Usyk outclassed Joshua in September last year in their first bout, beating the British boxer via a unanimous decision and claiming Joshua’s WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles.
Joshua’s camp soon after activated the contracted rematch clause, meaning the pair will once again take center stage in heavyweight boxing’s latest showpiece event.
Despite being arguably the biggest name in boxing, Joshua’s career has been interspersed with shock results.
Saturday’s rematch fight will be the 32-year-old’s 12th consecutive world heavyweight title fight. He’s beaten numerous top-level boxers along the way — Wladimir Klitschko, Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin to name a few.
But, amongst those big-name — often breathtaking — victories are some surprise defeats. Firstly, he was stunned by Andy Ruiz Jr. in New York in 2019 after being knocked down multiple times before the referee waved the fight off, ending his spell as unified heavyweight champion — he did beat Ruiz months later in Saudi Arabia to reclaim that title.
And in his first fight with Usyk in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist was thoroughly outboxed by the Ukrainian from start to finish, as Usyk left the English capital the unified heavyweight champion and with his reputation as one of the best boxers around cemented.
However, Joshua said ahead of Saturday’s rematch that even if he does lose, it won’t be the end of his time in the ring.
“This is also my 12th consecutive world title fight. I’ve been in world title fights back-to-back 12 times. It happens — if you’re fighting people at world level, you’re meeting people of world-level quality. I’m not fighting people who are below par.”
“But ultimately, apart from all of the learning stuff, it’s a fight. That’s it. Whoever throws the most punches and lands the most punches wins.”
Fighting for more
When Usyk steps into the ring on Saturday, he will have more than just title belts and money as inspiration.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the 35-year-old traveled back to his homeland, taking up arms and joining a territorial defense battalion in Kyiv, spending weeks helping out in the war efforts.
In March though, Usyk was granted permission to return to training to prepare for the Joshua fight, although he expressed his reluctance.
“They were asking me to go, to fight, to fight for the country, fight for your pride and if you’re going to go there, you’re even going to help more for our country.
“I know a lot of my close people, friends, close friends, are right now in the front line and fighting. What I’m doing right now, I’m just supporting them, and with this fight, I wanted to bring them some kind of joy in between what they do.”
And now, months on, a bulked up Usyk looks in excellent shape and in excellent spirits — breaking out into a Ukrainian song of independence after a pre-fight press conference dressed in traditional Cossack clothing.
On the eve of the fight, Usyk said competing at the highest level is what drives him, as well as providing hope and inspiration back home.
Saturday’s fight card has been praised as it will host Saudi Arabia’s first-ever professional women’s boxing match when Crystal Garcia Nova takes on Ramla Ali.
In a country where women’s rights are severely restricted, it has been seen as a landmark moment for women’s sport there.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of using sports washing in recent years to divert attention from the country’s dismal human rights record.
Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, was named in a US intelligence report as being responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, although he has denied involvement. Human rights groups have also criticized the country for conducting mass executions and for its treatment of gay people.
He added: “The world’s in a bad place, I can’t just point one place out. If you want to point Saudi out, let’s point everyone out. We’ve all got to do better, and that’s where my heart is. The whole world has got to do better if it wants to change.”