Oleksandr Usyk & Anthony Joshua produced a gripping battle – but the Brit’s demand for a rematch does not capture the imagination
Fans hoped for it from an early stage. Anthony Joshua swung for it. Ultimately, though, the full-on right hand that would have smashed to smithereens the perplexing puzzle that Oleksandr Usyk had set him never materialized for the usurped heavyweight king, leaving the lingering question of whether he will ever solve the challenge that potentially lies ahead of him again early next year.
Joshua insists he wants that second fight. Perhaps it was pride speaking in the aftermath of a clobbering contest between two giants at the top of their game, although he sounded determined to head to the gym next week and begin plotting a way to win.
Maybe no other option than a return is feasible for Britain's most marketable boxer, with that extravagantly lucrative unification showdown with Tyson Fury now looking, at best, diminished in intrigue given the struggles he faced to break down a smaller tactician who is less decorated at the weight.
There is also the issue of how much value a rematch can offer. Usyk looked largely untroubled throughout the 12 rounds in London, even when Joshua gamely, dangerously applied pressure by repeatedly inching forward, which he had been keen to do from the first bell.
Joshua looked in danger of being entirely outclassed on the scorecards after the opening three rounds, coming back to prove his conditioning and bravery and stamp his personality and skills on the scrap by giving as good as he got and avoiding, despite his increasing desperation, being conclusively caught by one of his fellow Olympic gold medalist's usual clever traps.
AJ deserves considerable credit for that, although he is unlikely to receive it from those who have subscribed to Tyson Fury's emphatic view of him as a "big dosser" since his demolition by Andy Ruiz, nor from those unimpressed by his meandering press conference pronouncements and polished media profile.
"Keep Usyk and Fury away from each other by any means necessary" 👀Roy Jones Jr. delivers his verdict on the heavyweight scene after Anthony Joshua lost his world heavyweight titles at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday 🥊 pic.twitter.com/Ly6COEQBjq— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) September 26, 2021
Usyk, by contrast, was labeled a "strange one" by promoter Eddie Hearn, turning up in a Joker outfit in the build-up and treating the whole story with the stone-cold, gleeful nonchalance of a seasoned student of the sport, caring little about the partisan presence of more than 60,000 people attracted to a showbiz affair headlined by a favorite with a reach advantage.
It is hardly as if Joshua held off and pulled his punches in the face of the conundrum. Nor did he seem to tire badly, although that closed eye from the ninth onwards was a brutal hindrance he could so badly have done without in the championship rounds.
That does not change the fact that it would be a far greater reinvention of his tactics for him to find a way to exact revenge on Usyk than it was for him to become a defensive watchman in his successful second episode with Ruiz, an exercise in dodging the American's firepower.
Saw the Joshua/Usyk fight: AJ seemed afraid? He lost his identity. (should I be cautious (go 12) attack with my power?) Usyk typical southpaw “if you won’t hit me I’ll be award and hit you” something’s wrong not AJ he took his punishments. Who are you AJ? pic.twitter.com/f8YwKt0LP8— George Foreman (@GeorgeForeman) September 26, 2021
Derek Chisora tried all-out attack on Usyk at times last November, suffering the same fate on the scorecards as Joshua on the former cruiserweight champion's previous glorious night in London. In the final round on Saturday, Usyk looked the more likely to earn a knockout when Joshua had to go for broke, and his threat was clear even when he was pushed back earlier in the fight, absorbing shots while sizing up his next opening.
What are the tactics that could change the course of another instalment for Joshua? Trying his luck more would be a huge risk, and the idea of him outpointing Usyk looks a chasm away on this evidence.
Usyk said he wants to spend more time with his family as he stood in the ring with the belts. He also claimed he had expected more from Joshua, which does not seem a statement of mere bravado in light of his supremely skilful performance.
Rob McCracken is a top trainer but I’d love to know what in the world he was thinking with the strategy to have AJ outbox Usyk. That was never going to happen. Joshua needed to push Usyk backward, lean on him on the inside and go to the body. He also should have come in heavier— Mike Coppinger (@MikeCoppinger) September 25, 2021
Even a fighter as violently enthusiastic as he is may not relish the idea of another demanding evening holding off Joshua in the near future, not least when there may be greater tests out there for him after announcing himself as a truly elite heavyweight in such style.
The division has always been lit up by split-second explosions of the kind Joshua produced to knock out Wladimir Klitschko, and the hope of a crushing combination for the cameras, in the end, is why a stadium of people paid top prices and dressed up to see him fight Usyk, unwittingly attending a technical masterclass.
A contractually-obliged repeat will carry plenty of hype and the hope, for neutrals and Brits, of a Joshua transformation to make him more of a challenge for Usyk. Forming a convincing argument for that happening is almost as difficult as the task he will face if they are to meet again.
By Ben MillerAlso on rt.com ‘I can be much better’: Masterful Usyk promises more after shocking Joshua for heavyweight crown with dazzling London win (VIDEO)