Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) defends his heavyweight belts against former undisputed cruiserweight champion and fellow Olympic gold medalist Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) on Saturday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It is the biggest heavyweight fight of the year and one Joshua deserves a lot of credit for taking. Usyk is his mandatory challenger for the WBO belt and Joshua could have dropped the belt and just gone straight for a big money unification fight of his other belts with the Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder winner.
Usyk famously unified the entire cruiserweight division between 2016 and 2018 and then moved up to heavyweight. He beat short notice replacement Chazz Witherspoon in his debut and followed it up with a decision win over veteran British heavyweight Dereck Chisora.
The matchup is interesting because neither fighter has faced anyone like the other in the pros. The closest fighter to Usyk that Joshua has faced is Charles Martin (one of the worst world titlists in history) and the similarities end at the fact that they are both southpaws. Joshua easily stopped Martin by countering his jab with straight right hands but landing on Usyk is going to be far more difficult.
The Ukrainian is slick, mobile and has excellent combinations. Using his size to win the fight on the inside would be a good idea but that isn’t the best area of of Joshua’s game. His best punches are his right straight and uppercut and I’m not sure his left hook is good enough to consistently prevent Usyk from outboxing him while circling to his right. Of course his power is a great equalizer and should he land his right straight clean, Usyk would be in trouble.
I figure Usyk will be able to avoid it and outwork Joshua, who has had cardio issues in the middle rounds before, and win the fight in the ring at least. Whether that is enough to win it on the judges scorecards in England is another matter.
In the co-main event, Lawrence Okolie (16-0, 13 KOs) defends his WBO cruiserweight belt against Montenegro’s Dilan Prasovic (15-0, 12 KOs). Okolie just won the vacant belt by knocking out aging former titlist Krzyzstof Glowacki back in March. Prasovic hasn’t fought anyone close to the world level before and didn’t look like a world beater against his previous opposition. He looks very much like an opponent cashing in the 0 on his record. Okolie has a very powerful right hand and is on a 6-fight stoppage streak but as the rest of his game is rather raw and his competition hasn’t been the best, the lead up to his KOs has often been rather dull. He is usually content to stick to the outside and clinch on the inside until he can land the right hand clean. He is unlikely to have a fun fight until he faces an opponent able to to really push him and Prasovic doesn’t look like that guy.
Former super-middleweight champion Callum Smith (27-1, 19 KOs) also makes his light-heavyweight debut against Lenin Castillo (21-3-1, 16 KOs). Smith just lost his title to Canelo (though he should have already lost it in his previous fight against John Ryder) and predictably moved up in weight. I am not entirely sure how he made 168 and he probably wouldn’t look out of place at cruiserweight. I expect Smith to look better withut having to subject himself to the drastic weight management he needed to make the super middleweight limit. Castillo has challenged top fighter Dmitry Bivol before and lost wide but he’s never been stopped and should provide enough resistance to give a good idea of Smith’s potential in this division while not being too likely to upset the apple cart.
Joshua vs Usyk airs on DAZN on Saturday, September 25th at 1:00 PM ET/10:00 AM ET.