Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk square off Saturday night, with Joshua’s WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles on the line against the former undisputed cruiserweight champion.
Does Usyk hold the keys to heavyweight glory, following in the legendary footsteps of Evander Holyfield, or will Joshua turn back another challenge on the road to a possible undisputed title fight in 2022?
Scott Christ (47-15)
I think we’re going to see a much closer fight than some expect. Usyk’s fights at heavyweight have been Chazz Witherspoon, which saw Usyk not look great as he was still adjusting his body and game to heavyweight, and Derek Chisora, who is a bizarre fighter and weirdly tough for just about anyone to fight.
Joshua is much better than Chisora, but in a way was probably far easier to prepare for and could be easier to fight, because Joshua’s not unpredictable. Usyk will have a good idea of what AJ’s going to do in this fight, and it’s probably down to two things: Joshua trying to use his height and reach advantages and box soundly behind his long jab, then land some telling blows, or, if he’s feeling feisty or believes at some point he needs something big, Joshua could simply try to steamroll Usyk with his size and power, and Usyk is a smart fighter who isn’t going to be easy to hit with monster shots. One also expects Usyk to be out to deliver the performance of his career here.
So I think the Ukrainian will be competitive, maybe some people will even think he nicks enough rounds in the end, but I don’t think he’ll get the decision. Joshua toughs one out on two reasonable cards and one that comes from Mars. Joshua UD-12
Wil Esco (50-12)
I think this is one of the more exciting fights on the schedule for 2021. I don’t necessarily think this is going to be an all-out war of attrition or anything like that, but more of a cerebral chess match that’s going to demonstrate whether or not Joshua truly has the “boxing brain” to keep up with such a technically talented fighter in Usyk. Yes, Joshua has a noticeable size advantage, which he theoretically could use to just tank his way through Usyk, but most of his preparation for this fight has seemed to be more about tactics and Joshua has mentioned that he’s shed a good bit of mass during this build-up.
So if Joshua can’t lean on his physical size as much, it seems to me that he’s going to simply have to be able to box with Usyk which could potentially be a more daunting task than simply trying to run him over. I truly don’t believe Joshua is some kind of mindless brawler with a godly physique, and I do believe that he truly wants to display to the world that his craft can match up against someone like Usyk. I don’t think Joshua has the footwork or fluidity of Usyk, but I do have to wonder just how much Usyk can stand up to the physicality of heavyweight boxing (particularly at the top of the division). I see Joshua trying to box with Usyk early in the fight before he realizes that he’ll be better suited applying pressure and wearing on the Ukrainian. If Joshua does that I think he’ll be able to walk through enough punches to land something to make an impression on Usyk, which will change the tenor of the fight. I’m going to take Joshua to win a second-half stoppage. Joshua TKO-9
Patrick L. Stumberg (51-11)
Usyk has said that people are reading too much into his battle with Derek Chisora, and while the knee-jerk response is to point out that he’s only got two heavyweight fights to choose from, there’s a kernel of truth there. Chisora is such a singular stylistic challenge that you can’t rationally treat the issues Usyk had with him as universal among heavyweights. Joshua certainly isn’t going to charge face-first at Usyk with zero regard for his own well-being; the question, then, is whether Joshua’s skills and physical gifts are sufficient to make up for the fact that Usyk can operate more freely against him and thus present fewer openings than Chisora forced out of him.
I say yes, though it’ll be close. Joshua’s jab figures to be a potent weapon against his smaller foe, and even if Usyk does manage to consistently find his way inside and get those lovely combinations flowing, Joshua’s much more likely to do damage with his punches. Usyk’s crafty enough to steer clear of Joshua’s most dangerous shots, but I like Joshua to land the more telling blows en route to a competitive decision. Joshua UD-12