Anthony Joshua should be quite proud of the career he’s had.
He’s an Olympic gold medalist. He’s won 24 of 26 pro bouts and 22 by knockout.
And he’s a two-time heavyweight champion with seven successful title defenses.
But he’s got a big date coming up.
His rematch with Oleksandr Usyk next weekend in Saudi Arabia is not just for the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO shares of the big-boy division’s kingdom, but it’ll also provide the winner a fast-pass to a match with WBC champ Tyson Fury that figures to be among the most lucrative events in history.
So, it’s no stretch to suggest the loser will leave the Jeddah Superdome in a bad mood.
For Joshua, though, it’d be much worse.
Because not only would an “L” be his third in five fights since a 22-0 start, it’d also warrant inclusion on a much more dubious list alongside the likes of Greg Oden, Johnny Manziel and Lance Armstrong.
Biggest Sports Disappointments of the 21st Century.
Though it’s arguable that Joshua got more done without EPO, human growth hormone and diuretics than anyone on the list, it’s no less arguable that a second straight decisive loss to a rising cruiserweight would indicate he’s not quite the supernova some hype men claimed as the wave crested in 2017.
“This is the genuine article, a credible world heavyweight boxing champion who can charm a mainstream audience in a way not seen for a generation,” said SportsPro’s editor, Eoin Connolly. “He’s proved this in the UK, and now has a chance to do it around the world in the years ahead. Fans are flocking to him, brands are flocking to him, and that only looks set to continue.”
A loss to rotund substitute Andy Ruiz was an unexpected blip in Joshua’s U.S. debut in 2019 and even a victory in a safety-first return match six months later didn’t fully restart the momentum. He seemed destined to rebuild to a Fury fight anyway but flopped again in the initial go-round with Usyk – who earned 7-5, 8-4 and 8-3-1 margins on official scorecards at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Perhaps it was an appetite issue, ex-HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley told Boxing Scene.
“He is not without accomplishment, but Britain is the birthplace of boxing many thought he would make all their dreams come true,” he said. “Maybe he just couldn't stay hungry enough long enough.
“Boxing is hard work to begin with and (even harder) once you get incalculably rich. As Foreman used to say, ‘Once you are sleeping in silk pajamas, it is difficult to remember the hunger.’ I like him, but he and (promoter Eddie) Hearn may have concluded too soon they had won the game.”
The Ukrainian arrived to the first bout 11 months ago with multi-inch deficits in height and reach but used a precise jab, speedy combinations and superior footwork to control the action. He had Joshua in mild trouble in the third and seventh rounds and seemed on the verge of a stoppage in the 12th
It was his third win at heavyweight after a pristine seven-fight run across two years at 200 pounds.
Usyk was a prohibitive underdog in the first fight but is nearly a 2-to-1 favorite heading into the second, earning minus-190 billing (bet $190 to win $100) from DraftKings while Joshua is a plus-150, meaning a $100 outlay on him will yield a $150 profit if he evens the series at 1-1.
The new champion hasn’t fought since defeating Joshua, instead heading back to the Ukraine in February to sign up with the Kyiv Territorial Defense after Russia’s invasion. He joined the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and both Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko before opening training camp in the Czech Republic.
“I suspect Usyk is still the better boxer, but how negatively has the war affected his outlook and his training?” Lampley said. “Can he achieve the focus that guided his first fight performance?”
Joshua is also inactive since the loss but has drastically changed his corner team, ditching Robert McCracken to join forces with Robert Garcia, whose championship resume includes Mikey Garcia and Marcos Maidana.
“I see a different Anthony now. The way he thinks, the way he talks, everything he’s practicing, everything he’s doing in the gym,” Garcia said at an introductory press conference. “I think he fought the wrong fight, and that’s the past. That happened already. We’ll see who’s the better man.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to win those titles back. I know he can do it. He’s the bigger man, he’s the stronger man, he’s got the reach advantage, so we’re going to take advantage of all that.”
Joshua expects a boost in performance as well and the victory that would put him on a short list of men who’ve won shares of the heavyweight title on three occasions.
Of course, he’ll need it if he wants to avoid the company of Oden, Manziel and Armstrong.
“The hunger is still there,” he said at a press conference. “Blips happen in life, but resilience, mental toughness and consistency will always prevail. We have to give credit where it’s due. I’m not a hater. I respect people, and I respect (Usyk’s) craft and what he’s achieved. If I’m around someone who is better than me on the night, then I have to motivate myself to be better than him.
“The important thing is I have a second chance.”
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Last week's picks: None
2022 picks record: 22-10 (68.8 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,231-402 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.