Anthony joshua is in the unusual position of being the underdog going into his rematch with Oleksandr Usyk.
But former world title holder Callum Smith believes his fellow Briton can turn the tables on the champion this weekend, live on Sky Sports Box Office, although he feels “he has to go back to the old Joshua”.
Smith’s boxing career has run in tandem with Joshua’s. Twelve years ago they were amateur team-mates in the GB squad. As both rose through the professional sport, they have often boxed on the same bill, which will again be the case on Saturday when Smith fights on the undercard of Usyk-Joshua as he looks to earn a world title shot in his new division.
Like Joshua, Smith has fought in Saudi Arabia before. In fact Saturday’s venue, the King Abdullah Sports Centre in Jeddah, was the site of the highlight of Smith’s career; there in 2018 he beat George Groves to win the WBA super-middleweight title.
This weekend, now up at light-heavyweight, he has a crucial world title eliminator against France’s Mathieu Bauderlique. More used to boxing in crowded arenas in the west, he knows what to expect from boxing in Saudi Arabia. All that matters, he advises Joshua, is focus.
“The minute you’re in the ring you could be anywhere. You don’t switch off, but switch into it,” Smith told Sky Sports. “I think being an international amateur kind of helps with that – you can hear a pin drop when you’re fighting a Russian in Turkey.
“You kind of get used to that and you’ve got a job to do and you focus on what you’re doing. I’ve never been one to play up to the crowd or stuff like that anyway. I’ve always been pretty professional. I get in there to do my job.
“It’s great fighting at home but the goal and the job is still the same, and that’s to go away and win.”
For Joshua, victory in the main event has never been more vital. “There’s a lot at stake. It’s a big fight for both of them. You’ve got three of the four belts on the line, you wouldn’t expect anything less but I like the two of them personally, they’re two likeable characters,” said Smith, a World Boxing Super Series winner like Usyk.
As Joshua is doing against Usyk, Smith has fought a pound-for-pound great himself. He lost a points decision to Canelo Alvarez. For elite fighters like Smith and Joshua, it becomes suddenly unsettling when they come up against the rare opponent who is elusive enough to avoid even their jab. For top class boxers, that is a situation they are just not used to.
“[Canelo] is a decent puncher. The only thing that surprised me when I was actually in with him was his defence. He’s so hard to hit clean,” Smith said. “He stops you throwing then.
“Your combination stops, you don’t really throw the third one because your second one hit thin air.
“Usyk kind of did that to Joshua [in the first fight], he couldn’t land his jab,” Smith added. “With Joshua, if he can’t land one shot, it kind of stops you throwing two, three or four when fighters are elusive like that.
Usyk v Joshua 2: Weigh-In
Friday 19th August 7:00pm
“But he knows now. He’s been in with him. He’s had a long time to think about it and come up with a plan to beat him second time. He got it right with [Andy] Ruiz second time around. It’s kind of the opposite, he fought against Ruiz and had to box second time. This time he probably boxed too much [in the first fight] and has to go back to the old Joshua. It’s a good fight and one that hopefully I can sit and enjoy.”
Smith believes Joshua can turn the tables against Usyk in a rematch. “I think the first fight, for me, was convincing for Usyk. Joshua made it pretty easy for him. Stood off him and stood in front of him. I think [Usyk] was probably surprised at how easy it was. I’m not Joshua’s coach, but I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I think he needs to go for him a little bit more and make him feel like he’s in with the bigger man,” he said.
“I don’t think he used [his size] as much as he could have. He’s got to make it a little bit uncomfortable, but he’s got to be clever while he does it. I think Usyk’s smart and he’d counter every mistake Joshua does make, so he can’t really be reckless.
“It could backfire if he goes for him and doesn’t get rid of him, then he could become gassed and he becomes a bit more of a sitting target for Usyk.
“I think they’ll both adjust from the first fight, they’ve both done 12 rounds with each other so they both know each other a little bit better this time.
“It’s a tough one. I think Joshua could go for him and we’ve seen Usyk’s face after the first fight, pretty marked up and it wasn’t as physical as it could have been.
“So if Joshua does go for him, he could get rid of him.”
Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch against Oleksandr Usyk is on Saturday August 20, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book Usyk vs Joshua 2 now!