Oleksandr Usyk appears even more emboldened…Anthony Joshua can not be so…

A British giant goes into the desert here in search of redemption against a Ukrainian warrior who has his own nation and many others behind him.

If Anthony Joshua does succeed in retrieving from Olexsandr Usyk the titles he believes still belong to him he will elevate himself to the exclusive pantheon of three-time world heavyweight champions.
Should he fail his future may well be lost in the darkness shrouding these shifting sands. Destiny or despair?
The answer is clouded by the doubts assailing Joshua after being mesmerised into embarrassing defeat by Usyk in Tottenham last September.

Usyk appears even more emboldened than 11 months ago, when he confounded the conviction that a good big ‘un always beats a good little ‘un.
Size stood for nothing as the former undisputed cruiserweight champion stepped up to boxing’s marquee division.
Speed kills in the hardest game. Movement maketh confusion. Courage is essential. Timing vital. Usyk is blessed with those attributes in abundance.

What sets him above almost all previous smaller pretenders. Usyk is a master of this noble art. What makes him especially dangerous is the science he applies to his craftmanship. He is one of the prize ring’s most profound technicians.

Joshua had no answer first time out. It is not beyond him to find blunt physical solutions in this rematch but only he knows if he has deciphered the equation to a complex conundrum.
Uninvited advisers urge him to overwhelm his nemesis with size, strength and power. His esteemed new trainer from America, Robert Garcia, proposes: ‘controlled aggression.’ What is certain that AJ cannot be so passive again. Yet a cavalry charge could be as suicidal as that of the Light Brigade.

Usyk says: ‘If Anthony tries to rush me I could stop him early. I will hold the centre of the ring again, box quickly and cleverly and this time knock him out at some point. This is not a new bout. It is continuation of the first into rounds 13, 14, 15…. for as long as it lasts. The same fight. The same result.’
Joshua responds: ‘I am declaring victory in advance. I refuse to be hurt. I refuse to be knocked out. I know it will be very tough but I refuse to lose one of the most important fights of my life.’

But has just one training camp with Garcia been enough to cure his paranoia about fighting southpaws? Of which he says: ‘They’re a nightmare. If Usyk wasn’t a leftie I would have smoked him in the first fight, 100 per cent. But we’ve worked out the angles now.’

Joshua admits he took Usyk lightly in London and says: ‘I’ve trained to be fully prepared and conditioned this time.’ Usyk counters: ‘It’s almost impossible to find sparring partners when you’re going to fight me.’
In readying himself ‘to fight for all my brave countrymen who are my inspiration and I must not let down’ the hero of Kyiv has been seen training beyond the normal limits of human endurance.

So a couple of questions for him: Has he overdone it? Does his self-belief stray into arrogance and complacency which might give Joshua his best chance of overturning the betting odds against him?
Is he distracted by the conflict he had to leave to defend his crown? Probably not but worth asking since one punch can change everything for heavyweights.

AJ could not find that decisive blow during their first 12 rounds. If he requires something different to do so here, then can this leopard be the one who changes his spots at coming up 33? He will prove himself a rare breed should he do so.

Joshua has fought in Saudi Arabia before, but the location does deprive him of the massed ranks of 68,000 vociferous supporters he enjoyed at their London encounter. Few have travelled from the UK although some ex-pats are expected to make the short flight from Dubai.
Rather than the new super-stadium in Sports City, the venue is the older 10,000 capacity Arena for which tickets are still on sale in shopping stalls and kiosks everywhere, some at reduced prices.
Given the number of seats expected to be occupied by members of the ruling Saudi family, the atmosphere is more likely to be royal than raucous.

Usyk has the added patriotic motivation that comes in a time of war. Joshua would love his country to love him as deeply as Ukraine loves his nemesis and expresses no desire to see an end to his career.
A final answer to all the questions awaits us in the dunes on the edge of Arabia’s most ancient city.
This British heart beats for Joshua but in vogue with his mood of refusals this old head cannot erase the mental picture of another Usyk victory, perhaps this time by knock-out.

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