As Anthony Joshua made his walk to the ring at the Jeddah Super Dome in Saudi Arabia last month, the pressure on the 33-year-old’s shoulders to come away with the victory against Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk was immeasurable. However, to realize the magnitude of the occasion for the British heavyweight, you need to understand what another loss on his resume would have represented for his career moving forward.
With such a rapid and unforgettable rise up the world rankings – for the majority of Joshua’s career – his star power had exceeded that of his contemporaries.
That was until his defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. in his American debut at Madison Square Garden in 2019, where the emphatic nature of his loss led to the lifting of the veil of invincibility he had carried throughout his time as a professional. Joshua had to get that back, and he managed to do so in an out-of-character, yet, a dominant performance in a rematch with the Mexican.
He displayed his ability to judge range and box from the outside, cruising to a points victory that had many believing he had returned to his rightful position as the best heavyweight in the world. Subsequent to his win over Ruiz Jr., Joshua followed it up with an impressive ninth-round knockout over Kubrat Pulevin 2020. While he was the heavy Betfair welcome offer favourite to come away with thevictory, the dominant fashion in which he won meant that calls for an undisputed clash with fellow countryman Tyson Fury grew louder and louder.
At that point, Fury had returned from his time in the proverbial wilderness, where he had ballooned up to 400 lb in weight and had struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental health issues. His return to heavyweight supremacy was a phenomenal one, as he did so by agreeing to a pair of fights with arguably the most devastating puncher in heavyweight history, Deontay Wilder.
The two contests ended in a draw and via a technical knockout victory to Fury – and provided the fashion in which it was achieved, the man affectionately known as the “Gypsy King” had quickly established himself as the new man to beat in the glamour division.
While the anticipation surrounding an all-British showdown for all of the belts had risen to a fever pitch, it didn’t come to fruition after a judge ordered Fury to honor a preexisting contract that would see him fight Wilder for the third time. Due to Fury’s unavailability, Joshua fought his mandatory Usyk instead. That decision to risk his WBA, WBO, and IBF belts against a boxer as talented as Usyk was a dangerous one, and in hindsight, has proven to be the wrong move for his career.
He was outclassed in his first fight with the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, and given Fury has knocked out Wilder and Dillian Whyte since – the pressure on Joshua to snatch back his belts in the rematch was palpable. He couldn’t do it, however, as he was yet again outboxed by the smaller man. That begs the question, after consecutive losses and void of a heavyweight title, what is next for Joshua?
With Ruiz Jr. beating Luis Ortiz earlier this month, there is the potential for a trilogy fight with the Mexican. Conversely, if Wilder was to defeat Robert Helenius at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in October, that match-up still has plenty of marketing power.
The potential fight to come out of left-field in recent days has been with Fury, who has expressed his desire to fight in December. With Usyk outlining his disinterest in competing again this year, we may finally get to see the two best British heavyweights since Lennox Lewis go head-to-head. While it may not be as commercially viable as it once was, the history between the two men still ensures it is must-see tv.
Whoever Joshua decides to fight moving forward, if he can’t bounce back in a convincing fashion, his reign as one of the top three boxers in the blue-riband division may very well be a thing of the past.