If I hadn’t seen Oleksandr Usyk fight Chazz Witherspoon in 2019, I would be loading up on him to defeat Anthony Joshua on Saturday in London and win the IBF-WBA-WBO heavyweight titles from him in a bout streamed on DAZN.
But I can’t shake that bout from my memory and how Usyk didn’t seem so accomplished against a shop-worn heavyweight who was never really all that good.
Usyk came back and outboxed Dereck Chisora on Oct. 31, 2020, to restore some of my faith in him, but it wasn’t enough to exorcise the horrid memories of the way he looked against Witherspoon.
Joshua is a significant favorite at BetMGM. Joshua is -250 to Usyk’s +185, and in most cases, I’d be all over Usyk and taking that plus money.
Joshua won the super heavyweight gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, the same year that Usyk won the heavyweight gold. As a pro, Usyk is 18-0 with 13 KOs and was the undisputed cruiserweight champion. Joshua is 24-1 with 22 KOs and is in his second reign as heavyweight king.
The key to the fight will be two things: How Usyk deals with Joshua’s power and whether Joshua can effectively break through Usyk’s defenses. Usyk is a smart, slick boxer who wasn’t easy to hit by cruiserweights, who are as a rule quicker and more agile than massive heavyweights.
Had Usyk not fought Witherspoon and only had met Chisora as a heavyweight, I’d be all over him not only to win at +225, but I’d play him to win by decision at +400.
But I did see the Witherspoon fight and while Usyk won by seventh-round TKO, it was not a good performance against a long over-the-hill opponent. At his best, Witherspoon was nowhere near as talented as Usyk — or Joshua — and the fight in 2019 was long past his sell-by date.
So what to make of that? Well, while Joshua has plenty of vulnerabilities, I wonder if Usyk will be able to exploit them.
My guess is Usyk fights a heavily defensive fight and takes few risks. That leads me to believe that Joshua by decision is not out of the question. Joshua by decision is +300 and looks increasingly attractive.
So I’ll make two bets here, the second to cover myself more than anything. I’ll wager one unit on Joshua to win by decision at +300. I’ll also wager one unit on Joshua by KO/TKO/Technical Decision or DQ at even money.
Other plays for Joshua-Usyk card
• I’ll take Callum Smith by KO/TKO/Technical Decision or DQ at +125 over Lenin Castillo.
• I believe Lawrence Okolie will stop Dilan Prasovic, but Okolie is -3000 to win and -900 to win by KO or TKO, so there is no value there. So I will play one unit on Okolie by decision at +600 and hope that Prasovic somehow survives.