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Can Mixed Nigerian Boxing Star Anthony Joshua Make a Comeback?

  Anthony Joshua, one of boxing’s biggest stars, faces a difficult route back to the top. Last month, he lost his world heavyweight titles f...

 

Anthony Joshua, one of boxing’s biggest stars, faces a difficult route back to the top. Last month, he lost his world heavyweight titles for a second time when Oleksandr Usyk outpointed the Brit at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England.

Although ‘AJ’ represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics - where he won the super-heavyweight gold medal - and continues to fight for his home country with pride, he remains deeply connected to his strong Nigerian heritage.

Joshua, whose full name is Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, was born to a Nigerian mother and part-Nigerian, part-Irish father, making the 32-year-old roughly 3/4 Nigerian. He has spoken about his African roots numerous times in the past and has a tattoo dedicated to Nigeria on his right arm.

A Surprise for All…

Right now, however, his main focus is reclaiming the titles he lost to Usyk a few weeks ago. Heading into the fight, any major UK online betting site like 888 Sport had Joshua as a fairly comfortable favourite to hold onto his heavyweight crown.

Usyk, also an Olympic gold medallist, had proven himself an elite fighter by becoming undisputed world cruiserweight champion, but was relatively small in size compared to the imposing Joshua.

Many expected ‘AJ’ to use his size and power to bully Usyk and show him what it’s like to be hit by a fully-fledged heavyweight. However, Joshua opted for different tactics.

The reigning champion elected to box with Usyk, a southpaw, and stood off him at times, trying to establish his jab and use skill - rather than brute force - to fend off the Ukrainian. Usyk, though, is a master boxer and this approach played right into his mesmerising hands.

He quickly found a home for his left hand, piercing Joshua’s guard with frightening regularity and also wrapping it round at times as a hook. He used his jab like a wand, keeping Joshua off balance and under his spell.

 After the contest, Usyk admitted that his coaches had to advise him against looking for the knockout in between rounds, so instead he stuck to his boxing and continued to dance around Joshua, darting in and out to punish him with sharp combinations.

 It was a stunning and masterful performance from Usyk, one which plenty of experts knew he was capable of but doubted he would be able to execute at heavyweight against someone as accomplished as Joshua.

Usyk’s footwork was one of his main weapons, keeping his front foot outside of Joshua’s so he could dictate the terms of engagement and constantly creating new angles to approach from, making him a difficult target to pin down.

Joshua started relatively slow and couldn’t find an answer for Usyk’s speed and accuracy. He was fairly static and trying to establish a rhythm with his jab in order to set up his devastating right hand, but to little avail.

In the middle rounds, Joshua found more success with work to the body of Usyk and landing some eye-catching blows upstairs. However, just as he was carving out a foothold in the fight, Usyk moved up a gear and began to pressure him even more, forcing Joshua to throw less.

As they moved into the championship rounds, it was clear Usyk had built a healthy lead and that Joshua needed to produce something dramatic. Alas, he couldn’t. Usyk only further asserted his dominance and even had Joshua badly hurt in the final moments of round 12, putting an exclamation mark on his shocking performance.

Joshua has since activated his rematch clause and will attempt to gain revenge over Usyk at some point in the coming months, most likely in the new year.

Changes Need to be Made

So, attention has turned to what he can do differently against the supreme Ukrainian. Clearly, he shouldn’t try to outbox him again, as that did not work the first time. He also can’t just throw caution to the wind and run straight at Usyk, because he will then be picked off more easily.

Despite his size, Joshua has very fast hands for a heavyweight, and he does his best work when throwing combinations at opponents, usually ending in hooks or uppercuts. He did little of that against Usyk in their first fight, so in the rematch he should close the distance quickly and work inside.

Usyk was also visibly uncomfortable with some of the body shots Joshua landed on him, highlighting another avenue for ‘AJ’ to explore in the second fight. This would also help to slow Usyk down as the fight wore on, making him easier to land punches on.

That explosive style is a large part of what got Joshua to this stage in the first place; so many of his opponents have been blitzed by his speed and power, and it is clearly a more natural style for him to adopt.

Joshua has the tools to beat Usyk, but it is still an almighty task to pull off. If he and his team devise the right strategy and he manages to bring that all together on fight night, we could be looking at another three-time heavyweight champion.

If that happens, then we will also be looking once again at the prospect of a fight between Joshua and Tyson Fury, who recently destroyed Deontay Wilder in their trilogy bout.

Fury is an altogether different beast to Usyk. He is much larger - bigger even than Joshua himself - and can fight in a variety of ways. However, he can be hit, and he can be hurt, and Joshua would need to capitalise on that with his unrivalled finishing instincts.

As things stand, Joshua faces an unenviable uphill struggle to make a comeback, but he is far from being written off yet. A different approach to the Usyk rematch is required, and this may mean a revert to a style seen in older fights of his - whatever the case, it will be fascinating to watch.

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