Let’s say you’re Anthony Joshua.
To suggest you’ve got the world by the tail is no overstatement.
You’re 6-foot-6 and resemble a 240-or-so-pound chunk of granite in boxing trunks.
And your smile and skill set have helped make you a marketable commodity.
Considering you possess four world heavyweight title belts, that’s hardly a surprise.
But somehow, it all seems suspect. Or fragile. Or something like that.
Oh, it all looked wonderful for five years and 22 fights – across a post-gold medal run that yielded 20 knockouts, the aforementioned haul of jewelry and a much-anticipated U.S. debut that had “A.J.” on every talk show within a 50-mile radius of the Madison Square Garden ring in which he was performing.
Then Andy Ruiz happened.
Or more accurately, then the third round against Andy Ruiz happened.
The would-be King of England crashed to the canvas and appeared instantly competitively spent, though he managed to endure another 10 minutes before the empire crashed around him in Round 7.
And even though he returned six months later to vanquish the man who’d beaten him, and even though he’s built upon that win with another one-sided KO to kick start the second title reign, it’s not the same.
You cringe each time he gets hit with a shot.
You overanalyze every grimace, every gasp and every exchange.
And no matter who the opponent of the month might be going forward, he’ll have a chance.
In this case, it’s Oleksandr Usyk – the former four-belt cruiserweight champion who’s fought and won twice at heavyweight, but has reminded precisely no one of Evander Holyfield while doing so.
A seventh-round stop of Chazz Witherspoon was meh.
And a 12-round decision over Dereck Chisora was only slightly more.
Nevertheless, it’s not at all difficult to find those who believe he’ll have a chance come Saturday.
Usyk will face Joshua for the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO titles at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in what ought to be the champion’s final competitive obstacle before an all-England unification with Tyson Fury.
“(Usyk) hits hard enough to send me down,” fellow ex-cruiser champ Tony Bellew said on DAZN, referring to the 2018 fight in which he was stopped in eight rounds. “He’s exceptional. He’s the best I ever faced. He is so technically perfect. This guy can make people look ridiculous.”
He’ll be three inches shorter, will give away four inches in reach and probably a few pounds, too.
Joshua was a shade over 240 when beating Kubrat Pulev in December.
Usyk was a nick past 217 when beating Chisora in October.
Still, it’s no slam dunk for Joshua in the post-Ruiz world.
“His footwork is on another level,” Bellew said.
“He is fantastic, phenomenally gifted in everything that he does. No one is going to outbox this guy, not even Fury, purely because his feet are so good that Tyson will be a little bit lost. If (Joshua) lets the gap get too big, then this boy can get away with it.
“He’s a big, big dangerous threat. Just think about his actual technical ability and what he’s capable of doing in a boxing ring.”
Joshua, whether genuinely or not, seems at least publicly aware of his foe’s acumen.
Usyk won gold at the same Olympics where the Englishman was crowned, and the southpaw stance he employs will be a gimmick the champion has only dealt with intermittently.
Ruiz was not only right-handed, but shorter and less long than Usyk will be on fight night.
“He’s fought many men that are orthodox and he’s used to seeing guys like me throughout his whole career,” Joshua said. “I’ve only trained for him the last three months. But during my training for a southpaw, I’ve actually learned where my feet need to be positioned and how to control a southpaw.
“He’s had years of listening to these southpaws beating up orthodox fighters and I’ve got to reverse the trend and be an orthodox fighter who beats up a southpaw.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC light flyweight title – Kyoto, Japan
Kenshiro Teraji (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Masamichi Yabuki (No. 1 WBC/No. 16 IWBR)
Teraji (18-0, 10 KO): Ninth title defense; Five KOs in eight successful title defenses
Yabuki (12-3, 11 KO): First title fight; First scheduled 12-round fight
Fitzbitz says: The challenger has heavy hands and a good KO rate, but the champion has everything else – and he’s not a bad puncher himself as of late. Consider it done. Teraji in 9 (99/1)
IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO heavyweight titles – London, United Kingdom
Anthony Joshua (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Oleksandr Usyk (No. 1 WBO/No. 5 IWBR)
Joshua (24-1, 22 KO): Second title defense; Won first seven title fights before lone loss in 2019
Usyk (18-0, 13 KO): Eighth title fight (7-0); Held IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO titles at 200 pounds (2016-18)
Fitzbitz says: Anyone who doesn’t see this as dangerous simply doesn’t know what they’re looking at. Usyk hasn’t been a heavyweight gem, but he’s skilled. Still, Joshua ought to win. Joshua in 10 (70/30)
WBO cruiserweight title – London, United Kingdom
Lawrence Okolie (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Dilan Prasovic (No. 1 WBO/No. 21 IWBR)
Okolie (16-0, 13 KO): First title defense; Six straight wins by KO (29 total rounds, 4.83/round average)
Prasovic (15-0, 12 KO): First title fight; Fighting in his sixth country in Europe
Fitzbitz says: No one is suggesting Okolie is the second coming of Evander Holyfield, or even Usyk. But he’s big, powerful and home, which ought to be more than enough here. Okolie in 8 (85/15)
Last week's picks: None
2021 picks record: 30-10 (75 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,186-385 (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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.