He’s too small. He can’t take the shots from a powerful heavyweight. He cannot hold his own physically. Three of the more common accusations levelled at the unbeaten and supremely talented Oleksandr Usyk ahead of the Ukranian’s challenge for the unified world heavyweight titles against Anthony Joshua on September 25 in London. Let’s investigate and, where viable, challenge each of these assertions in turn.

By modern-day heavyweight standards, Usyk, at 6ft 3in and around 215lbs, certainly stands at the smaller end of the spectrum. He has fought bigger men at cruiserweight and heavyweight, including Murat Gassiev and 6ft 4in, 242lb Chazz Withersoon, however, and found his speed of hand and foot, plus punch variety and boxing IQ were more than enough to compensate for any size disadvantage. That said it is arguable that the former undisputed cruiser king and Olympic champion from 2021 [as is Joshua] has yet to face someone who uses their superior height, reach and physical stature as well as AJ has in his more recent fights, beginning with the revenge win over Andy Ruiz Jr.

The latest Joshua/Usyk odds via set the Briton as a -270 favorite with the underdog Usyk at +211. There has been almost zero odds movement up to this point, but with the bout still over two weeks away, there are likely to be at least small shifts. At the very least, with the fight taking place at Tottenham Stadium in London, the British punters will probably drive Joshua’s price shorter in the 24 hours prior to the fight.

In a similar vain, Usyk has taken the clean shots from the likes of Witherspoon and Dereck Chisora at heavyweight, plus a big-punching then-cruiser in Gassiev [abeit not many in the latter], and despite some opinions to the contrary, stood up well to getting tagged. Joshua’s vaunted power is in a different league, though. Think of the huge shots over the years that have despatched other large men like Dillian Whyte and Wladimir Klitschko and it is easy to envisage that when AJ lands clean – and he surely will at some point – it will at the very least make Usyk think twice about advancing into range.

Regarding the physical challenge more generally, Joshua is far more inclined to cut the ring down and try to dictate behind his jab than to get into close quarters and look to maul and lean on. Tyson Fury would probably mix in those kid of tactics against a speedy, technically adept operator like Usyk but it’s never really been Joshua’s style. If I were in Oleksandr’s camp I’d be more concerned with the physical toll of taking heavy shots in regularity and what debilitating effect this could have on their man’s stamina, especially if they feel the Brit will tire in the fight’s second half.

All in all, Usyk must be more disciplined than ever before, not become greedy when successful and keep moving laterally for most of the 12 rounds. The Ukranian is no weak puncher himself but his shots seemed to have little impact on the heavyweights he has faced thus far and Usyk would be wise to rely instead on his skills and intelligence if he is to come through and take the belts. Even that may not be enough, but I’m not convinced size will be the deciding factor.

Source: Danny Flexen