Words by Will Vo, Sports Sub-editor
If there is one thing that can be learned from Oleksandr Usyk’s battle with Anthony Joshua, it is that size isn’t everything in sports. If there are two things that can be learned, it would not be amiss to add the importance of lead foot control to the list.
Breaking down an all-time great performance like the one put on by the mesmerising Ukrainian truly tests the limits of any superlatives, but to say it was the best away performance on British soil in many years would not be an unwarranted exaggeration. The consensus top 3 Cruiserweight to have ever lived entered the land of the giants, gave away 3 inches in height, 4 in reach, and over a stone in weight, and still emerged victorious, with the scorecards reading 115-113, 117-112 and 116-112, all in his favour.
So, how exactly did the fight go down, and what did Usyk do in order to make sure it played out as it did? To start with, the aforementioned control and pressure that the Ukrainian Southpaw exerted with his lead (right) hand and lead (right) foot. Throughout the first 4 rounds, Usyk had his right foot placed firmly on the outside of Anthony Joshua’s lead (left) foot. The relevance of this is two-fold; firstly it gave Usyk an easy escape, in the form of a pivot, should Anthony Joshua ever threaten Usyk. Secondly, and more subtly, it meant that Joshua had to worry about multiple angles of attack coming from Usyk, whereas Usyk only had to worry about one. The lead foot here served as both a trapping mechanism and an escape mechanism; both to brilliant effect. This was augmented by Usyk’s feinting and moving of his lead hand, forcing AJ to either react by biting on the feint, or eat a well-timed left hand if he focused too much on the right, mentally and physically draining Joshua.
In round 5, ‘AJ’ adjusted to this in a way similar to that of Teofimo Lopez in his coming out party against long-time friend of Usyk Vasily Lomachenko. Joshua tried to cut off Usyk’s angle of escape with his left hand, using it both as a barrier and a battering ram; throwing it out straight to prevent Usyk from moving round, and also looping it as a hook to try to intercept him. This allowed Joshua to pick up a couple of the middle rounds, as Usyk was forced to adjust. This also meant that Usyk was having to fully commit to his own jabs, as he no longer had the space to flick and swerve out, and AJ caught him with lead rights a few times during this period of the fight.
Usyk’s status as an elite boxing mind was never in doubt, and he proved why in the adjustments he made following success from Anthony Joshua. He started picking up the volume, as a tiring, mentally exhausted AJ couldn’t close distance, culminating in a twelfth round that was more akin to a one-sided beat down than a world championship boxing match. As the scorecards were read out, a dejected AJ knew what was coming, and tears pricked the eyes of the previously stoic Ukrainian.
On September 25th, 2021, Oleksandr Usyk left no doubt that true power does indeed come from spirit, and not size.