OLEKSANDR USYK is a very special fighter. His game is counter-punching. He makes you miss because his feet are that good. He can make you miss, and he’ll then pivot to the side and hit you before you know it.
He’s very hard to nail down, but that’s what the elite fighters do – they fight on the inside and on the outside, and they make you miss, and counter you. Everything that makes a fighter special, Usyk’s got in his locker. Anthony Joshua’s been in the ring with him once and he got outboxed. He’ll know what he’s got to do this time – and that’s to break all of that down.
Joshua was a wrecking ball early in his career. He was walking through opponents, and winning fights with first-and-second round knockouts. He was consistently displaying his power and his athleticism, and his ability to land shots when he needed to. When he fought Charles Martin for the IBF heavyweight title in April 2016 he brushed him to one side, but when you start defending world titles the calibre of opponent gets better, and you can’t do that to everyone.
For some reason, against Usyk last September, he seemed to not have that in him. Whether that’s because Usyk’s style stopped Joshua getting to him, or because Joshua thought he could outbox him, I don’t know.
He needs to be a wrecking ball again on Saturday, but against Usyk he’s got to be a smart wrecking ball. He’s got to be aggressive, but he’s got to be smart to not get hit on the way in – which is was what was happening last time. He needs to work Usyk’s body and head, and he needs to sit with him in the trenches.
On Saturday he has to close the distance to Usyk and then not be hit with the power shots Usyk will throw. There’s a lot that’s got to be going through his mind.
He has to cut the ring down with his feet, make sure he hits the target, and then when he does he has to start winging punches in. Once he’s in, Joshua is capable of knocking anyone out. But he has to be smart with his feet and with his upper-body movement.
I believe that’s why he’s brought his new trainer, Robert Garcia, on board. I know Robert really well, and he gets his fighters coming forward aggressively – and whacking hooks to the body and head. I’ve spent weeks with Robert at his gym in Riverside, California; my fighters have sparred his. They’re aggressive; they work to the body and then the head; they close the ring down with their feet. I can see why Joshua’s picked Robert out to work with, because that’s the sort of style and approach he needs on Saturday.
A lot of people are doubting Joshua. I’ve not worked with him for a few years, but I think he can do it. The mindset of the Joshua I once trained – he’s capable of beating anybody.
The way he responded to losing to Andy Ruiz in June 2019 shows you the makeup of him. That was a devastating defeat by Ruiz and months later he came back and beat him convincingly, because he knew what he had to do, and he trained himself to do that.
I was really, really surprised when he split with Rob McCracken. If anyone knows Joshua mentally, it’s Rob. He’s a very experienced trainer as well, and between him and Joshua they would have been able to change the game plan second time around. I don’t know what went on between them, but Joshua’s made the break, and Robert Garcia’s a good pick as Rob’s successor.
I also believe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will have a big influence – and that this could be a good time to be fighting Usyk. On the night of the fight I expect what’s happening to inspire the warrior in Usyk – he’ll be fighting for Ukraine and the troubles they’re experiencing, and to enlighten such a big audience about what’s going on there.
But it could also have led to a loss of focus for him during his training camp. If you put yourself in his situation, and you’re in another country training, and working, and your family and friends are back in a war-torn country where they’re getting shelled and bombed every day – and where people you know are there dying, you’re not going to be 100 per cent focused, I don’t care who you are.