Heavyweight superstar Anthony Joshua knows he ‘must win’ his high-stakes world title rematch with Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk this weekend, such is its importance to his legacy in the boxing world.
Joshua, 32, is bidding to reclaim the WBO, WBA and IBF world titles he lost to Ukraine’s Usyk, who thoroughly beat the Briton by unanimous decision in London last September.
“That’s it. Must win,” he said. “I like the pressure,” Joshua added. “It’s been tough. [Now] just get the job done. Instinct, stay focused, get the job done, God willing, victorious.”
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He might be one of the sport’s biggest names, but Joshua’s reputation took a huge hit when he was stunned by Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019 in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. He would regain his heavyweight belts in Saudi Arabia later the same year – but his marketability and legacy took another blow when he lost to 35-year-old Usyk last September.
There has even been speculation that a third defeat could send Joshua into retirement, claims the British superstar shut down this week.
Some experts have said a third professional defeat could end the career of the former Olympic heavyweight gold medallist — a claim dismissed as ‘crazy’ and ‘nonsense’ by Joshua.
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“I’m competing with a pound-for-pound fighter,” he told AFP earlier this week.
“I’m not losing against some has-been. It’s crazy to suggest I should retire.
“If I would lose to one of the top fighters of the world today (people would say) ‘Oh he should retire, he lost to one of the best’. What type of nonsense is that?”
“If people really want me to walk away, then cool. I ain’t begging no one,” Joshua said.
But there’s no doubt that Joshua’s standing among the pantheon of all-time greats would be irreversibly damaged should Usyk defend his heavyweight belts in Saudi Arabia – the same site where Joshua got revenge on Ruiz.
Victory would resurrect the prospects of one of the most-wanted fights in recent heavyweight history: Joshua against unbeaten heavyweight great and fellow Brit Tyson Fury.
It would almost certainly be one of the most highly-anticipated bout in modern British boxing history, but Joshua, the WBC champion, once again claimed this week he was retiring.
Only a convincing Joshua win would seem to have any hope of convincing Fury to return from his retired bliss – and only a convincing win would rebuild public interest in a fight fans have been hoping for – and denied – for many years.
For now, Joshua is in the uncomfortable position of being the underdog, the challenger, the man who will walk to the ring first.
Usyk played plenty of mind games when the two squared off in their official press conference at the Shangri La hotel in Jeddah, delaying the start of the event and forcing Joshua to wait. Usyk also scribbled notes as other fighters spoke at the press conference, and made sure he had the final word.
Usyk was all smiles despite the much bigger Joshua looming over him when the pair faced off – and the Ukrainian even started signing as Joshua walked off stage.
Usyk, dressed in traditional Cossack uniform, led his team in a rousing rendition of “Oi u luzi chervona kalyna”, an 1875 tune commemorating the country’s fight for independence in the 18th century. These days, it is a symbol of the nation’s fierce will to survive the Russian invasion.
The champion boxer returned to his native land to join the fight against Russia, and is carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders against Joshua.
“We were born to compete at life, for belts, for anything. The one who does not compete, does not live. All our lives are competitions – for anything, for someone – that’s why we’re competing.”
“I am motivated by the people of Ukraine who are struggling hard to defend our independence, to defend our freedom and defend our culture that other people want to demolish and destroy, they don’t want us to exist anymore,” Usyk added.
“I am in touch with many guys from the frontline, military guys and soldiers. I receive voice and video messages from them with words of support and news that they are praying for me and for my victory. They are holding their hands tight and praying for my victory and that motivates me.”
Usyk’s manager also revealed the incredible lengths his charge has gone to to prepare for the rematch.
“I’ve never seen anybody in 45 degrees heat ride a bicycle for 100 kilometres. I’ve never seen anybody swimming the day before the press conference in London for 10 kilometres in the pool for five hours. I’ve never seen anybody holding his breath under water for four minutes and 40 seconds, almost passing away,” Egis Klimas said. “Then I asked him, ‘What’s wrong with you?’
“He said, ‘I know I have a trainer behind me, he’s not going to let me drown. He’s going to pull me out!’”