Anthony Joshua keeps the pounds off to counter Oleksandr Usyk’s ringcraft

Anthony Joshua appears to have chosen speed and fluidity as a way to counter the versatile skill-set with which Oleksandr Usyk will threaten him in the ring on Saturday night. At Friday’s weigh-in he scaled 240lb which, apart from one other occasion, is the lightest he has been since he was still a relative novice fighting against Michael Sprott almost seven years ago.

The exception occurred in December 2019 when, after losing his world heavyweight titles to Andy Ruiz Jr in a shocking defeat six months earlier, Joshua weighed 237lb in the rematch. Having been stopped by Ruiz Jr in the first fight, Joshua opted to box cautiously and move constantly around the ring against his poorly-conditioned opponent.

Usyk is a very different proposition. The former undisputed world cruiserweight champion weighed in at 221lb for only his third fight in boxing’s flagship division. Usyk is a more natural ring technician and it would be a major surprise if Joshua tried to outbox him. The champion has spoken of his desire to showcase his own underrated prowess and he revealed recently that in training for this fight he has sometimes sparred 12 rounds and only used his left hand in an attempt to prepare himself for Usyk’s southpaw stance. But his trainer, Robert McCracken, will remind him of the key fundamentals.

Joshua is 6ft 6in, with a three-inch height advantage and far greater reach than Usyk. The 19-pound weight difference is smaller than many expected but Joshua should still look to use his more imposing physique and greater punching power to dominate the challenger.

But Usyk is almost certainly the most accomplished boxer he has faced in his eight years as a professional. If the Ukrainian can absorb Joshua’s jolting power, he clearly has the ringcraft and tactical acumen to beat the far bigger champion. All week numerous seasoned fight experts have been leaning away from Joshua to pick Usyk to win on points. Their arguments are often compelling but, in heavyweight boxing, bludgeoning force usually prevails.

Joshua will be tested in new and complex ways but his physical advantages and sheer power should help him retain his titles. Whether it is by stoppage or, more likely, on points, Joshua will probably have to earn one of the proudest victories of his career the hard way.

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