How Anthony Joshua can bounce back from devastating title loss to Oleksandr Usyk

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·Combat columnist
·4 min read
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There have been so many comparisons between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury through the years, because they’re both giant-sized men from the United Kingdom with a special skill in beating up people.

But beyond their personalities — Fury is often outrageous and prone to wild mood swings, while Joshua is consistent and reserved — there is no comparison between them.

Joshua lost the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles on Saturday and blew a payday that could have been upward of $100 million for a bout with Fury when he was outboxed by Oleksandr Usyk in London.

The primary difference between these men is that Fury is a gritty, hard-nosed guy who is a master strategist, while Joshua is a physical specimen but the whole is just a bit less than the sum of his parts.

Joshua finds a way to lose, while Fury finds ways to win.

Joshua blew the fight on Saturday because he adopted the completely wrong strategy. There was never a question that Usyk would be the superior boxer, nor that Joshua was the more physically gifted athlete. But Usyk, who gave away three inches in height and 20 pounds to Joshua, understands in a way that Joshua never has how to win fights.

He created angles and used perfect timing to tattoo Joshua repeatedly. Several times in the fight, Joshua staggered around after being hit by the one-time undisputed cruiserweight champion.

Contrast that to Fury’s draw on Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles with Deontay Wilder. Fury had the fight won on the cards going into the 12th, but the power-punching Wilder dropped him and nearly had him out. Inexplicably, Fury rose, and figured out a way to outfight Wilder for the rest of the round. It saved him from being knocked out.

In the rematch with Wilder last year, Fury correctly figured after spending 12 rounds in the ring that Wilder’s big flaw was that he couldn’t fight going backward. So Fury boasted to anyone who would listen in the pre-fight build-up that he’d walk Wilder down and knock him out.

Most laughed at him, because Fury is a master boxer and Wilder one of the most dangerous punchers in the heavyweight division since Mike Tyson. But Fury proved prescient when he forced Wilder to back up and wound up stopping him in the seventh round of a lopsided bout.

Boxing - WBA, IBF & WBO Heavyweight Titles - Anthony Joshua v Oleksandr Usyk - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Britain - September 25, 2021 Anthony Joshua after his fight against Oleksandr Usyk Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Anthony Joshua after his fight Saturday against Oleksandr Usyk at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. (Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge)

In his rematch with Andy Ruiz in 2019 after having been unexpectedly knocked out six months prior, Joshua fought a tentative fight, competing not to win so much as not to get knocked out. He won, but only because Ruiz had partied himself into such bad shape that he had little energy.

Joshua’s career is not over by any means, and because he has a rematch clause, he’ll get the chance to avenge the defeat.

He won’t, though, if he doesn’t fundamentally change the way he approaches his bouts. He’s a physical specimen with otherworldly tools, but he doesn’t have what Rocky Balboa called "the eye of the tiger."

Only in his stirring win over Wladimir Klitschko did he show that nastiness and grit that turns him from a good boxer to a great fighter.

Usyk would outbox Joshua 100 times out of 100, and there is little question of that. Joshua needs to to fight tall, to outmuscle Usyk, to make it a rough, rugged battle of wills.

You need to see Joshua with fire in his belly in the rematch and going out as if he intends to hurt Usyk. Usyk is a genius in the ring and so it won’t be easy, but it’s really Joshua’s only chance.

Joshua is far from through. There are far too many in the sport who see a fighter lose once and write him off. Joshua is far too talented to consider him a lost cause.

He can beat Usyk in the rematch if he changes his ways, and he can still get the fight with Fury if Fury, as he’s heavily favored to do, beats Wilder again on Oct. 9.

Whether he’ll be able to defeat Fury, though, is a far more complex situation. Fury is a more diverse fighter; he has the brilliant boxing abilities that Joshua doesn’t possess, but as he showed in the Wilder rematch, he can get nasty and down in the trenches if the situation calls for it.

Joshua with that kind of tenacity would be a scary sight.

It’s certainly not out of the question that he could do it, but it will take a fundamental change in approach from him. From here on out, he doesn’t need to be the gentleman boxer; if he’s the bully, the tough guy, the guy with a chip on his shoulder, it will suit him much better.

He has all the physical tools any fighter could want. Getting the right attitude is something that’s buried deep inside of him. To get where he wants to be, he needs to bring that side of himself out on the regular in the ring.

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