Oleksandr Usyk is no stranger to British shores. On September 25th, in front of a congested Tottenham Hotspur Stadium audience, the Ukranian wizard will challenge Anthony Joshua for the Watford man’s world titles. Although a dangerous voyage, it’s unlikely to be a mission that will impact on Usyk’s mindset beforehand.
Usyk is the fighter who has made a habit of becoming a successful away fighter with all of his notable wins coming in his opponents' backyards. Where home advantage is everything to some fighters, Usyk sees a ring as a place of work and the location of his favoured environment has zero effect on how he performs.
Visiting Britain on multiple occasions as amateur and pro, Usyk is more than aware of what will face him outside the ring when he encounters Joshua in the autumn. In 2013, just months after Usyk’s gold medal victory at the London Olympics, the talented southpaw returned to England’s capital to defeat Joe Joyce in a World Series of Boxing event.
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Joyce, now the WBO mandatory challenger to either Joshua or Usyk following his destructive win over Carlos Takam on Saturday night, has been mightily impressed by his former rival’s professional achievements. The 2016 Olympic silver medal winner will be an ardent observer when the fighters collide later this year and he believes there’s a number of items that his countryman should watch out for.
“Usyk’s southpaw stance is a problem for most fighters,” said Joyce when speaking with DAZN. “Southpaws are tricky most of the time anyway but Usyk takes it to another level. His footwork is also something that Joshua needs to be aware of. His footwork is so good and when you put that with the fact, he’s a tricky southpaw then you can see why he’s a hard night for anyone.
“I still expect Joshua to win because I think he can make his size a big factor in the fight. Joshua knows that’s one big advantage he’s got and I expect him to make it count. He’s in there with a very awkward opponent but as the fight goes on, Joshua can make his size count and take the fight away from Usyk.”
Tony Bellew is another British fighter who’s fully aware of what makes Usyk one of boxing’s most dangerous fighters. In November 2018, in what was the last fight of Bellew’s illustrious career, Usyk weathered an early storm to find a brilliant left hand that ensured the Liverpool man’s run at the highest level ended in defeat.
Bellew, one of the rare fighters to enjoy success against Usyk, says that Joshua has to find the target once he gets close to Usyk. “Shutting the distance down and getting close to Usyk is not the problem,” says the former WBC cruiserweight champion. “It’s landing once you’re there.”
“Usyk’s footwork is so good defensively and when he’s on the front foot so landing big shots on him is very difficult. It’s one thing getting close and landing the odd shot but to beat a fighter like Usyk then you have to land regularly. When Joshua gets close, he’s got to land on Usyk. If he can do that then he’ll be okay.”