One of the most intriguing fights of the year produced a low-key press conference on Thursday afternoon when Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk finally came face-to-face before they meet in the ring on Saturday night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Even the ritual world heavyweight title fight stare-down between Joshua, the champion, and his Ukrainian challenger was muted and highly civilised. It needed the eccentric and gifted Usyk to produce the vivid and compelling splashes of colour this fight will surely generate.
There is a deep mutual respect between Joshua and Usyk and, consequently, no need to stoke any false animosity. The most eye-catching contribution of the afternoon was supplied by Usyk who wore a red suit, a black shirt, a gold polka dot tie and a mustard waistcoat. Joshua, in contrast, looked modestly utilitarian in a black tracksuit as he stressed his commitment to hard work.
Usyk opened up much more after the press conference to reveal that his suit was “inspired by the Joker – but he is not a positive hero. I am a positive hero. My look, the hair, moustache, earring is all inspired by my ancestors who were 17th-century Cossack warriors. I used to do the Cossack dance after some of my amateur wins, I might do it again if I win on Saturday. I am a very unpredictable guy. I have this look for this fight because it is coming from my heart.”
The 34-year old Usyk also explained that his impressive moustache was a homage to his name. He revealed that “usyk” is the Ukrainian word for moustache – which led to frantic checks to confirm he was telling the truth. The Joker, it turned out, was not joking.
This off-stage meandering was more interesting than Usyk’s earlier statement, in the formal press conference, that “I feel fine and look forward to the fight”. The former undisputed world cruiserweight champion added one more sentence which promised that he and Joshua will produce a fight that “people remember forever. It will make history.”
Joshua, meanwhile, emphasised how hard he has worked in the gym for this fight and his whole career. “When I started boxing it was fun because I was shit,” he said as he underlined how intensely he has had to work since he came to boxing late in his teenage years. “I used to train and get better, beat the guys who used to beat me up. I have had fun in this camp now. It has been demanding but it has been fun.”
He added that “I practise and spar a lot” before, in a solitary nod to malevolence, he finished his paean to rigorous training by suggesting that, on Saturday night, “you are coming to see me hit a live bodybag.”
Joshua soon returned to respectability as he indicated that “on Monday or Tuesday I will be back in the gym because I love to practise and improve.”
It needed Usyk, off stage and after the television cameras had been switched off, to offer light relief and mild eccentricity. Asked if he felt confident that he could handle Joshua’s far more imposing size now that they had faced each other for the first time, Usyk said: “If I could measure the chances of people winning by looking at them with my eyes, I wouldn’t be boxing. People always talk about what they would like to happen. So if they say Anthony is stronger than me then this is what they want to believe.”
Usyk was a supreme cruiserweight but he has fought only twice before as a heavyweight. He was asked if, on Saturday night, he will still step into the ring as the heaviest he has ever been. “Do you take into consideration my street fights? You will have to wait for the weigh-in.”
The underdog was more interested in talking about life outside boxing. “After I finished school, I wanted to go to university and study theatre and the arts,” Usyk said. “But I was already boxing and when I won the junior Ukraine championships I realised it might be a step to somewhere for me, so I decided to enter the Physical Education Institute. But I like theatre, I write poems and I learnt to play the guitar. I like different things.”
In his Joker suit, and just before he left the venue where he believes he will become the heavyweight champion of the world, one last question was put to Usyk. If Hollywood comes calling and they make a film of his life, who would play him? Usyk’s eyes twinkled and his moustache bristled as he named himself: “Oleksandr.”
Saturday night will have fewer laughs but Usyk looks in the mood to inject plenty of intrigue, drama and uncertainty into a potentially riveting fight.