegro (15-0, 12 KOs). Okolie just won the vacant belt by knocking out aging former titlist Krzyzstof Glowacki in March. Prasovic hasn’t fought anyone close to world level before and didn’t look like a world batsman against his previous opposition. He looks a lot like an opponent conceding 0 on his record. Okolie has a very powerful right hand and is on a 6-fight save streak, but as the rest of his game is pretty rough and his competition hasn’t been the best, the preparation for his knockouts has often been rather dull. He’s usually just sticking on the outside and stalling on the inside until he can land his right hand clean. He’s unlikely to have a fun fight until he faces an opponent who can really push him and Prasovic doesn’t look like this guy.
Former super middleweight champion Callum Smith (27-1, 19 KOs) is also making his light heavyweight debut against Lenin Castillo (21-3-1, 16 KOs). Smith just lost his title to Canelo (although he should have lost it already in his previous fight against John Ryder) and predictably gained weight. I’m not quite sure how he did 168 and he probably wouldn’t look out of place at cruiserweight. I expect Smith to look better without having to go through the drastic weight management he needed to hit the super middleweight limit. Castillo has already challenged top fighter Dmitry Bivol and lost wide, but he was never stopped and should provide enough resistance to give a good idea of Smith’s potential in this division while not being too likely to upset the basket of apples.
Joshua vs Usyk airs on DAZN on Saturday, September 25e à 13 h HE / 10 h HE.