The fallout from this weekends heavyweight title fight has been reverberating around the world. Olexander Usyk put on a virtuoso performance, conceding height, reach and weight, to become only the third cruiserweight champion in history to become heavyweight champion of the world. For Joshua it was a humbling experience. Excuses for his only other defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. were easy to come by: Late notice opponent, unfamiliar surroundings, overconfident, etc. This time though, he was comprehensively outboxed and made to look very one dimensional. The questions now being aimed at the former two-time champion are: Did he fight the wrong strategy? Did he show Usyk too much respect? Can he turn things around in a second meeting? Many have already voiced their opinions, so please allow me to share mine.
Did he fight the wrong strategy?
This has been the most commonly asked question. I’m not convinced it’s that straightforward though, as I feel Usyk would have adjusted to whatever would have happened on the night. So let’s amend that with a different question: Did Joshua fail to use his physical advantages? That is a resounding yes. He is the hardest hitting heavyweight in the world behind Deontay Wilder. But he appears to be caught between styles. His body and attributes tell him he’s a puncher, but his brain is telling him he’s a boxer. Under the then watchful eye of Tony Sims, Joshua used to use a strong jab, setting up powerful combinations as he blasted his way through opponents, making him one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. However, ever since he took a more studious approach, his strengths have become a little more negated, particularly after the loss to Ruiz, a loss that I feel has really damaged his in-ring confidence. In round six, Usyk felt that power, convincing many that had Joshua let his hands go with more venom, there’s every possibility that the “good big ‘un” would have beaten the “good little ‘un”.
Did he show Usyk too much respect?
I thought so. Respecting someone based on their achievements is nothing new, but it felt at times that Joshua was a little in awe of the Ukrainian. Being immensely proud of his amateur and Olympic achievements, Joshua openly carries that same respect for Usyk, yet during the opening round Joshua appeared to be transfixed as much as the spectators as he was caught cleanly time and again. Some rough house tactics combined with some heavy-hitting could have helped send the message “You’re in my yard now!”.
Can he turn things around?
Joshua has activated the rematch clause in the contract so this is nailed on to happen again. So what can he do differently this time? He has to stamp his authority and use his power, like the Joshua of old. He will not win a straight out boxing contest against Usyk. There was footage of Joshua practising left hooks on the heavy bag, a classic punch to use against a southpaw, but he barely used it on the night. Usyk rarely bends at the waist, preferring to use his legs whilst working behind a high guard. That left hook to the body would help take his legs away in the later rounds. And as obvious as it sounds, he needs to let the right hand go, again to body as well as head. Mairis Breidis had plenty of success with his right and didn’t enjoy any of the advantages that Joshua holds. Knocking out Usyk is his most realistic way of victory.
As odd as it sounds, Joshua is still a work in progress. He didn’t have the extensive amateur career that Usyk had and still had limited experience when he was offered his first world title chance against Charles Martin. I have written before that I felt he should have gone down the European title route first, gaining valuable knowledge and seasoning before moving on to world level, and I still stand by this. But its eyes forward now and focus once again goes on to correcting mistakes and aiming to reverse the previous result. Joshua still has plenty to offer. And if he can solve the Usyk conundrum, he will have learnt the biggest lesson of his career.