OLEKSANDR USYK touched down in London on Monday cutting a relaxed figure. The Ukrainian, the former cruiserweight champion, takes on Anthony Joshua in a major heavyweight clash at the Tottenham stadium on Saturday (September 25) but he insists all the pressure going into this is on the Briton.
“Naturally I believe it will be more difficult for him because look he has got three titles [the WBO, WBA and IBF belts], he will be fighting at home, he will be defending and some baldish guy will come from Ukraine to his home country and will be looking for a big fight,” he said.
Even trying to get in sparring partners who can replicate Usyk’s style, he believes, will put Joshua at a disadvantage. “I believe I think it’s extremely difficult,” he notes.
“It will be with great pleasure I’ll be boxing in London, in the UK, I love London and this is my lucky place actually,” he continues.
Usyk won the Olympics at London 2012, in the same Games where Joshua won the gold medal in the division above. He’s also never lost in the UK. He beat Joe Joyce at York Hall in the World Series of Boxing, beat Tony Bellew in Manchester, Dereck Chisora in Manchester, and also won the 2008 European championships in Liverpool as an amateur.
Joshua though has been on his radar for some time. “I believe he [Joshua] is just joking when he says he can’t remember or didn’t know me then. But there’s nothing wrong with it. Me myself I do remember him and have been watching his fights for quite a long time,” Usyk said. “Back in 2012 I wasn’t thinking about me fighting him because at that time I didn’t enter professional boxing yet. It was obvious that he would become a superstar, even at that time it was obvious because of a combination of factors, a guy from the UK, at heavyweight plus many, many other things about him. It was obvious that he was a future superstar.”
Usyk however oozes confidence. It is remarkable to think that in 2008 the Ukrainian was an Olympian before Joshua had even started boxing. Usyk intends to put all that experience and skill to use. He’s seen something in Joshua’s boxing but won’t be drawn to say any more on his rival’s weaknesses. “I’m not going to tell you at the moment what we saw, what we were watching and focusing on, what we paid attention to. I’m not going to tell you that,” he said. “At the moment I have these rough thoughts or dreams. I’m looking forward to my victory. I want to win. I’ve done a lot, I worked a lot. I put lots of effort in and on September 25 I will demonstrate. I will show what it means.”
Usyk is well used to travelling abroad and beating opponents on their home turf. He defeated Russia’s Murat Gassiev in Moscow, Latvia’s Mairis Briedis in Riga, Marco Huck in Germany, Michael Hunter in America, all significant victories. He insists he has no fear of Joshua in London. “I’m not going to be nervous about it. Look, why would I do that? Because if I do that, it will not change anything. I will not become stronger, definitely. I could only become weaker. Why would I need that? No I will be calm and confident. I may read a book, I may watch a film, I will speak to my loved ones, I may call my son, I will communicate with my team. I’m not going to do nerves at all,” he said. “Not only my compatriots will be there but many, many other people will come and will come from other countries and I love it. It’s cool when there are many people in the audience, no matter whether they are supporting Joshua or me. I love fighting [like this].”
He’ll while away the hours counting down to the fight reading his Bible and watching Peaky Blinders. “It’s a cool emotional drama,” he says of Peaky Blinders. “This is the way a family should function, protecting each other, standing up for each other, it looks like real life. And he [Thomas Shelby] is very cool in the way he dresses.”
That is another insight into the unique mind of Oleksandr Usyk. He intends to show more, in the build up to the contest and on fight night. The real mind games should begin this week. But for the time being Usyk will reveal no more. “If I’m telling you now, he will find it out,” he says with a familiar grin.
“At this moment in my career, this is the biggest fight. My opponent Anthony Joshua is my biggest opponent. He is an Olympic champion, he is a champion in three versions [of title belts]. He is a cool opponent.”
Usyk won’t even contemplate the risk of a judging controversy in London. “Why should I think about it a week before?” he says. “I don’t really need these extra thoughts or thoughts like this.”
There is a rematch clause, if Usyk is victorious. But Usyk is not looking that far ahead. “Let’s have a word about it on September 26, really it’s kind of a superstition… You shouldn’t really say it until you have the first course. Let’s talk about it on the 26th,” he said. “I do believe [I will win] and my compatriots believe in that and my followers believe in that I will do everything to win. But one shouldn’t really shout about it.”