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Oleksandr Usyk insists pressure is all on reigning champion Anthony Joshua

The Guardian
The Guardian
 25 days ago
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Oleksandr Usyk Photograph: Mark Robinson/Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing

Oleksandr Usyk will watch Peaky Blinders and read the Bible in the last stressful hours before he steps into the ring against Anthony Joshua for their world heavyweight title fight at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Saturday night.

Usyk, the former undisputed world cruiserweight champion, has only fought twice previously as a heavyweight but he insisted he will feel few nerves against Joshua. “The lack of nerves will help me,” the 34-year-old Ukrainian said. “I am not going to be nervous. Why would I be? It would not change anything. I will not get stronger, only weaker.”

As a seasoned world champion who, like Joshua, won an Olympic gold medal at London 2012 (in a division below the British boxer), Usyk knows the most unsettling time for a fighter is usually in the last hours before the first bell. Time drags and doubts can crowd a boxer’s mind. Saturday night will be especially fraught as Joshua is much the bigger man and he will be roared on by a home crowd of 60,000. But Usyk said: “I will be calm and confident and probably read a book before or watch a film and speak to my loved ones or my son. I am not going to do nerves at all.”

Related: Anthony Joshua expects Usyk fight to be his toughest since facing Klitschko

When he was asked what he might watch and read in his dressing room, Usyk made his contrasting choice. “I am watching Peaky Blinders. Everything looks realistic and my favourite character is the boss, Tommy Shelby [played by the Irish actor Cillian Murphy], the middle brother. It’s a cool and emotional drama and it feels like real life to me. It is the way a family should function, protecting and standing up for each other. And he looks very cool in the way he dresses. The book will be the Bible, the word of God.”

Peaky Blinders is full of rage, retribution and violence – as is the Bible – but Usyk cut a composed figure on a Zoom call from his home in Ukraine. He is often an amusing and zany character, who loves playing pranks, but the seriousness of his task against Joshua seems to have instilled a deeper concentration in Usyk. “It is the biggest fight of my career. My opponent is the biggest [challenge], an Olympic champion and he has three [world heavyweight] titles. He is a cool opponent.”

There is mutual respect because Joshua has said that Usyk will “definitely” test him and could be his most dangerous opponent on home soil since his landmark victory against Wladimir Klitcschko in April 2017. Joshua was shocked when he lost his world titles to Andy Ruiz Jr in June 2019, and although he regained all his belts in a swift rematch later that year, Usyk suggested Joshua will be under more pressure on Saturday.

“It will be more difficult for him because he is defending three titles and fighting at home,” Usyk said before grinning. “A bald guy will come to his home country and look for a big fight. It will be a great pleasure for me to box here again. I love London and the UK and it is my lucky place. But I am not showing my emotions much and I don’t think I should.

“There is a saying in Russian that, if you rush, you make people laugh. So I would prefer to be calm and not rush. I don’t have any rough ideas or dreams how it will happen but I am looking forward to the victory. I want to win, I have put in all the work and effort and I will demonstrate what this fight means to me.”

Usyk is following in the wake of the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, who dominated the heavyweight division from 2004 to 2017. He is a much more fluid and natural technician than his countrymen but Usyk lacks their imposing physical stature. “It was my dad who initiated my boxing,” he explained. “He would wake me up and put on the TV for boxing. I was not such a Klitschko fan. They are very cool guys who did a lot for Ukraine boxing but I am not a fan of their style. I am a fan of what they did for the country and Ukraine boxing.”

Tyson Fury has mocked Joshua for his lack of movement, although he is more athletic than either Klitschko brother, and derided his British rival as “a body-builder.” Usyk shrugged: “Tyson is a cool guy and makes so many jokes. As far as I know Joshua is a boxer and not a bodybuilder. But I believe it is extremely difficult for him to get any sparring partners to prepare for me. So I believe I will win. I will do everything to win but you should not shout about it at every corner.”

Book Joshua vs Usyk at skysports.com/Joshua


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