Bradley’s breakdown: What Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua need to do to win

Boxing

After 12 rounds that saw Oleksandr Usyk skillfully outbox Anthony Joshua in September 2021, the two will meet once again for three of the four major heavyweight titles on Saturday in Saudi Arabia.

The rematch (DAZN, main event expected at 5:30 p.m. ET), has the potential to be a truly different fight. Joshua and Usyk have that time spent in the ring, but Joshua’s bringing a new trainer in Robert Garcia into the fold could make it a more technical fight this time around.

Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) won the first fight by the scores of 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113, but it wasn’t really that close. He dominated the outside and pressured Joshua when he needed to land his left hand. Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) landed some power shots of his own, but not enough to create problems for Usyk.

With a potential megafight against Tyson Fury for all four heavyweight titles possible, the stakes are high.

Former two-division champion and current ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. breaks down the heavyweight title fight. ESPN betting analyst Ian Parker also provides his best bet.

The matchup

Sometimes these rematches can be tougher than the first fight. And I say that because I’ve been in a trilogy myself, against Manny Pacquiao, and each time I fought Manny, it got tougher and tougher because of the familiarity we had with each other.

This isn’t Round 1. This is Round 13. Usyk won most of the rounds the first time around, no doubt about it. It wasn’t even 50-50. I mean, it was like eight rounds to four or nine rounds to three. Usyk clearly dominated the first fight, and I believe he has the upper hand going into this rematch based upon his skill set and the fact that he’s already beat Joshua.

But this is the heavyweight division, and this is why we are always so fascinated about the heavyweights — because it takes only one punch to end the fight.

And Joshua has that punch. Usyk was able to avoid it the first time around and he’s gonna need to avoid it again on Saturday if he’s to win.

Joshua is under a lot of pressure, and he seems to thrive when he’s under that pressure. I haven’t been hearing a whole lot about Joshua leading up to this fight. I haven’t been seeing a whole lot of Joshua. I’m just seeing him work. Working, not talking. I think he’s dangerous in those critical moments. He had one against Andy Ruiz Jr. in their rematch when Joshua did what he had to do and dominated Ruiz.

He must have a similar mindset going into this fight. He has been in rematches before — he knows how to adjust. It’s all about focus for him, which is a good thing in this rematch, and I think that’s what makes him dangerous. We could say whatever we want to say about him — living a lavish life, celebrity status, etc. — but trust me, you don’t take a rematch, especially with a fighter like Usyk, without being serious and focused. You don’t want to get embarrassed twice.

Joshua is tough. When you get knocked down, you have a choice to get up or stay there. Joshua has been down several times in his career, and for the most part, he’s gotten up. Joshua needs to channel his toughness in this fight. He has to care, and I believe he cares. He understands that if he loses this fight, he loses everything.


How Garcia will help Joshua

Some people say Robert Garcia hasn’t worked with a heavyweight before, but I don’t really take too much into that. If you are a trainer, you know how to train a fighter, whether he’s a heavyweight, a lightweight or a welterweight. It’s nothing different. You spar, you run, you do training, you plan your game plan. It’s the same.

The change of trainers is more about being technical. I think that Garcia can technically help Joshua. Garcia has different styles inside his gym, not just pressure fighters. He has boxers. Look at Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez. Look at Raymond Muratalla. Look at Mikey Garcia before them, who was a boxer-puncher. Garcia understands styles. He has southpaws and he has faced southpaws, too.

I’ve gone on record and I’ve told everyone that there’s really no advantage toward the southpaw. The only advantage is that they’re accustomed to fighting right-handed fighters, and right-handed fighters are not accustomed to fighting lefties. That’s just it, nothing more.

This battle is an open stance and Garcia understands that the right hand and the left hook should be the bread and butter for Joshua. Usyk likes to move, so Joshua needs to hit him down to the body. Garcia also knows that Joshua is going to get hit, but Joshua must be tough enough to be able to bite down on his mouthpiece — even when he is affected by the punch — and dig deep and fight back. There’s a responsibility as being the head trainer — taking this task — and Garcia isn’t a trainer who doesn’t have pride. He’s not taking a fighter just because the money’s great. If he didn’t feel that Joshua could win this fight, he wouldn’t have taken the job. They are coming up with a plan.

There’s no doubt in my mind, they have a plan. When you get a new trainer, it’s like getting a new car. You are happy and you want to flaunt it around. Joshua has pride in picking Garcia. He is going to make sure he delivers so as to not embarrass himself and not embarrass his new trainer. I think that both these guys can help one another. If Garcia can pull off this win, it’s great for his career — he got another champion. And for Joshua, if he wins this fight, then he has basically validated his decision to bring in a new trainer and revives his career.


Usyk’s advantages

Joshua said during a news conference that fighting lefties is a nightmare. I understand where he is coming from because I fought one of the best lefties of all time in Pacquiao. I think he was a fantastic left-handed fighter.

Fighting a lefty is about understanding the angles. It’s understanding the punches, the selection that you need to be able to land to defeat these lefties. I watched their first fight and I looked at Joshua and I looked at his positioning.

When we look at lead foot position, you must dominate that outside position. That’s the position that you cut off the southpaw and force them to your right hand. From there you line up your right hand. That way, in the open, the straight right hand and the straight left hand are shots that you’ll be looking to land. They line up together. The right hand down the middle, the left hand straight down the middle. But the jab hand is the hand that has to battle for either top position or underneath.

In their first fight, I saw Usyk going underneath the jab of Joshua. I saw him dominating the outside positioning to where he can land his left. Joshua wasn’t prepared for this the first time around. Most of the time, Joshua’s foot was on the inside and he was getting dominated.

And you have to give Usyk credit for that. His footwork is really, really good. Joshua and Garcia must find a way to slow down that footwork. His footwork, his in-and-out movement, his hand feints — all that stuff that he does is all set up to get Joshua out of position. It’s all set up for him to be able to get his foot on the outside, to be able to land his left (back) hand. That’s what Joshua should look for, that back hand. Keep that foot outside and move that way, move to his left, to avoid that straight left hand.


Four keys for Joshua

First, as I’ve already said, Joshua needs to dominate the outside lead foot position because in the first fight, he didn’t do that.

This will help him line up his right hand and he can follow it up with the left hook. This will cut off that angle, that weakside angle, that Usyk likes to take. Usyk is like his countryman Vasiliy Lomachenko, who likes to get to that angle to where he gets around you. He’s basically almost around your backside. That’s the lead hand and the weak side of a fighter. Use the two-one combination. I don’t see this often with southpaws versus a right-hander, but the two, the right hand, is the power. Of course, Usyk has to respect that power and guess who’s going to look to get out or duck underneath or, you know, change positions. Who is gonna have to? Usyk.

Second, when Usyk does that, Joshua will be able to locate him afterward with that one — he’ll be able to find his head. The one is flexible. It can go as a cross to the body. That one can change even to a left hook, if it needs to, to be able to locate the head. But the two-one combination is a combination that I see that would do wonders for him, because Usyk will be looking to counter. And in those instances, that two comes out, he moves and then he’s gonna look to counter, and guess what? That one’s in his face.

Third, right hand, right hand, jab is a good two-one combination. The right hand, right jab instead and the right hand again is also good. It’s the opposite. Another thing is that Usyk uses the long guard. Like I said, the battle against the southpaw is gonna be with that lead hand. And it’s about dominating that position for Joshua. Stay on top. Keep that lead hand on top. Using the long guard so that lead hand doesn’t have to be up on his face, let it be outside to where he can catch shots and deflect that jab. He can block Usyk’s counter, block it, see it opening and just come right over the top.

And fourth thing. Use that “bolo.” I believe Ceferino Garcia created that punch. The bolo is when the right hand comes underneath. You saw Sugar Ray Leonard use it, Muhammad Ali used it. It’s almost like you’re whipping it underneath to the body. Use that punch. Why? Because the body work is what’s gonna slow down Usyk, and it’s gonna hurt him. It hurts the body.

And to not get countered with the left hand, throw the bolo as Usyk is throwing his left. So, it’s all about timing. Usyk looks for the left hand most of the time. That’s his power shot. It’s all about timing. You get your head off the line as that left hand is coming, and when you see that left hand coming straight out, you’re throwing underneath at the same time. The same time your head is off the line, your bolo shot that right hand to the gut is going to land.


How can Usyk repeat?

Movement, movement, movement. Joshua has the tendency of dropping his back hand. When he does that, Usyk looks for his right hand down the middle, or straight left hand down the middle. That’s great, but if he’s going to hurt Joshua, he has to hit him on the temple. Joshua has a weak temple. It’s not his chin — it’s his temple. I watched film on him and when he gets clipped, he doesn’t get clipped on the chin. He can take those chin shots. It’s on the temple where his legs start to buckle. Usyk can hit him with a temple shot and hurt him.

We all know that when you hit somebody on the temple, their legs lose their equilibrium. That’s where Joshua’s weak and Usyk needs to look for it — the loop and left hand right on the head. If he lands that shot, he’s going to get a reaction from Joshua.

And while Usyk was dominating in the first fight, he got buzzed a couple of times with right hands. He felt that power of Joshua. Usyk has to concentrate for 36 minutes, because if he doesn’t, it takes one shot to end the night for him.

He took some big shots the first time around, and he took them well, but I did see that he reacted to some punches a few times during the fight.

How do you beat Joshua? You beat him with footwork and you beat him in transition. Joshua’s horrible in transition. He’s terrible. And when I say transition, that’s from offense to defense and then back to offense. Joshua would throw a shot and get countered. He gets himself out of position, he gets flustered. And if you hit him with combinations, he doesn’t know those are coming. He doesn’t seem to know what to do besides pick his hands up and then just wing the big shot.

Usyk must switch up his attack because I noticed that Joshua can’t defend against guys who land up and down on him. Usyk needs to get busier at those times, and he did it toward the end of the fight. I started seeing him pour it on, but he needs to do it a little bit sooner when the fight gets to the ninth,10th, 11th. If he does that, I believe that he can even stop Joshua.

Joshua has been known to gas out, he’s just a big guy. Usyk is more athletic. He’s smaller, like a bee. And Joshua is a bear. And the bee just keeps going around the bear.


X factor: Andy Ruiz

Joshua having gone through that experience, being embarrassed and then coming back and facing those demons and delivering a performance in which he did something that was completely beside himself, takes some grit. He’s strong enough mentally to be able to handle it and deal with it. And he won, he did what he had to do. It’s what Joshua did in those moments that has convinced me that he can win this fight.

For Usyk, the X factor is he has been here before. He needs to apply what he did in the first fight.


Who wins?

I’m going with Usyk by late knockout. Yeah, late stoppage. Um, I see Usyk fighting with a different type of intensity when the time is right. I see him really picking it up and really going forward and taking chances to produce a knockout. I think he stops Joshua.

Ian Parker’s best bet

Joshua needs to land his power shots earlier in the fight and push the pace to tire Usyk out. In their last fight, Usyk was able to control the narrative of the early and later rounds with his combinations and precise striking. I see this fight going similarly as Joshua struggles against opponents who use movement as opposed to being stationary targets.

As long as Usyk’s cardio keeps up throughout the fight and he can avoid the power of Joshua early on, I believe Usyk gets the nod here and wins the rematch by decision (+160).

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