Usik ‘s ten – year conspiracy to overthrow AJ | Boxing News – Sky Sports – Sports News, Transfers, Scores

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A decade ago, Oleksandr Usik’s gaze narrowed and his jaw tightened at first glance at Anthony Joshua.

“I said, ‘He’s going to be an Olympic champion,’” Usik recalls when he first froze in Joshua.

In the 10 years since then, his eyes have not strayed too far from the frighteningly powerful but then naive super heavyweight category from England that he watched from the ring in 2011.

Strange thing?

Joshua lost the fight Usik was watching.

However, the Ukrainian whispered to his fellow fighters on the ring that he would continue to achieve great things.

At this moment, Usik knew, watching Joshua’s empty head bowed in a rare defeat, that their paths would one day cross.

Ukrainian Usik was 24 years old, approached the zenith of his amateur career and went to the World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan. Three years earlier, he won gold at the European Championships, lighting up Liverpool, and then went to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Two years earlier, he had won bronze at previous Worlds.

By then he was already a fighter of some reputation.

“Usik had a reputation then. Many people, if they hadn’t prepared the boxers for the next fight, would have gone to watch it, “said Ski Sports Paul Walmsley, previously the coach of the World Class program in the GB team who took Joshua to Baku.

Joshua, however, was still a 21-year-old boy. Full of raw flesh, but burdened with youthful naivety.

Just three months before Baku, Mihai Nistor brought him an intermittent loss.

“Honestly, not much was expected of Joshua,” admits Walmsley. “There was more experience at that level just to see how he coped with it.

“There was no pressure on him, and it reminded him of that all the time. He was in Europeans, where he broke away from the Romanians. “

“The prominent victory was against Robert Cammarelle,” said Walmsley. The Italian was the current amateur world champion and Olympic champion.

“I thought that AJ started to show a little maturity and that there was something there. He was very new all the time, he did not have a school or juniors in sports. He got into it late, so he was still a bit raw, a rookie. When that fight with Cammarelle was over, I thought he got there. He has tactics.

“He was showing signs of something special.”

Joshua defeated Erik Pfeifer and advanced to the finals of the super-heavyweight tournament, which included Erislandi Savon, Joseph Parker, Toni Ioka and Filip Hrgović.

Meanwhile, in the section below, Usik was also crawling towards the fight for the gold medal, putting Arthur Beterbiyev down along the way.

Behind the scenes, Usik would often feel his presence, Walmsley explained: “The room was the size of a football field, where each country went inside and grabbed a few seats and took up little space to warm up. It is quite possible that you would have Joshua inside while Usik was warming up.

“Usik was a character in the locker rooms. This crazy, crazy music was heard.

“He ran up and down the hall, singing words. He danced and screamed on top of this crazy music. He’s always like a character. Usik was a crazy eccentric but a brilliant boxer.

Usik lit up, raised a finger and smiled at his first memory of Joshua.

“I remember very well,” he told Ski Sports. “He lost the last fight against Mahommedrasul Majidov.

“It was a good final, you know. I watched it live.

“I told my team, ‘This guy is the future Olympic champion.’

“The following year, 2012, Anthony was an Olympic champion.

“Why did I think this?” I watched his fight. I watched Anthony. I saw it progress, progress, progress. “

It is fascinating that Usik, from the ring, predicted Joshua’s rapid ascent despite watching him lose.

“I saw this guy grow up thinking,” Usik shrugged.

Joshua’s opponent in the final, Majidov, was a local boxer from Baku. Usik has already won a gold medal so far.

Three hundred soldiers surrounded the ring in support of Majidov.

“There was an atmosphere,” Walmsley recalls. “Apart from London in 2012, it is the loudest noise I have ever heard during boxing. The noise was amazing.

“I was so nervous about AJ because Majidov is a bit of a monster.

“Where we were sitting, at the bottom of the steps to the ring, it had to be six feet to the ring and I was literally screaming from my lungs. You couldn’t hear anything. He couldn’t hear me. I had to shout to be heard, and that was between rounds.

“AJ has raw power. On several occasions, he shocked the local population a little. He lost by one point, but I definitely thought he had achieved that, and so did most of the people I spoke to. “

No one was more impressed than Usik.

“Obviously he had to see something special there,” says Walmsley. “It was meteoric, the way AJ flew through the ranks. He had that little bit of magic. You knew it would pass at the highest level.

“I’m a little surprised that Usik studied Joshua, given the difference in weight.”

Was Joshua aware of Usik?

“I do not think so. He definitely didn’t mention him to me. “

Usik’s prediction of Joshua’s success would show up exactly a year later at the Olympics. They both won gold medals and, again, there was something about Joshua that Usik continued to follow.

“I watched all his fights,” says Usik. “Absolutely every fight he has.”

Yet Ushik’s fascination did not mean that he was still considering Joshua as a future opponent.

“I can’t say that I was so impressed with AJ,” Usik recalls of the Olympics. “What really impressed me was our dream boxing team and our results.”

For the next few years, their paths never crossed — Joshua became a two-time world heavyweight champion, and Usik became the undisputed heavyweight champion.

“We first watched Usik together one night during AJ’s training camp, when Usik won the Muhammad Ali trophy (at the World Boxing Super Series),” David Ghansa, part of Joshua’s inner circle, told Ski Sports.

“I couldn’t believe how good Usik is – so light on his feet, hitting 12 rounds. But AJ was not too loud.

“So, Usik was on the radar of AJ.

“There are no secrets.

“AJ is studying boxing – he knows the children who are coming, fighters for return, fighters outside his generation.

“I met Usik in New York and told him, ‘We know who you are.’

“That’s why it’s not surprising that we’re here. They are not strangers to each other. “

“I remember he made a sign for me. I think he noticed me in the crowd. He waved at me … “
Oleksandr Usik

The moment that changed the course of this bubbling rivalry was in 2018, in the magnificent moment after Joshua’s knockout.

Squeezed fists, blood stained on his gloves, screaming at the huge crowd.

There was only one expressionless face in the crowd, covered with a dark hood, eyes fixed on Joshua. Just staring, completely focused. It was the same view from so many years ago.

“Of course I remember,” says Usik. “AJ fought in London at Wembley with Alexander Povetkin.

“I remember he made a sign for me. I think he noticed me in the crowd. He waved at me. I was pretty sure good guys like us should fight each other.

“Other things were on my mind – work, family, wife, children. It wasn’t on my mind. But my goal was to fight him. “

Why has Joshua always been Ushik’s obsession and not Tyson Fury?

The reason is incredibly simple.

“Because he’s an Olympic champion.”

“The government condemned any involvement,” they say from AJ’s team.

But Usik says: “I talk to him all the time …”

Vladimir Klitschko’s participation in this fight between his two protégés is horrible.

Klitschko took Joshua under his wing long before the younger man ended his career in their classic Wembley encounter. And Usik, his Ukrainian colleague, was signed with the K2 management label, which included both Klitschko brothers.

“When the fight was announced, Vlad told Anthony, ‘I love you both, good luck, let the godfather win,’” David Ghansa explains.

“The government has condemned any involvement.

“I believe Vlad is the guy who doesn’t want to be involved.”

But Usik says otherwise.

“The things we’re talking about are private,” he murmurs about Klitschko.

So you talked to him about this fight?

A long pause and a search for the right words …

“I talk to him all the time.”

How is today’s Joshua better than the version that Usik first saw in Baku?

“He has significantly improved his technical skills,” says Usik. “First, he improved his boxing mind. He matured as a man. His body became more mature. His skills have improved. “

And how is Usik different?

Another long pause, followed by singing.

“I have more children now!”

“If he stands still, I think Usik will just pick him up and move him …”

“Never in a million years,” says Paul Walmsley when asked if he ever expected his young and powerful super heavyweight to eventually face the golden boxer of Ukraine.

“Because of the difference in weight. Especially the difference in size in the heavy category among professionals, which is absolutely huge.

“I guess Joshua will get in a little easier than usual. I think he will work on what he is doing now, and that is speed and agility. Be a little looser and more agile, a little more movement and flow.

“If he stands still, I think Usik will just pick him up and move him. But Joshua has always had that phenomenal power, so if he connects with anyone in the world, they will leave. “

Vasily Lomachenko raised an eyebrow: “But Alexander is much faster.”

Anatoly Lomachenko aka “Papachenko”, who led his son and Usik to Olympic gold medals, returned to Usikov’s corner.

“His father would not train anyone else, but he will train Usik, because Usik is like a family,” said promoter Bob Arum.

Usik is sitting with a threatening skinhead and mustache on the steering wheel. It’s a hell of a view. He is wearing a Muhammad Ali T-shirt – Ali was known for taking off much bigger men.

He clearly understands questions in English before they are translated – just like inside the boxing ring, he is always one step ahead.

Will his speed be the key?

He takes off his sunglasses and becomes serious for the first time: “We’ll see.”

Usik is pushed further – will his speed beat Joshua?

“Somewhat,” he teases, now tapping loudly like a madman.

It is a plot that has been created for a decade.

Joshua vs Usik, Saturday night, live at the Ski Sports box office from Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

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