It’s a blockbuster main event at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this Saturday night, as Anthony Joshua defends his world heavyweight titles on against the gifted former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk.
Joshua puts his WBA ‘Super’, WBO and IBF belts on the line against fellow 2012 Olympic Gold medalist, Usyk and the bill can be seen in its entirety on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK, and on DAZN for viewers in the rest of the world.
Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) tasted Olympic success in London in 2012 at super heavyweight, and, after blasting his way to 15-0, picking up British and Commonwealth titles along the way, ‘AJ’ became IBF world champion with a second round knockout of Charles Martin in April 2016.
He has built quite the record as a pro, adding WBA ‘Super’, WBO and IBO belts along the way against a string of seasoned campaigners, but a USA debut proved his undoing in June 2019 when late sub, Andy Ruiz Jr, wasn’t expected to trouble the Brit in New York.
Ruiz Jr flipped the script on its head though, getting off the deck to floor Joshua four times in a stunning seventh round win.
Joshua has since rebounded well, winning his belts straight back in a points win against an out of shape Ruiz in a rematch in Saudi Arabia, and, last time out, he halted IBF mandatory, Kubrat Pulev, in nine rounds.
Joshua’s latest test comes in the form of his WBO mandatory challenger.
The expectation was that Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) would take on Joe Joyce in an interim affair, and that Joshua would be facing WBC champion Tyson Fury in a bid for all of the gold.
Deontay Wilder then put a spanner in those works, and Joshua agreed to defend against Usyk, who will be the first southpaw the man from Watford will have faced in a world title clash since his first title win against Charles Martin.
The Ukrainian also struck gold at the London Olympics in 2012, in the heavyweight category, and was an amateur standout.
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After turning professional in November 2013, Usyk fought for world honours as early as his tenth contest, travelling to Poland to take a points win over WBO cruiserweight champion, Krzysztof Glowacki.
The 34-year-old would become something of an away specialist, winning in Germany, Latvia and Russia to become undisputed champion, and winning the Muhammad Ali Trophy to boot.
Usyk visited Manchester to halt Tony Bellew in eight, and, with the division cleaned out, a move to heavyweight was inevitable.
A low key seventh round retirement of Chazz Witherspoon kicked off his campaign at the new weight, and, in his last bout, he had to work hard to see off Derek Chisora on the cards in October 2020.
Prediction: I think the key in this one could well be size, with Usyk not looking the same force at heavyweight so far since moving up in weight.
He looked laboured in his wins over Witherspoon and Chisora, and will need to be at his brilliant best to outbox Joshua, and keep out of trouble.
Joshua will likely need to overcome a tricky start, but once he impose his strength and will on the Ukrainian, I think he can pull clear down the stretch for a lively win on the cards, possibly even by late stoppage.
Okolie makes first world title defence
Lawrence Okolie (16-0, 13 KOs) defends his WBO cruiserweight title for the first time on the card, and he faces Montenegro’s unbeaten Dilan Prasovic (15-0, 12 KOs).
After spells as British, Commonwealth and European champion, Okolie won the vacant belt in impressive fashion in March as he knocked out Krzysztof Glowacki in six at Wembley Arena, and he looks to move towards further honours against Prasovic.
The 26-year-old has risen up the WBO rankings, but has faced nobody approaching the calibre of Okolie. His best win came in October 2020, stopping Bosnia’s-then 19-0 Edin Puhalo in nine. He was last out in May, knocking out the 7-29-1 Tomislav Rudan, in four.
Prediction: Okolie impressed in winning the belt last time out, and will want to maintain momentum here. I think Prasovic will be under heavy pressure from early on, and could wilt within the first four rounds.
Smith returns after Canelo loss
Callum Smith (27-1, 19 KOs) makes his debut at light heavyweight, taking on former world title challenger Lenin Castillo (21-3-1, 16 KOs) over a scheduled twelve rounds.
Smith lost for the first time at the back end of 2020, dominated by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, and having outgrown the weight, he now looks to rebuild at 175lbs and with new trainer, Buddy McGirt after splitting with long-time coach, Joe Gallagher.
‘Mundo’ had previously held the WBA (Super) title at super middleweight.
His first foray at the new weight is against decent opposition, with Castillo never previously stopped.
The Dominican dropped Marcus Browne before losing on the cards in 2018, and lost nearly every round of a 2019 WBA title tilt against Dmitry Bivol.
Prediction: Smith should have enough to see Castillo off on the cards.
Fan-friendly Florian Marku (8-0-1, 6 KOs) is also in action, and the Albanian challenges IBF International welterweight champion, Maxim Prodan (19-0-1, 15 KOs), over a scheduled ten rounds.
Big-punching Marku was set back in December last year, when he was held to a fortunate draw over eight against-then 2-0 Jamie Stewart, but he rebounded well, stopping Rylan Charlton in eight, getting off the floor to get the job done.
Born in Ukraine, based in Italy, and of Romanian nationality, Prodan won the interim version of his belt in March 2019, and was then upgraded to full champion.
He has so far made two defences, taking a split decision against Wales’ Tony Dixon in October 2019, and, most recently, a last round stoppage of Nicola Cristofori in Milan back in February.
Prediction: Marku will likely go for the finish early, but will then settle for a points win.
Hatton fights for fourth time
Campbell Hatton (3-0), son of the legend, Ricky Hatton goes for win number four, and he should be able to negotiate a six round win on the cards at lightweight against Uruguayan, Sonni Martinez (2-4).
The vacant WBA Intercontinental middleweight title is the prize, as Chicago’s Christopher Ousley (12-0, 9 KOs) meets Russian Khasan Baysangurov (21-1, 11 KOs) over a scheduled ten.
Baysangurov’s only defeat was to Rob Brant in a WBA world title crack in February 2019. He has won four straight bouts since in his adopted Ukraine.
Prediction: Ousley is green, and has never been past six, and I fancy Baysangurov to score victory around halfway.
While at light heavyweight, Daniel Lapin (4-0), should have too much over six against Pawel Martyniuk (4-7, 4 KOs), who has never previously been halted.