Joshua faces the toughest test of his career against unbeaten challenger Usyk and Betfair's Frankie Monkhouse tips a surprise result at a nice price...
"The tale of the tape shows us that Joshua has a three-inch height advantage and four-inch reach advantage over his opponent."
AJ faces his toughest challenge yet
World heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua makes his 2021 debut when defending WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles against the challenge of unbeaten Oleksandr Usyk. This Saturday, the pair clash at the stunning Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with the show screened live on Sky Sports Box Office and DAZN.
Most fight fans expect this to be the toughest fight of Joshua's career to date, but will he come through it successfully and gain career win number 25, or will the towering Londoner fall to a second defeat in four?
All the pressure is on the champion's shoulders, and if he is to get his dream unification fight with WBC champ Tyson Fury anytime soon, he must defeat Usyk.
Champ's first outing since December
Joshua's career has stuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting UK lockdowns. The breakdown in talks between Team Joshua and Tyson Fury's representatives didn't help either. Followers of heavyweight boxing were desperate for an all-British unification scrap but will have to wait, at least until 2022. Those delays mean AJ last fought in December when downing Kubrat Pulev inside nine rounds at Wembley Arena.
Despite that inactivity, the reigning world heavyweight champion faces what many close to the sport believe to be a banana skin. If the Briton is to keep his belts and have any chance of luring Fury back to the negotiating table, he must see off Usyk. The performance isn't as important as the result here. This is a win at all costs bout, and everyone inside the champ's camp knows it.
The current ruler of the division does have the backing of many fight game insiders who are confident he will win, and punters share that optimism. Members of the Betfair Exchange find Joshua at 1.4640/85 for the win with a KO/TKO more appealing at 2.3211/8 and the points win 43/1.
Usyk wants to secure his membership
All the talk pre-match focuses on Joshua and his need to continue his winning ways. This has allowed Usyk privacy, an undisturbed training camp ahead of his return to London. This won't be the Ukrainian's first world title fight, but it will be his most important as he aims to become a two-weight champion. If he were to defeat Joshua, he would join an exclusive club with David Haye and Evander Holyfield as fighters who have won titles at cruiserweight and heavyweight.
Oleksandr is used to doing his share of the marketing work and helping to promote a fight. We've enjoyed some humorous build-ups to past outings, including the clash with Derek Chisora at Wembley Arena late last year. He is a funny, likeable guy, a bit of a joker, but it has been all business this time. Usyk knows he has a fight on his hands and knows he would enter the history books, securing a legacy if he were to win on Saturday.
Upsetting the home favourite on English soil is nothing new to the challenger. This will be his third fight in the UK, and he carries a proud 100% record, having knocked out Tony Bellew in eight rounds in the cruiserweight division and beaten Chisora on points at heavyweight. Another win for Usyk trades at 3.55/2 on the Betfair Exchange with a points victory 5.95/1. The KO/TKO has been written off as a 7.413/2 outsider.
A good bet is one that wins
I must say, predicting this fight hasn't been easy. On paper, it looks as close to a 50/50 as we've seen for a while in heavyweight boxing. The bettor inside cries out one of the earliest lessons I ever learned in the game - always back the bigger price in a close fight and enjoy the show knowing you have the value working in your favour. The other is from my father; a good boxer always beats a good fighter.
I wouldn't put anyone off that approach, and Usyk is sure to be popular. What's more important than getting the value is getting the win, and a good bet is one that makes you a profit. In such a close bout, AJ has the advantages. Usyk is unbeaten and is the better boxer, but AJ has more experience. The champion is also a natural heavyweight. He weighed 283lbs in the rematch with Ruiz Jr, while Usyk was 255lbs for the Chisora fight. In Wilder v Fury II, we saw the difference a weight advantage can make, and Joshua may opt to try and walk through the challenger.
The tale of the tape shows us that Joshua has a three-inch height advantage and four-inch reach advantage over his opponent. Some may argue those numbers aren't worth worrying about, and one punch can change a fight at this level. To them, I say, those advantages for Joshua will be the difference, and I'm picking the champion to win on points at a great price.