Joshua Sees Red in Jeddah. So, what Next?

By G.E. Simons - 08/28/2022 - Comments

In the still slightly surreal yet likely more common sight of a boxing ring at the center of a Royal stadium in the swelter of a Saudi Arabian port city, Anthony Joshua lost his attempt to reclaim a clutch of unified world heavyweight titles from the man who took them in London’s Tottenham Stadium last September, Oleksander Usyk.

Joshua had been befuddled with the mercurial movement, and spiteful speed in that first encounter with the Ukrainian, and the unanimous points victory for Usyk was clear to all.

Usyk is 6’ 3” and weighs in at around 100kg come fight night, so make no mistake, he is a legitimate heavyweight, even in this era of proper big ol’ trucks. He also packs more than sufficient pop, which is concentrated by its delivery from quicksilver angles within a perpetual motion to keep cats guessing.

Fighting Oleksander Usyk ultimately forces both the physical and mental fuel gauge needle into the red before causing confusion, frustration, and finally consternation, as AJ found out, under that spoke and wheel geometry of the Tottenham Stadium roof.

A new approach would obviously be required for the rematch, and whilst many voices shrieked that Joshua should simply big man and batter the smaller Usyk as tactical advice, that would be about as effective as attacking a woodchipper with a willow bough.

Rather than willow boughs, Team Joshua finally dispensed with the services of Robert McCracken, the man who had guided AJ since his pro debut but had really been in a state of standing count limbo since the shock TKO loss to Andy Ruiz Jnr. in 2019.

The replacement, Robert Garcia, a former IBF super-featherweight world champion, is certainly a respected trainer who does favor a more aggressive approach, albeit sensibly applied in layers, which was a good starting point blueprint to build on for the rematch.

Garcia had standout success with Mexican slugger Marcos Maidana, particularly in the first clash with Floyd Mayweather, whom he gave some uncomfortable moments, even making Money break a sweat at times – and making Usyk break sweat would need to be base camp one in the rematch.

So, fast forward to the King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah, on the night of 20th August, and with lessons learned, changes made, and focus sharpened, we arguably witnessed one of, if not the best, performance of Anthony Joshua’s career.

At the bell to end the 8th round, it was hard to argue anything other than four rounds-to-four even and really depended on how you like your boxing served – be that slick, technical, perpetual motion or predatory, walk forward pressure and power punching.

And with the balance teetering as finely as it could be, Anthony Joshua unleashed a 9th round which was unquestionably the best he had or would have with the Ukrainian. And whilst it might be an exaggeration to say that he nearly had Usyk out of there, he sure knocked him out of his rhythm and made him break a sweat, put it that way.

But the difference between elite fighters, which Anthony Joshua absolutely is, and super elite fighters, is the ability to turn it on when your mouth might be full of blood, the body is bruised inside and out, windows of opportunity are closing up, and yet, it is all still to fight for.

And turn it on is exactly what Olekander Usyk did as the bell rang for the 10th. He clearly claimed the round by moving up a gear with precise and increased punch output, whilst continuing to move like a fired-up, first rounding middleweight, reducing Joshua to moving like a shutting-down, final rounding heavyweight – then did exactly the same in rounds 11 and 12.

The split decision verdict in Usyk’s favor certainly felt generous to Joshua. But make no mistake, this fight could have gone either way as the bell sounded for the end of that 9th round – indeed, many unofficial ringside, let alone armchair judges, had AJ one up before Usyk clearly claimed the final three – it really was that close.

And pushing Usyk to dig so deep in the championship zone, in a focussed, tactical and solid performance from Joshua, made what happened next all the more surprising.

Since bursting into public life following his Olympic gold medal-winning nadir at London 2012, there has been a media trained, broadcast polished, marketing-driven, brand ambassadorial given about Anthony Joshua, which has made his businessman Jekyll very wealthy, alongside his pugilistic Hyde, who looks after the athletic side of things.

But back to Jeddah, and as Michael Buffer’s confirmation of the scorecards in favor of Usyk continued to echo out across the Red Sea, Anthony Joshua’s Mr. Hyde started to erode the brand equity of his Dr. Jeckyll.

In a blaze of quick moving minutes, which were not quite Fan Man but unique in their own way, AJ had grabbed and dropped Usyk’s WBA and Ring title belts over the ropes, stormed out of the ring, stormed back into it, and then grabbed the microphone to deliver an uncomfortable, expletive studded monologue.

Those familiar Joshua tones slid outside of their usual pitch and polish as he skittishly covered everything from his early life struggles through Sonny Liston’s combination punching to the history of conflict in Ukraine before leading ‘complimentary’ cheers for the bemusedly dignified Oleksander Usyk alongside him.

Forget The Rage on The Red Sea – Anthony Joshua saw red, and that was no bad thing because he isn’t a middle manager in a facilities management organization; he’s a heavyweight boxer and a damn good one who found and showed his fire and should look to keep it burning.

If he decides to fight on, which is likely, the possibilities are endless, from Whyte, Joyce (Parker notwithstanding), or Dubois domestically to Wilder, Ruiz Jnr, or Hrgovic internationally, to name but a few.

And let’s be honest, a Tyson Fury fight would still sell, even if both had long lost their unbeaten records.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s historical romance ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ he wrote, “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the truth.”

Anthony Joshua may just have found that out, which could be for the better as he moves into the final act of his boxing career.

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