JEDDAH — Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua 2 — the heavyweight fight everyone is waiting for and one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history. The upcoming second encounter between two of the sport’s biggest stars is being discussed around the world; pundits, fans, and fighters alike are divided as the how the fight will go and who will emerge victorious.
One man qualified more than most to offer an opinion and break down the ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ main event is Johnny Nelson, long-time Sky Sports boxing analyst and former cruiserweight world champion.
Like always, Nelson is part of the Sky Sports Box Office team for this Saturday’s blockbuster showdown in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He insists victory for Joshua – seeking to regain the unified heavyweight titles he lost to Usyk by unanimous decision in London, England last September – would represent a career best given his opponent’s experience.
“This is a tough, tough rematch for Anthony Joshua, but not an impossible task,” he explained. “For me, this would be his most significant career win because if you look at the pedigree of Usyk, from the amateurs through the professional ranks, undisputed cruiserweight champion and undefeated, this guy is a real threat and the most skilled of all today’s heavyweights.
“You compare the task at hand for AJ with what the other top heavyweights out there have come up against previously, your Deontay Wilder’s and Tyson Fury’s, they’ve never boxed anybody with this kind of pedigree, so a win for AJ would be very significant for his legacy.”
A former two-time world heavyweight champion, Joshua has avenged defeat once before in his career, reclaiming the unified WBA ‘Super’, IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles from Andy Ruiz Jr in December 2019 after the Mexican-American stopped him six months earlier at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Nelson is impressed with Joshua’s approach heading into his second meeting with Ukrainian Usyk. While of the view Joshua made the job harder for himself last time out by attempting to outbox ‘one of the smartest boxers out there’, he believes the Briton has learned from past experiences and has the correct mindset heading into Saturday.
“You have to go through experiences good and bad to gain wisdom – and AJ’s done that,” Nelson stated. “It’s important to remember that at one point, he was hero-like and the golden boy of boxing, yet when he lost to Ruiz Jr and then Usyk, the opinions of some changed.
“People became critical, and mentally and emotionally, this is very hard to deal with. AJ has had to learn from both losses about human nature, himself, his mindset when it comes to fights.
“Heading into this one, he thought ‘you know what, it’s time for a different approach’. He’s shrunk down his team, gone back to the drawing board, realized what went wrong, identified what he needs to fix. He has done everything right – and now believes he’ll become a three-time world heavyweight champion by knockout.”
Like Joshua himself, Nelson – who remains the longest reigning cruiserweight champion in history – does envisage a scenario where AJ wins by knockout, admitting he cannot see the outcome being determined by the ringside judges.
“In my opinion, this fight won’t go the distance – there’s going to be a knockout stoppage,” he revealed. “Usyk will win should AJ try to box. But if his tactics have changed from the first fight and he throws the kitchen sink with that same mentality when he fought with the likes of Dillian Whyte, we’ve really got a fight on our hands where AJ can win.”
While full of praise for his fellow countryman, Nelson is also full of admiration for Usyk, who became only the third man after Evander Holyfield and David Haye to win unified cruiserweight titles before claiming the heavyweight championship. Nelson recalls watching Usyk behind-the-scenes earlier in his professional career while in training camp with former heavyweight division kingpin Wladimir Klitschko.
“Usyk was maybe seven professional fights in, and he was giving Klitschko massive problems,” Nelson said. “I knew straight away he was special and the heir apparent to Wladimir. His style has probably suffered a little bit moving up to heavyweight from cruiserweight, but he’ll become a natural heavyweight in time and already has all the skills. He’s smart and sharp with strength and exceptional boxing ability.”
When asked what fans can expect to witness when the first bell rings and Usyk vs Joshua 2 is underway, Nelson was emphatic with his response: “This fight will be better than the first. It will be exciting and full of drama.
“Usyk wants to make a statement and is driven by the passion of what’s happening in his homeland; he needs the win for himself and his country,” he continued. “AJ, meanwhile, understands the lessons from the first fight and needs to win point-blank.
“It really is one of those intriguing fights because, especially in heavyweight boxing, one punch changes everything. AJ has one punch knockout power that could make all the difference. Usyk on the other hand has all the skill. There are certain things that work for one and not the other, but it’s a very good mix and this is the biggest fight of the year, for sure.”