Last year Oleksandr Usyk shocked Anthony Joshua and finished with a clear unanimous decision win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium; watch the Usyk vs Joshua rematch on August 20 live on Sky Sports Box Office
Tuesday 23 August 2022 12:36, UK
Last year Oleksandr Usyk shocked Anthony Joshua and his hometown fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
Joshua became the star of British boxing when he won the super heavyweight gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. In the near 10 years since then, he had become a dominant force in the heavyweight division, unifying the WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles.
Usyk was known as one of the most talented boxers in the world. But he is the smaller man. He had won Olympic gold at London 2012 too, down at 91kgs.
The Ukrainian had been an undisputed champion at cruiserweight but his resume as a professional heavyweight was more sparse.
He'd only boxed twice in that division before meeting Joshua, outpointing Derek Chisora and stopping Chazz Witherspoon. But his performance to dethrone Joshua and win the unified heavyweight championship was spectacular.
Here's where and how the fight was won and lost...
Even without the benefit of hindsight, the first round set alarm bells ringing for Joshua. Usyk, a southpaw, was able to lead with a solid back-hand left. It hit with force. Usyk remained in near constant motion around Joshua, never letting the bigger man pin him on the ropes. Only round one, the manner in which Usyk won it was still a key moment in this contest.
Dave Coldwell, the trainer who cornered Tony Bellew against Usyk, explained, "When you're going up against a bigger man, bigger in height, reach, power, natural strength, you're going to be going in there quite apprehensive.
"There are going to be some nerves there because you're giving away a lot of advantages. But if you get a chance to get a foothold in the fight, get your timing straightaway then start straightaway landing your powershots, I think that's a massive shift in momentum straightaway."
The advantage was with Usyk.
Usyk used his jab to worry Joshua. He doubled it to set up a cross that carved to the body. He even tripled that lead right, letting the first two jabs fall short to drive the third own home.
His right hand worked as a shield as well, intercepting Joshua's left to prevent him from using it.
"He doesn't recoil the jab all the time. It's not a textbook jab coming back to the chin and shooting out of the same position. He'll poke and prod with it and throw it in different ways and throw it at different angles," Coldwell noted.
"He shut down AJ's jab so his jab became tentative and slow. Then because it was tentative and slow it was easier for Usyk, who's got good speed and good speed of adjustments, to counter over the top of AJ's jab."
Those feinting jabs let Usyk hit the body again. He blocked Joshua's right for the most part, although the champion did manage to shoot his cross through the middle, touching Usyk. However, it was the Ukrainian who landed the most hurtful punch. His left shot straight again and Joshua, rattled, had to hold.
"It's quite easy to fall for [Usyk's] baits and his triggers," Coldwell explained. "He won't look to hurt you with every shot. He'll look to position you for another shot, look to knock you off balance, or break your rhythm or stop you from throwing a shot."
Usyk is the shorter man, yet he was outjabbing Joshua from the outside, negating that advantage in height and reach the champion had. Rather than keeping his head straight in front of Joshua, Usyk was shifting out of that line, well-poised with good movement and balance.
He worked in the centre of the ring, countering Joshua with a left hook and pedalling clear before the champion could pay him back.
"It's very rare to see Usyk over-stretch and over-reach," Coldwell pointed out. "Everything's measured. Everything comes off his lead hand and his foot positioning."
Joshua blasted his right into Usyk. He screwed his left hook to the body. The Briton had found an opening beneath Usyk's elbow, that the Ukrainian felt. But he would rarely exploit it again. In the fifth round he did let straight shots fly to the body. Usyk tightened his guard to cover up against them, his own boxing stymied. This then was what Joshua needed to do.
But it was hard for him to continue going to the body. With Usyk such an effective counter puncher, it was difficult for Joshua to step to him and position himself without walking onto a shot.
"[Usyk] hits harder than what you think and it's because of the timing of the shots and how he times it a lot of the time is your weight's actually meeting that shot. So it makes the short heavier," Coldwell said.
The challenge for Joshua was to get himself in the right range. "Apart from those sporadic times where [Joshua] was in place and he did go down to the body, if he's trying to land body shots from too far out then he's giving Usyk the opportunity to land more powerful counter-punches, because he's leaning right into them," Coldwell added.
Usyk snapped out a straight one-two, backing Joshua up. But the Briton started to adjust. He slammed a cross in as Usyk came forward. He scored with another right and Usyk had to scamper away clear.
It could have been a turning point. It could have been a moment for Joshua to reassert some control. But these were just single shots. Though hurtful, Usyk was able to steer himself through the danger.
"He showed that he could catch Usyk when Usyk moved back into the line of that right hand," Coldwell said.
"Usyk would take those and then he'd make sure he doesn't get caught with another shot straight after. If he gets caught with two shots, three shots off somebody of AJ's power and size then he's going to know about it seriously. But he's tough enough and his chin's good enough to take those single kind of shots.
"Also it's very rare that you catch Usyk when he's not pulling away from a shot because his defence is that good. Even when he gets caught he's kind of riding the shot which takes a bit of steam out of it."
Usyk has a knack for switching momentum back his way. If Joshua had hurt him the previous round, he made sure to return the favour in the next session. The variety of his attacks saw him open up paths to hit the body and the head once again.
A solid left tipped Joshua right back, unsettling his footing. Now Joshua found himself anxiously issuing punches, not to set up another significant strike but this time just to fend Usyk off and find some breathing room himself.
"His feet give him that position. That's why [Uysk can vary his attacks so well]," Coldwell said. "Usyk puts the doubts into your mind, makes you second guess yourself.
"If he wants to put you where he wants to put you and he knows he's going to land when he throws his shots when you're falling for his little triggers and his little baits, then you just put yourself in that position."
Joshua lined up a strong right cross. It was a good shot, but still a single shot. He met Usyk with a lead right and threw that back hand well. Far too often he was working with these singles and failing to put together combinations of punches.
"It looked like he didn't want to miss with shots. He wanted to make sure every shot counted. So therefore because he couldn't get a read on it, couldn't get timing on it, he was reluctant to throw it," Coldwell said of Joshua in the first fight.
"When you're a good combination puncher like AJ and when you can punch like AJ, really he's got to look at it and think I might miss one and two but three and four are going to land on you.
"I wouldn't be too obsessed with trying to land on the head for the first couple of rounds [in the rematch]. I'd hit him on his shoulder, hit him on his arm, hit him in his ribs, throw the jab at his chest.
"Because AJ hits that hard, if you're getting hit with those shots around your body, then it's going to take away your legs, it's going to slow you down, or at the very least it's going to knock you off balance and stop your rhythm. That's the thing when Usyk gets in his rhythm it's very, very difficult to deal with."
Although Joshua had picked up a round here and there, Usyk had always been ahead of him in the fight. He turned up the intensity in the ninth round to take the final stretch emphatically away from Joshua.
Usyk's pace increased as Joshua began to flag. That wasn't just physical weariness. Keeping up with Usyk is mentally fatiguing.
"As you're getting tired as the second half of the fight goes on, it's harder to hold and maintain that concentration. Then when your concentration starts dropping, you start making more mistakes, which allows him more opportunities to counter and he just reacts off of that," Coldwell said.
"It's a combination of what he does and what he's doing and the effect not just physically it has on his opponents, it's the mental pressure that absolutely drains you."
Usyk continued to react sharply to Joshua. His left hook landed flush. Jabs flickered out from Usyk then he drove his left cross in hard. Those power punches were marking up Joshua, but the Ukrainian too had picked up a cut.
Usyk however was taking control. "You see the effectiveness of what Usyk's been doing for six rounds, it starts paying off and you see the gap widen as you go down the stretch," Coldwell said.
The Ukrainian is that rare breed of elite fighter who retains composure due to complete confidence in their gameplan and their own ability to deliver it. He doesn't mind conceding a round here and there when he thinks his early work will pay off later in a championship fight.
"They don't panic if things go a different way. They stick with what they're doing," Coldwell said. "We don't see it often these days in many fighters.
"They [might] be losing round but you'd never see that panic button being pressed. They just adjust to it.
"You can be winning rounds against them, it doesn't mean that you're going to win the fight."
Usyk unleashed a combination, lashing a left hook across Joshua's jaw and forcing the bigger man to reel back.
Moving still, Usyk darted from side to side, fiendishly difficult to pin down, let alone bull to the ropes. That whirring blizzard of punches came in, hitting Joshua to the head one moment then striking down to the body.
"He doesn't just stay still on the ropes. Joshua's not about to set his feet and let his punches go because Usyk is shifting his weight left and right so he's shifting AJ's weight left and right so by the time he shifts his weight one way, then Usyk's triggered and gone the other way," Coldwell said.
"Fighters with great IQs and the temperament to match, they're very, very difficult to beat."
In the last round of a heavyweight championship fight, Usyk was still managing to land double left hooks to Joshua's chin. Joshua lobbed a right back into him but he was still finding it hard to pin down the Ukrainian, let alone dissuade him.
Usyk would not be denied. He rocked Joshua again with his left and set up a lead right hook. He tore into Joshua, hammering shots into him against the ropes, hurting the Briton badly. The final bell rang in time for Joshua to finish the fight on his feet.
"It was bad," Coldwell said. "It just came apart in that last 10, 15 seconds, he completely lost his shape. I think it was more of a fatigue and culmination of everything Usyk was doing there."
Usyk finished with a clear unanimous decision win, taking the bout 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 for the judges.
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Questions swirl around this second fight, live on Sky Sports Box Office on August 20. Will Joshua have learned enough from the first bout to change his approach and win the rematch? Reconsidering the first fight there is indeed plenty Joshua could do differently with this second chance.
But does Usyk simply know how to beat him? Will the first fight have made him even more confident? A clever fighter himself, he could well adapt to any adjustments that Joshua does make.
The first round of the second fight, the 13th round of the Usyk-Joshua battle could well be decisive.
The beginning of the fight will be "absolutely crucial," says Coldwell.
"He's got to be touching Usyk up in the first two rounds, especially round one, he's got to be," Coldwell said of Joshua.
"A lot of time has transpired since [the way the first fight ended]. You have a lot of time to rebuild your mind and your confidence," he continued.
"If he doesn't get off to a good start in the first couple of rounds and then Usyk reminds him of exactly who he's in with and Usyk stings him or Usyk stops him from landing and all this… If none of that's working in the first two rounds what does that do to the mentality of AJ? He could basically implode and then you're back to being hesitant.
"If the first two rounds, you're having no success, you're getting peppered and worse still, you're being more aggressive, you walk onto a big shot that actually hurts you, flashback to the first fight comes back and I can just see that making things so much harder."
But equally he said, "If he has success in the first two rounds then the opposite could happen. Someone like AJ their confidence can really, really build."
All will be settled on August 20.
Anthony Joshua's huge heavyweight rematch against Oleksandr Usyk is on Saturday August 20, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book Usyk vs Joshua 2 now!