A memorable heavyweight generation gets its latest big chapter on Saturday (DAZN, 1 PM EST) with a sequel of one of 2021’s biggest bouts.
In movies, exceptional sequels stand out because they feel like there are less of them. Successful franchises build by delivering on the promise of familiarity, but more. Pick a franchise: Terminator, Rocky, Lethal Weapon…
More whatever to ultimately diminishing returns.
Then there are those sequels that simply continue a saga, building on what came before while feeling wholly original. Works like Godfather II or Richard Linklater’s “Before” continuations stand out because of how they defied the ease of convention.
Let’s not talk about Godfather III.
In boxing, the great rivalries have more in common with Godfather II. Watching two master pugilists tell a different story every time they’re together is a special thing. Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera, Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield, and Manny Paqcuiao-Juan Manuel Marquez are just a few examples in the last thirty years.
They stand out from the run of the mill rematch. Gerald McClellan vs. Julian Jackson was a classic the first time. The return was over before it started. Evander Holyfield’s first epic with Dwight Muhammad Qawi got a brief, forgettable return. Rocky Marciano battled through hell in his first fight with Jersey Joe Walcott. Walcott didn’t have a round of hell in him the second time around.
Oleksandr Usyk will be hoping for a franchise outcome this weekend as he defends his heavyweight belts against Anthony Joshua. Joshua will be looking to play Pacino.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO heavyweight (2021-Present, 1st Defense)
Previous Titles: WBO Cruiserweight (2016-19, 6 Defenses); WBC Cruiserweight (2018-19, 2 Defenses); Lineal/TBRB/Ring/WBA/IBF Cruiserweight (2018-19, 1 Defense)
Weight: 221.5 lbs.
Hails from: Shypyntsi, Ukraine
Record: 19-0, 13 KO (25-0, 15 KO including World Series of Boxing fights)
Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Ring, BoxRec), #2 (ESPN)
Record in Title Fights: 8-0, 3 KO
Last Five Opponents: 150-15-1 (.907)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Krzysztof Glowacki UD12; Marco Huck TKO10; Mairis Briedis MD12; Murat Gassiev UD12; Anthony Joshua UD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Tony Bellew TKO8
Current Titles: None
Previous Titles: IBF heavyweight (2016-19, 6 Defenses; 19-21, 1 Defense); WBA heavyweight (2017-19, 3 Defenses; 19-21, 1 Defense); WBO heavyweight (2018-19, 1 Defense; 19-21, 1 Defense); IBO heavyweight (2017-19, 3 Defenses; 19-21, 1 Defense)
Weight: 244.5 lbs.
Hails from: Watford, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Record: 24-2, 22 KO, 1 KOBY
Press Rankings: #2 (TBRB, Ring), #3 (BoxRec), #4 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-2, 7 KO, 1 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 145-4 (.973)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Charles Martin KO2; Dominic Breazeale TKO7; Wladimir Klitschko TKO11; Carlos Takam TKO10; Joseph Parker UD12; Alexander Povetkin TKO7; Andy Ruiz TKO by 7, UD12; Kubrat Pulev KO9; Oleksandr Uyk L12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: None
The Case for Joshua: Joshua tried to box with Usyk and their clash of 2012 Olympic gold medalists favored the man with the much deeper amateur experience. Usyk, with hundreds upon hundreds more unpaid rounds logged, has forgotten more about boxing than Joshua has had a chance to learn technically in a more limited amateur run and a pro career where he became such an attraction early that he might not have had the activity he needed to truly finish developing. What that means for Joshua is that he may still have more room for growth and we may yet have seen the best version of him. Usyk is the more reflexive and instinctive fighter and Joshua can sometimes seem to be robotic in applying a box of impressive physical tools. Earlier in his career, Joshua showed some promising inside game with a hook to the body that was reminiscent of Bowe. It’s something he’s used less over time and he needs it here. If Joshua can use his jab to get close, push Usyk toward the ropes, and bang away at the ribs, Joshua can do more to make his heavy hands count this time. Joshua has to find a way to cut off the ring and make his shots count. He couldn’t beat Usyk in a fight fought largely at mid-range the first time. He has to change the geography of the fight to change the outcome this time. He can do that by playing keep away, sticking out his jab and backing away or taking the fight all the way inside. The latter is probably smarter for Joshua as the former invites a contest of Boxing IQ’s he might not be able to win.
The Case for Usyk: Usyk might be smaller than Joshua but he was more than big enough the first time. Historically, the Usyk who beat Joshua the first time was bigger than most of the great heavyweight champions of the 20th century. A heavyweight just needs to be big enough for their skillset to win and there may not be a more skilled heavyweight in the world. Usyk has to make Joshua remember their first fight in the early going. Usyk rocked Joshua early and had him almost ready to go in the final round last time. The first fight was competitive but it was Usyk who knew how to close the show in the last two rounds, leaving the impression of a more lopsided win than might have been there round by round. Usyk limited the utility of Joshua’s jab the first time and used smarter punch selection, occasionally losing rounds but never losing functional control of the fight. An Usyk who can stay relaxed and in his comfort zone on Saturday will have a path to repeating the decision from last year, if not more.
The Pick: It’s hard to think of a way for Joshua to win a decision here without seriously wounding Usyk early and creating an entirely different fight than their first. There are a lot of rounds that narrowly got away from Joshua the first time, leaving the impression there were places where he could improve marginally and perhaps change fate. The problem with that is it assumes Usyk wouldn’t have further adjusted. In the first fight, Usyk knew how to do enough and pace himself to what Joshua demanded of him. This time, with a presumably more desperate Joshua, it could mean more chances for Usyk to land with authority. Usyk has the edge in footwork, overall experience, defense, and the evidence of the first fight suggests he’s less vulnerable when Joshua lands big than the other way around.
Add to that what remains a big weakness for Joshua, his punch resistance. Lots of fighters, especially heavyweights, can be hurt. It goes with the job. Tyson Fury has been down plenty. Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes would get dropped or rocked. Part of what is special about fighters like them is how quickly they recuperated from the brink. Joshua has never shown great recuperative abilities. Instead, when Joshua gets hurt, it seems to linger on for rounds at a time. It happened against Klitschko, it happened against Ruiz, and it happened last year with Usyk. Joshua has shown he can get up, and he’s dangerous enough to keep opponents respect while working through fogs, but if Usyk hurts him again like he did in their final round last time, but earlier, can Joshua survive?
Based on the first fight, and the transition to trainer Robert Garcia, it’s easy to guess we will see a more assertive Joshua this time. That could mean an explosive outcome in his favor if Joshua lands the right bombs, but it could also mean more pinpoint counters for Usyk. The latter feels more likely. The pick is Usyk to repeat victory, with high potential for a stoppage this time around.
Rold Picks 2022: 36-9
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com