Sunday, June 26, 2022

Joshua’s rematch with Uysk isn’t the ‘last chance’ you think

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Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk 2 is officially official. For a few weeks since Usyk announced he was leaving his native Ukraine to train for the heavyweight title rematch, it was simply “official” – after a lengthy process to confirm a date and venue – is the fight now on.

It had not been ‘on’ in italics for a number of weeks, see, after Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn initially guaranteed a June fight date and mentioned the possibility the rematch could take place in London like its predecessor. However, claims of a spring clash gave way to suggestions for a July date, which soon gave way to hints of an August contest, and British fans’ hopes of seeing one of their star fighters in action on home turf were quickly deconstructed – similar to “AJ” in his September points loss to Usyk – when Saudi Arabia became the clear front runner to host the fight.

And so Joshua vs Usyk 2 is official on on August 20 in Jeddah, the prizes are the Ukrainian’s WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts.

The obvious question is whether #RageOnTheRedSea is Joshua’s last chance to set up an in-ring meeting with Tyson Fury, who – to the disbelief of most – claims he’s had his last dance.

Most would answer yes, but when Joshua, 32, was KO’d by Andy Ruiz Jr. three years ago, the feeling was the same. Yet AJ responded with a mature performance in late 2019 to surpass Ruiz Jr. and reclaim his heavyweight belts. When the Brit lost them again, this time to Usyk last autumn, the likelihood of a Fury clash faded to a mere possibility and then – with Fury’s “retirement” having KO’d Dillian Whyte in April – an improbability.

And yes, if Joshua loses to Usyk again, it’s almost certain we’ll never see that all-British heavyweight unification fight. It will be the losing battle of this generation, at least in the UK.

If Joshua is indeed defeated again against the undefeated Ukrainian, the calls for his resignation will be loud and numerous – albeit unjustly. Because Joshua, as much as he seems engineered from birth and later molded by Hearn into the heavyweight champion, need not be defined by that status; Nor does his career need to be defined by a possible fight with Fury.

Of course, he could move into the next phase of his life as a promoter and model, but that would feel like a waste of the Olympic champion’s skills. Many devoted boxing fans are quick to deride Joshua as a cheater who was protected en route to heavyweight gold and then exposed in bouts involving an old Wladimir Klitschko – despite AJ’s late KO win – and Usyk as well as Ruiz Jr.

The truth is, Joshua isn’t the smartest or most adaptable heavyweight out there, but he does have clean fundamentals and fearsome knockout power. Just because he may not be destined for a fight with WBC Champion Fury, who is his opposite in so many ways, doesn’t mean his career should end abruptly in the absence of titles and a lack of a fight with the “Gypsy King”.

“If you lose, you lose to a pound-for-pound number 1, and then you regroup and go again,” Hearn said LatestPageNews this month.

“But obviously you want to win and if he wins I believe the Tyson Fury fight will happen; If he doesn’t, he becomes a contender again.”

There’s nothing wrong with Joshua being a contender. In fact, that status could open up the most interesting phase of AJ’s career, with the opportunity to fight Deontay Wilder, old foe Dillian Whyte, Olympic medalist Joe Joyce and up-and-coming Daniel Dubois.

And if all goes well, such a time could set Joshua back up for a title shot. What’s more intriguing, though, is that it might reintroduce fans to the AJ that was so captivating in the first place: the swaggering juggernaut that gave British fans so many entertaining nights that guaranteed knockouts and little else.

If that’s how Joshua is supposed to be remembered – knockouts and little else – would it really be that bad?

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