Anthony Joshua to fight Oleksandr Usyk, in hopes of retaining his titles
Two days before he was scheduled to attempt to defend his heavyweight titles against undefeated Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua attended a press conference in London on Thursday, wearing his hat, headphones and even bottles of water positioned to make sponsor logos visible to cameras.
A long list of companies has invested in Joshua, the 31-year-old British boxing star: Under Armor, his clothing supplier; Beats by Dre, the headphone maker; Matchroom Boxing, the promoter Joshua signed for life this week. And Joshua, who is 24-1 with 22 KOs, spoke as if Saturday’s fight against Usyk, an undefeated 34-year-old Ukrainian, was not just a contest but also an economic stimulus package. He told reporters he felt responsible for providing a platform and a salary to fighters on the undercard of an event which is expected to draw nearly 70,000 spectators to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
âI’m going to work hard, try to bring attention to boxing so that it benefits everyone, not just me,â Joshua said. âI don’t promote boxing because I want to be famous. I promote it because I want everyone to benefit from it.
Saturday’s card comes at the end of two tumultuous weeks in the boxing industry. On September 11, retired mixed martial arts fighter Vitor Belfort overwhelmed 58-year-old former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in a pay-per-view fight which, according to the viewpoint, featured either the top, be the background of the recent trend of novelty fights.
But over the past week serious, competitive and meaningful fights have made headlines. On Wednesday afternoon, Deontay Wilder held a media conference call to tout his rematch against Tyson Fury for the WBC heavyweight title, scheduled for October 9 in Las Vegas. The day before, SaÃºl Ãlvarez and Caleb Plant exchanged insults and blows at a press conference ahead of their super middleweight title fight on November 6.
This brawl was not organized for publicity purposes – Plant appeared with a prominent cut on his right cheek – but it garnered attention that could lead to pay-per-view sales. As of Thursday afternoon, a video of the skirmish posted on Showtime Boxing’s Twitter page had been viewed 4.7 million times.
But Joshua’s main event sold without a pre-fight speech or press conference rumble.
Matchroom Boxing chairman Eddie Hearn said the Joshua-Usyk bout will fill Tottenham Hotspur stadium in part because of pent-up demand. The title fight tops the biggest fight card in England since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the boxing event is the first for the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a $ 1.33 billion venue which opened in 2019.
But, said Hearn, the crowd projection was also a function of Joshua’s popularity. Winning gold at the London Olympics in 2012 ensured Joshua turned professional with an integrated following in Britain. In April 2017, 90,000 spectators saw him beat Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium in London for the WBA, WBO and IBF titles.
âHe is by far the biggest star in British boxing, and arguably the biggest star in world boxing,â Hearn said.
Joshua’s next test is Usyk, an opponent ordered by the World Boxing Organization, and fights between renowned champions and obligatory challengers often make stakeholders think long-term. A victory on Saturday should position Joshua to fight the winner of next month’s bout between Fury and Wilder.
But Usyk’s resume suggests he’s not an afterthought. Like Joshua, he won Olympic gold in 2012. He turned professional as a cruiserweight and won the title from all the major sanctioning bodies in that division. In his last cruiserweight fight, he crushed England star Tony Bellew, and he’s won both of his fights since moving to heavyweight in 2019.
“Every fight makes history,” Usyk said through a translator at Thursday’s press conference. âMe and Anthony are going to take another step in history. Something people will talk about. Something people will remember.
The match became possible after a few fights between Wilder, Fury and Joshua.
In May, Hearn said Fury and Joshua signed for a title unification fight in mid-August. It was planned to take place in Saudi Arabia and each fighter could potentially have won nine miniatures. But Wilder went on to stop the fight, arguing that after losing to Fury in February 2020, he exercised the rematch clause in his contract and was granted the legal right to fight Fury afterwards. A judge agreed and ordered a Wilder-Fury fight, forcing Joshua to regroup and face Usyk.
The resulting fight pits Johsua, a powerful puncher whose sometimes porous defense makes him vulnerable, against Usyk, a calculating southpaw who counteracts with authority.
“If styles make fights, we’re going to have a very, very special night,” said Ed Breeze, executive vice president of DAZN, who will be releasing the fight card, at the press conference.
Similar circumstances preceded Joshua’s first professional loss in June 2019. A planned title defense against Jarrell Miller failed when Miller failed a doping test, and Joshua opted to continue with a new opponent on the same date for his US debut at Madison Square Garden. Andy Ruiz replaced Miller and scored a seventh round victory by technical knockout.
Joshua regained his titles in a rematch six months later, but said Ruiz’s loss taught him the value of a reset and a full training camp.
So after an unexpected change this time around, instead of putting Usyk in the August date, Joshua moved the fight to September to give him and his undefeated challenger the attention they deserve.
âIt’s not complicated. If you tell me I’m fighting King Kong, I’ll try,â Joshua said Thursday. âIt’s an opportunity for me to work. He’s going to work, I’m going to work.